You won’t find the movie Die Hard on most TV channels this holiday season. And even though 20th Century Fox thinks it’s the greatest Christmas film ever, a lot of people don’t even agree that it’s a holiday flick. But you need to watch it, to remember things how things were 30 years ago, and remember the important lessons we’ve learned since then.
“Die Hard is the Greatest Christmas Story” said 20th Century Fox on Good Morning America. The studio even released a new trailer designed to solidify the film as a Christmas tale. Empire, a British Film Magazine, dubbed it the best Christmas film ever, as well.
Screenwriter Jeb Stuart defended “the family aspect of it,” noting how the trauma of police officer John McClane trying to rescue his estranged wife at the Nakatomi Building Christmas Party from terrorists led by Professor Snape… ahem… Alan Rickman brought the couple back together.
Not all Americans agree with the movie studio. Only one-quarter of American adults believe that it’s a Christmas film, with men more likely to agree with the statement than women. Nearly two-thirds reject the notion of Die Hard as a Christmas classic with the likes of A Christmas Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, and White Christmas.
But whether you’re a true believer in the Christmas miracle that Bruce Willis pulled off in the film, or think a shoot-’em-up movie is more suited as summer fare, you should really watch Die Hard this holiday season. Here’s why.
When I showed my kids the film for the first time ever this week, the first thing they noticed was how much smoking was in the film. Bruce Willis lights up in the airport. Dozens of characters fiddle with cigarettes. It’s a clear reminder of how things used to be 30 years ago. It’s kind of like France today.
Data released just this year by the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) showed that the fewest number of Americans reported smoking, since the survey was introduced in 1965. Though 14 percent of Americans still say they smoked at least once in the past year (34 percent last year), it’s a 67 percent decline over the last few decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
And the news is getting better. Younger people (ages 18-24) are also less likely to smoke, compared to those 20 to 60 years older. And teens and middle schoolers are far less likely to take a puff, compared to others, as well as their own age group, nearly a decade ago, partially explaining why my kids were shocked by the presence of cigarettes featured so prominently. There’s still the danger of kids getting into e-cigarettes and vaping, of course, but we’ve shown what seemed impossible back in 1988: an end to omnipresent smoke in public places.
In the film Die Hard, police officer John McClane flies from New York to Los Angeles to meet up with his wife Holly Gennaro, who has dropped the McClane name. Things seem pretty rocky, and after their first fight of the year, you’re pretty sure they’re headed for divorce, something that was a pretty frequent occurrence back in the late 1980s.
In fact, the time frame had the highest divorce rate for Americans in the post-World War II era, while marriage rates slumped as well, according to Randy Olson with the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. In fact, the divorce rate per 1,000 Americans is heading toward nearly half the rate it was 30 years ago. And millennials, blamed for killing so many things from years ago, are leading the way in lowering the divorce rate. Hopefully, such trends can continue so separated families will seem as rare as smoking.
The Pre-9/11 Mindset
There’s a final shocking change from the last 30 years featured in Die Hard is how naïve people were about terrorism in America. No matter what Hans Gruber and his merry band of saboteurs did, the hostages, police (under Deputy Chief Dwayne T. Robinson) and the FBI never seemed to take them seriously. If it wasn’t for Officer McClane’s improbable heroics, these terrorists would have the cash and gotten away with it.
It’s not just the attack upon the Nakatomi Building that shows a lax attitude toward such danger. Bruce Willis carries a gun on the plane and tells the passenger next to him that it’s OK, because he’s a cop. Now, you can’t carry nail clippers on a flight, or even bottled water, or sunscreen in a bottle.
It seems like a different story today. We see terrorists lurking everywhere, in the shadows. The 911 dispatchers wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss alarms, just as patrolmen are far more likely to call for backup if there’s even a perceived threat.
It’s not that people had less to worry about from terrorism back then. Believe it or not, there were more terror attacks in the 1970s than the 2001-2015 time frame in America. More than twice as many Americans were killed in the 1970s from terrorism than in the years following 9/11. But we’re definitely more concerned about terrorism today, even though gun violence is a lot more deadly.
During the 1988 election, terrorism was not a major issue, or even a minor one. Even after the Oklahoma City bombing by domestic terrorists in 1995, concerns about such attacks were not so great. But that’s not the case today. Terrorism was a close second as the biggest issue of concern in the 2016 election, with almost twice the level of concern as there was in the mid-1990s.
So the lessons are clear. We’ve come a long way on smoking, divorce and taking terrorism a little more seriously. And the re-release of Die Hard is worth watching, whether it’s Christmas Eve or the middle of summer, just to remind ourselves of these lessons.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia—read his full bio here.