Unclear and Present Danger

By Jamelle Bouie and John Ganz

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Description

New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie and freelance writer John Ganz delve into the world of 90s post-Cold War thrillers with Unclear and Present Danger, a podcast that explores America in an age of transition to lone superpower, at once triumphant and unsure of its role in the world.


Episode Date
Rising Sun
01:10:12

On episode 21 of Unclear and Present Danger, Jamelle and John discuss the horrifically problematic 1993 thriller “Rising Sun” starring Wesley Snipes and Sean Connery. It’s lurid, salacious and incredibly racist, which makes it fertile ground for a discussion of the anti-Japanese panic of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Additional topics include Wesley Snipes' career, Michael Crighton’s whole deal, and the question of whether it is even possible to forge a unifying national narrative.

Connor Lynch produced this episode. Artwork by Rachel Eck.

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Links from the episode!

The Washington Post on the protests against the release of “Rising Sun.”

Hobart Rowen on Japan-bashing in the 1980s.

Roger Ebert’s review of “Gung Ho.”

New York Times front page for July 30, 1993

Aug 06, 2022
In the Line of Fire
00:54:18

In this, our twentieth episode of Unclear and Present Danger, Jamelle and John watched the hit 1993 thriller “In the Line of Fire,” directed by Wolfgang Petersen and starring Clint Eastwood, Rene Russo and John Malkovich. They discuss Eastwood’s career and star persona, the anti-political apathy of the 1990s, and the “end of history” vibes of Eastwood and Malkovich’s characters.

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New York Times front-page for July 9, 1993

A 2010 Guardian profile of Clint Eastwood.

New York Times review of “The Defiant Ones.”

Jul 24, 2022
In the Line of Duty: Ambush in Waco
00:56:55

For episode 19 of Unclear and Present Danger, Jamelle and John watch “In the Line of Duty: Ambush in Waco,” a ripped-from-the-headlines-style movie about the siege at Waco. They use the movie as an occasion to discuss right-wing extremism, abuse and overreach among federal law enforcement, and how both played themselves out in American culture.

Connor Lynch produced this episode. Artwork by Rachel Eck.

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New York Times front-page for May 23, 1993

“Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America” by Kathleen Belew

American Experience: Ruby Ridge

“Waco: The Rules of Engagement,” a 1997 documentary on the siege and its fallout.

Jul 09, 2022
Falling Down
01:10:03

Jamelle, for one, has been very excited about this episode, an analysis of Joel Schumacher’s 1993 film “Falling Down.” In the conversation, Jamelle and John discuss the populist moment of the early 1990s, the discourse around the “angry white man,” the class politics (or lack thereof) of the film, and the erosion of the post-war anti-fascist consensus.

Connor Lynch produced this episode. Artwork by Rachel Eck.

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New York Times front-page for February 26, 1993

Carol Clover on “Falling Down” in Sight and Sound magazine.

A New York Time story on the “race to win over the angry white male” from 1995.

Jun 25, 2022
Sniper
01:04:31

In this episode of Unclear and President Danger, Jamelle and John discuss “Sniper,” a delightful piece of genre trash that also happens to speak to some of the paranoias and prejudices of the era. To that point, their conversation veers from the anti-Bill Clinton conspiracy theories of the early 1990s to the militia aesthetic that emerged later in the decade.

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New York Times front page for January 29, 1993

“The Panama Deception” documentary

Wikipedia page for “Soldier of Fortune” magazine.

Jun 11, 2022
Under Siege
01:08:04

For episode 16 of Unclear and Present Danger, Jamelle and John discuss “Under Siege,” 1992 action thriller directed by Andrew Davis and starring Steven Seagal in what is clearly his best role. We talk about Seagal’s career, Hollywood’s view of the American military in this era of filmmaking, and the strange, almost left-wing politics of this movie in particular. Jamelle also attempts a bad impression of Seagal. It’s a good time.

“Under Siege” is available for rent on Amazon and iTunes.

Our logo, as always, is courtesy of the great Rachel Eck, who you can find on Instagram.

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New York Times frontpage for October 9, 1992

Steven Seagal’s infamously unwatchable appearance on Saturday Night Live.

Scene in “Austin Powers” where Austin learns the Cold War is over.

May 28, 2022
Sneakers (feat. Mike Duncan)
01:12:01

On episode 15 of Unclear and Present Danger, Jamelle and John are joined by Mike Duncan (Revolutions podcast, “Hero of Two Worlds: The Marquis de Lafayette in the Age of Revolution”) to discuss the delightful 1992 thriller Sneakers. It’s a movie about a tech mogul who hopes to stage an information revolution and, not surprisingly, John, Jamelle and Mike discuss the internet, social revolutions, and the challenge of building something out of nothing.

