Time and again, media has utilized problematic real-life events and figures to carry its entertainment. Whether for comedic or dramatic purposes, movies, comics, books, and video games have taken recognizable personalities and world events and replicated them to offer a slice of “relatable” authenticity to their pulp fiction.
Hollywood has made a billion-dollar business out of setting fictional narratives against the backdrop of real-world atrocities, while satirical shows from Saturday Night Live to Animaniacs have lampooned political figures on every side of history’s global conflicts. Ultimately, truth and fiction will forever collide in the name of entertainment, it is up to us to remain focused on the former, once the dust has settled.
Presented for your consideration: Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, which raised eyebrows with its much-hyped inclusion of the staunchly conservative 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. Those of an age will remember the utter terror of the 1980’s Cold War era, where daily obliteration felt a mere button push away. With world leaders such as Reagan, Thatcher, and Brezhnev in power, it was easy for the people – particularly minorities and the working class – to feel that life was dangling by a thread, utter destruction at the hands of both the right-wing media and aggressive, warring world leaders.
As such, it is understandable that some audiences might find distaste at Reagan’s inclusion in Cold War, as his party of war criminals gets its hands dirty in the name of freedom. But ultimately, Reagan’s (fleeting) appearance is no more damaging to us than any knuckle-headed movie about political furor. Black Ops Cold War – for all of its real-life news footage and chin-stroking pontification – might as well be set in fucking Narnia, such is its loose grip on history. Reagan here is a mere NPC, and is about as reverential as the Spitting Image puppet in Genesis’ Land of Confusion video.
As you chase down an escaping jet-liner with a radio-control car, pick your way unhindered through KGB headquarters, or fire a bow-and-arrow while zip-lining over a mountain pass, it seems fruitless to feel offense at Cold War’s illusory take on the Reagan years. Now approaching its 20th year, Call of Duty is so utterly absorbed by its narrative that it’s essentially become its own fictional universe.
In a franchise that once had JFK fighting Nazi zombies, the shadow of an uncanny-valley Reagan and his gross, outdated sensibilities are powerless to hurt our modern, enlightened eyes. We know what’s right and what’s wrong, and the digital ghost of ’80s conservatism isn’t to be feared when we have enough of our own problems today. Besides, given the increasing ridiculousness of CoD’s universe, they might as well have just used The Hamburglar, and the fit would have been equally as snug.