Debra Goldman’s Consumer Republic

Almost 60 years ago, Japanese bombers came streaking through the sky toward the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. In a merciless surprise attack, they disabled a significant portion of the American Navy and slaughtered several thousand of her sons, plunging our nation into world war.

Last week, the generation who fought this great fight finally received their cinematic due. The only question was, who will play Colonel Klink?

Oh, you thought I was talking about Pearl Harbor? No, I am referring to the real cinematic apotheosis of the Greatest Generation, the return of Hogan’s Heroes. Even as Disney was premiering its wannabe Titanic in Hawaii, executives at Revolution Studios were announcing plans to bring the comfy POWs and bumbling Nazis of sitcomville’s Stalag 13 to the big screen.

Hogan’s Heroes, as boomers and viewers of TV Land know, was nitwit television in the tradition of F Troop and McHale’s Navy. Running from 1965-1971, it managed to outrage critics even as it numbed the brain. Turning Hitler’s henchmen into incompetent boobs and transforming a POW camp into an R&R resort, the show was declared an insult to the honor and sacrifice of a generation caught in a cataclysmic battle against evil.

Maybe, but so what? The hit show clicked with 14-year-olds who had been bored silly by two decades of G.I. movie heroics and theatrically evil Nazis. Meanwhile, the evening news was filled with scenes from the seemingly endless Vietnam War.

Piety about military sacrifice was not in the air. West Germany was booming, and Japan was shifting from supplying us transistor radios to sending us cars. A quarter cen-tury after Pearl Harbor, World War II was far enough in the past that we could make fun of it.

Thirty-five years on, it’s closer and no jokes allowed. Last week, it was downright omnipresent-a saturation bombing that launched 10 Pearl Harbor TV specials on seven channels to capitalize on the Memorial Day weekend premiere of the $135 million movie. Success or flop, Pearl Harbor brings the WWII trend to its marketplace crescendo. Or at least we hope so. It’s not that I begrudge the veterans their due. Yet all this solemn attention seems to have less to do with who the GIs were than who their children are not. Guilty boomers have imbued their elders with all the virtues they lack.

One view of the Kodak Advantix Preview ad in which middle-aged pilgrims travel to the sight where their GI parents were first photographed and you know the boomers’ greatest- generation fever is less about the GIs than about themselves.

The result is that WWII has become an event so uplifting, so honorable, so heroic, that it enobles everyone who came in contact with it. Japs, Krauts, whatever. It is said that in Pearl Harbor, the Japanese are treated as dignified warriors. Which begs the question: Can you celebrate a generation for triumphing over evil if there is no evil to vanquish?

Entombing the vets in piety is just as reductive as fitting them with a laugh track. And perhaps much less entertaining. In this regard, it was not encouraging to see Pearl Harbor’s above-the-title star Ben Affleck on Entertainment Tonight earlier this month.

Hey Ben, the breathless ET interviewer asked, how about the big love scene? The kiss on the boat? Are we talking Titanic territory here or what? To which Affleck replied, “Pearl Harbor is kind of a homage to a generation of American men and women who sacrificed and some gave their lives to get this country out of depression, fight a world war and build us into an economic power in the world. And they were responsible, in large measure, for”

On and on this pious paean goes, until the audience forgets the question-which the actor never answered. If this is any indication of what the film is actually like (it had yet to open at press time), I predict a lot of reviews with the word “bomb” in the headline.

The makers of Hogan’s Heroes may be lucky. By the time it debuts, audiences might be as sick of the recycled clich?s of heroic millennial WWII flicks as they were the first time around. My one worry is a producer’s oxymoronic promise to make the movie version “smart,” like The Great Escape or Stalag 17. Let us hope he’s aware that Hogan’s Heroes was a boob-tube gloss on Stalag 17 to begin with-and that he doesn’t make it too smart.

After Pearl Harbor, bumbling Nazis and imprisoned G.I.s feasting on French cuisine may be just what we need.