Our logo, as always, is courtesy of the great Rachel Eck, who you can find on Instagram.

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Mike Duncan

Links from the episode!

New York Times front-page for September 11, 1992

Sneakers Computer Press Kit

“Marxism and Politics” by Ralph Miliband

May 14, 2022
JFK (feat. Alexis Coe)
01:21:18

It’s episode 14 of Unclear and Present Danger and we’re talking Oliver Stone’s ridiculous yet incredibly-compelling conspiracy thriller, JFK. Jamelle and John are joined by the historian Alexis Coe to discuss the film, as well as the real John F. Kennedy, his life and legacy. This is a long and fruitful conversation, that covers everything from the Boomer wish-fulfillment which animates the movie to the political consequences of conspiracy-thinking.

Once again, our new logo is courtesy of the great Rachel Eck! You can find her on Instagram.

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Alexis Coe

Links from the episode!

New York Times front-page for December 20, 1991

Oliver Stone’s New York Times op-ed defending the film.

Miller Center of Public Affairs page on the Kennedy presidency.

Politico Magazine on John F. Kennedy and Margaret Coit

Once Upon a Secret: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath by Mimi Alford


Apr 30, 2022
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (feat. Sam Adler-Bell)
01:13:30

Is a Star Trek movie a political and military thriller? We think so! Which is why, for this thirteenth episode of Unclear and Present Danger, Jamelle and John (and their guest, Sam Adler-Bell of the “Know Your Enemy” podcast) discussed Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. They talked about the nature of Star Trek’s utopianism, questioned whether the Federation is actually a good thing, and gave a close reading of the film’s Cold War allegory.

Our new logo is courtesy of the great Rachel Eck! You can find her on Instagram.

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Sam Adler-Bell

Links from the episode!

New York Times front-page for December 6, 1991

IMDB page for Nicholas Meyer

The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek: The First 25 Years


Apr 16, 2022
Company Business
01:15:11

On episode 12 of Unclear and Present and Danger, Jamelle and John talk about, and puzzle over, the 1991 action comedy (comedic thriller?) “Company Business.” They have an extended discussion of Gene Hackman’s career, talk Mikhail Gorbachev and the collapse of the Soviet Union, and think about the surge of populism that struck American politics in the early 1990s.

Our new logo is courtesy of the great Rachel Eck! You can find her on Instagram.

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John Ganz

Jamelle Bouie

Links from the episode!

New York Times front-page for September 6, 1991

Martin Chilton’s 2020 profile of Gene Hackman

“Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union” by Vladislav M. Zubok

Apr 01, 2022
Flight of the Intruder (feat. Jonathan Katz)
01:18:11

On this 11th episode of Unclear and Present Danger, Jamelle and John are joined by the journalist and author Jonathan Katz to talk John Milius' 1991 Vietnam drama, “Flight of the Intruder.” Among many other things, they talk Milius' work and career, the place of Vietnam in American’s historical memory, the political impact of the Gulf War, and the search for meaning through conflict.

Our logo is courtesy of the great Rachel Eck! You can find her on Instagram.

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John Ganz

Jamelle Bouie

Jonathan Katz

Links from the episode!

New York Times front-page for January 18, 1991

Roger Ebert’s review

The American Conservative on John Milius

Mar 18, 2022
Going Under
01:05:21

In this tenth episode of Unclear and Present Danger, Jamelle and John talk a little about this week’s movie, the 1991 submarine farce “Going Under,” but devote most of the episode to discussing the war in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia, and the way the world has underestimated the power of democracy.

Also, you might notice that we have a new logo. That is courtesy of the great Rachel Eck! You can find her on Instagram.

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John Ganz

Jamelle Bouie

Links from the episode!

New York Times for Friday, August 23, 1991

A comprehensive explainer of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at Jewish Currents magazine.

Wikipedia entry for the French Revolutionary Army

Wikipedia entry for the United States Colored Troops

Mar 04, 2022
The Russia House
01:06:00

On this week’s episode of Unclear and Present Danger, Jamelle and John talk the 1990 John Le Carré adaptation “The Russia House,” starring Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer. They discuss the social base for intelligence work during the Cold War, the period of glasnost and perestroika in the Soviet Union, the politics of nostalgia and the film’s excellent wardrobe. You can rent “The Russia House” on iTunes or on Amazon.

