I don't feel particularly old. I may have hit 30 recently, but I act a good decade younger. I feel old only twice annually: when I receive my class rosters and see the birthdates of my students. The late 1980s dates were bad enough, but now they are mostly 1990. These people are adults. They can vote. They can join the Army. They can buy porn. One of the challenges inherent in teaching about politics or history is that one must convey to students meaningful context for events that happened before they were born. In my line of work the biggest problem – and one that will only get worse with time, of course – is realizing that these kids have absolutely no concept of the Cold War or the Soviet Union. The Berlin Wall fell two or three years before they were born. It is troubling enough that they do not understand Communism, but this generation has lost touch with the concept of the Commie.
I'm talking about the good old fashioned Hollywood Commie and the Red Herring Commie referenced in political campaigns. They were featured so prominently in our culture for so long and now they are, for all intents and purposes, gone. When was the last time the kids these days (If you ever want to feel old, use the phrase "the kids these days") saw a good movie about fighting Commies? When was the last time we had a (serious, non-Teabagging) conversation about how the hardened Soviets live? It is all foreign to today's college student. They know Yakov Smirnoff isn't funny, but they don't really understand why he's not funny.
Today's movies and television are missing something. They are missing the vodka- and borscht-swilling, square jawed, tough-as-nails caricature Commie with hilariously overdone accent, a comical lack of familiarity with Western culture, and a single-minded obsession with destroying imperialist capitalist aggressors. Our discomfort with all things race related makes terrorists a poor substitute. And besides, what's funny about terrorism? Nothing. But even when our political and social elites were telling us that the Commies were hellbent on killing every last one of us there was something funny about them. They were like Charlie Brown lining up to kick the football; we felt a little sympathy because we knew he was only there to miss it. And rhetoric aside, you just knew that Ivan was too backward (or drunk) to succeed in his Commie goals of world domination. He was the villain, the comic relief, and the sympathetic character rolled into one.
That is why the Commie is disappearing. In the final verdict the Soviet Union turned out to be hapless, verging on pathetic. They lacked the bone-chilling kind of evil that would have made them suitable Villains in Perpetuity, a la the Nazis. I think we are worse for it as a society. Batman needed the Joker like we needed the Commies. Sure, Batman fought many other villains…but it just wasn't the same.