The Vietnam War:
Effects on Pop Culture
and the Media
Theodore Ryan Willey
Military conﬂict of the Cold War.
Occurred from November 1, 1955 to April 30, 1975. Longest war in
USA desired to stop communist takeover of South Vietnam.
War escalated with the Tet Offensive which began on January 31,
Overall Result: North Vietnam took over South Vietnam, Laos and
Cambodia. Considered defeat for USA.
The War Meets
the American TV
First war to be on the television.
Lyndon B. Johnson’s order to dispatch
troops was the largest news story in TV
Media ﬂooded Vietnam for every story.
Nine reporters died during the span of
Changed TV reporting. ABC News reporter on the battleﬁeld.
Spawned the “Up Close and Personal”
style of reporting.
A Picture is Worth a
The television reports brought the horrors of the war into the
The TV fueled the Anti-War movement.
Extremely gruesome images were leaked to the television, such as:
1968 images of Col. Nyguyen Ngoc Loan blowing out the
brains of another man.
1972 scenes of the aftermath of napalm.
The scenes upset the American people and allowed them to witness
the truths of the war. Making them upset and disturbed. The result
was protests and eventually the Anti-War Movement.
Major player of the television and the war.
Famous report: “Report from Vietnam:
Who, What, When, Where, Why?”
Expressed the view that the war was going
to be a loss and that the United States needed
a way out.
LBJ watched the broadcast and decided that
a change needed to be made.
David Haberstam, “It was the ﬁrst time in
American history a war had been declared
over by an anchorman.”
Walter Cronkite reporting from Vietnam.
The creation of the “Vietnam Vet”
He was a hero, but often rough,
stubborn, and angry.
Vet also carried thoughts of the war.
Spawned famous shows such as The A-
Team, Riptide, and Airwolf.
Books didn’t emerge until the late 1970’s
and early 1980’s and is now our current
They were all personal accounts and
narratives of foot soldiers. Most told the story
of people who were there.
The story was anti-heroic.
Anti-Heroism conveyed ambiguity of
Since the war itself was confusing writers
focused on the surface and tangible items. The
Things They Carried makes use of this
Tim O’Brien calls war stories, “ Literature
that speaks to the heart.”
The Story Lines
Introduction of the genre called Verisimilitude. Verisimilitude was a
blending of reality and ﬁction.
Stories were purposefully shocking and horrifying.
The American character is usually presented in a way where he cannot
control his fate. This speaks to overall themes and unknown purposes of the
Stories often discussed the men’s routines and jokes. They also focused on
particular conversations and the rituals each one of them had to help carry
themselves through the war. For example, Ted Lavender's drug use or
Henry Dobbin’s stockings.
Many people had their say about the Vietnam War literature that erupted in
the late twentieth century. Critiques like the following were expressed:
Cannot write something down like the Vietnam War in a book.
Criticism for depicting the war as a USA vs. USA conﬂict.
Forgetting to acknowledge those who did not oppose the war.
Exaggeration of turmoil in platoons.
We never see a Vietnamese perspective.
Many veterans of the war did not read the literature that was spawned.
They felt it was never going be accomplished in the correct way or depict
how the war really was.
The Things They
Considering the fact that Tim O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried is a
piece of the literature created by the Vietnam War, the relation to the topic
Tim essentially captures what every Vietnam War novelist attempts to.
By society’s pressure and critique of Vietnam War literature, Tim O’Brien
dealt with the inﬂuence and impact of pop culture to write the perfect
Vietnam War story. Any slip-ups and his story would have been
dismissed just like the rest of the usual Vietnam War literature.
Where Tim overcomes the inﬂuences and impact of pop culture and the
media is in the chapter “Good Form”. Tim states, “I want you to feel what
I felt. I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than
happening-truth.” Tim’s purpose is clear here. It hits the nail on the head.
He overcomes the inﬂuences of pop culture by not writing a story that
recounts the horrors or events of the Vietnam War, but instead he
communicates the emotions and feelings. All other novels of the Vietnam
War have failed to do this. On the hand, Tim excels and conquers.
The Vietnam War and
It took several years for cinema
depicting the Vietnam War to make it’s
way to the screen.
Much like literature and ﬁctional TV
shows, ﬁlms often depicted the Vietnam
Unlike WWII, movies from 1964-1975,
the period of the war, did not depict the
war at all. Hollywood had no place in
the severity and rarity of the Vietnam
Vietnam War movies also changed the
template for war movies. They offered
new techniques and focused on
character’s internal conﬂict aside from
the normal conﬂict on the battleﬁeld.
Most notable ﬁlms: Full Metal Jacket
(1987), Apocalypse Now (1979), and
Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola was a visionary and innovative
ﬁlmmaker. He was responsible for The Godfather, The
Godfather Part II, The Godfather Part III, and of course
Coppola essentially started the Vietnam War in cinema era.
He pioneered war movies by putting combat of the war on
the screen for the ﬁrst time.
Apocalypse Now, evoked emotions from its viewers because
of Coppola’s style. He was the ﬁrst ﬁlmmaker of the
Vietnam War to offer a surrealist image which made the
audience feel the losses that people in the war endured.
Apocalypse Now set the benchmark for Vietnam War movies
and from 1979 (the release year) on they followed the
template created by Apocalypse Now.
Francis Ford Coppola.
Pop Culture Misc. Notes
“First war fought to a rock ‘n’
More than 750 novels, 250 ﬁlms,
100 short-stories, and 1400
personal narratives were created.
Active unknown supporters,
John Steinbeck and John Wayne.
The Vietnam War changed pop culture
for the future. It also changed society,
and our perception of culture.
After the end of the Vietnam War, music,
television, and cinema had undergone a
Because of the Vietnam War society is
the way it is now. We have a higher
appreciation and indulgence in music,
movies and our TV.
The Vietnam War has shaped and
changed America’s pop culture forever.
“Television brought the brutality of war into the comfort of the
living room. Vietnam was lost in the living rooms of America--not
on the battleﬁelds of Vietnam.”
--Marshall McLuhan, 1975
Farrell, Susan. “The Literature of the Vietnam War”. College of Charleston. 21 May 2010.
Gillis, Charles. "American Cultural History". Lone Star College. 26 May 2010.
Hallin, Daniel. “Vietnam On Television”. The Museum of Broadcast Communications .
21 May 2010. <http://www.museum.tv/cotvsection.php>.
Howell, Amanda. "American Cinema After the War". Film Reference. 26 May 2010.
O'Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York: Houghton Mifﬂin, 1990.
“The Vietnam War and American Culture”. Digital History. 21 May 2010.
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