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The America of 'Team America,' a Decade Later

America of Team America a Decade Later The Atlantic


As voters head to the polls on Tuesday, many of the issues that were both so consuming and combustible back in 2004 seem largely absent from the political terrain. (Remember the time that 11 different states passed a gay marriage banin one day?) But, perhaps, nowhere is the gulf between then and now more evident than in the way we talk about America's place in the world, a divide that was the focal point of Team America.

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That's a good point. Actually, a lot HAS changed in 10 years.

The primary villains in Team America are a consortium of Islamic terrorists and the now-deceased North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. Together, they plot to set off nuclear weapons across the globe in order to reset the world's balance of power. The only thing standing in their way is Team America, volcanic embodiers of the Freedom-Isn't-Free mantra, who must win in battle both against the terrorists as well as public-opinion wars against the international community and Hollywood pacifists (led by the likes of Alec Baldwin, Michael Moore, Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, and others).

Unlike the Hollywood players, no American politicians of the era are specifically called out by name in the film. But the film still offers a familiar rebuke.  The more damage caused to civilian life and infrastructure—notable Cairo landmarks and the Panama Canal are also razed—the more isolated Team America becomes. Wistful for a remembrance of that conversation? Consider this A.O. Scott comment in his review:

When Team America blows things up in other countries, they do it by accident, in the course of their sloppy but zealous fight against the people who want to do it on purpose. This is not a trivial moral distinction, and it is one the film hangs onto in impressive earnest.

In 2014, a once-prevailing jingoistic "With-Us-or-Against-Us" attitude has been effaced as a war-weary president anchors the promise of action against a terrorist group like ISIS to an accompanying pledge to not commit ground troops to the cause. That an American president is now routinely criticized fornot waging war robustly enough seems a surreal contrast when compared to 2004.

The flip side of that go-it-alone sensibility has a lot to do with the growing perception that America is no longer the sole, dominant power in a unipolar world. That certainly wasn't the case in 2004 when many felt the helplessness of the international community was on full display.

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