Also, you might notice that we have a new logo. That is courtesy of the great Rachel Eck! You can find her on Instagram.

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John Ganz

Jamelle Bouie

Links from the episode!

The New York Times for December 25, 1990

Wikipedia article for glasnost and perestroika

John D. Skrentny’s “The Minority Rights Revolution” on the impact of the Cold War on liberal reforms in the United States.

Feb 19, 2022
Hidden Agenda
01:06:01

In this week’s episode of Unclear and Present Danger, Jamelle and John tackle yet another movie about the Troubles, the 1990 film “Hidden Agenda.” This one, however, is more concerned with British politics than the well-being of the Irish people. They discuss Margaret Thatcher, talk a little about colonialism and the intra-European origins of racism, and complain about the dearth of well-made political thrillers. You can watch “Hidden Agenda” for free on Tubi.

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Links from the episode!

The New York Times for Wednesday November 21, 1990.

Cedric Robinson’s “Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition”

Alan J. Pakula’s 1974 film “The Parallax View.”


Feb 04, 2022
By Dawn’s Early Light
01:01:50

In this episode of Unclear and Present Danger, Jamelle and John discuss the 1990 made-for-TV movie “By Dawn’s Early Light.” Their conversation centers on the politics of nuclear weapons, what they mean for constitutional democracy, and how fear of nuclear weapons has been a potent political tool since the end of the Second World War.

“By Dawn’s Early Light” is available to stream for free on Amazon and YouTube, and is available for rent on iTunes.

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Links from the episode!

New York Times frontpage for Saturday May 19, 1990.

Trailer for “The Day After”

Trailer for “Threads”

Jan 22, 2022
The Fourth War
01:04:11

In the sixth episode of Unclear and Present Danger, John and Jamelle discuss “The Fourth War,” a late-period John Frankenheimer film about two crusty bastards who almost start the third world war over a personal grudge match. It looks like a TV movie and it’s not that interesting, but it was good fodder for a fruitful and fascinating conversation. Jamelle brings some 19th century American political history to the table, and John uses Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History” to get at some of the ideas in the film.

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Links from the episode!

New York Times front page for Friday, March 23, 1990

Janet Maslin’s New York Times review

Roger Ebert’s Chicago Sun-Times review

“The End of History?” by Francis Fukuyama, published in the Summer 1989 edition of The National Interest.

A book worth reading: The Slave Power: The Free North and Southern Domination, 1780–1860

Jan 07, 2022
The Package
00:59:20

In this week’s episode, Jamelle and John talk “The Package,” the 1989 conspiracy thriller from Andrew Davis, and the first of many Andrew Davis movies to come on this podcast. They talk class tensions within the military, the age-old American fear of standing armies and military bureaucracies, the anti-politics inherent in conspiracy theorizing, the role of ideology in shaping the actions of key actors, and how the shadow of the JFK assassination hangs over this movie.

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Links from the episode!

The New York Times frontpage for August 25, 1989.

An information page for the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

The Wikipedia entry for “The Day of the Jackal.”

The Wikipedia entry for “The Manchurian Candidate.”

A little background on Nazis in the Chicago area.

Dec 24, 2021
No Way Out
01:03:30

On this week's episode, Jamelle and John discuss the strange, surprisingly sleazy 1987 thriller No Way Out, starring Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman and Sean Young. Topics of discussion include Costner's strikingly bland persona, the contradictions within Reaganite conservatism, the futile quest for national unity, and the late 1980s as the last hurrah for the idea of the carefree white man. 

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New York Times front page for August 14, 1987

New York Times review

Trailer for The Big Clock

Bob Dole's Washington Post obituary

Dec 10, 2021
Clear and Present Danger
01:16:19

In this week’s episode of Unclear and Present Danger, Jamelle and John discuss the show’s namesake, “Clear and Present Danger,” the third and final “Jack Ryan” movie of the 1990s, whose politics are one part arch-cynicism about American foreign policy and one part naive liberal optimism about the integrity of the national security bureaucracy. Other topics include the film’s connection to the Iran-Contra scandal, the way that it touches on American memory of the Vietnam War, the fantasy of unlimited American power that animates this and other movies in the Tom Clancy oeuvre and, of course, Harrison Ford.

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Links from the episode!

New York Times frontpage for August 3, 1994

The Tom Clancy Companion

1994 Entertainment Weekly feature on “Clear and Present Danger”

Nov 26, 2021
Patriot Games (feat. Will Rahn)
01:01:26

In this week’s episode of Unclear and Present Danger, Jamelle and John are joined by Will Rahn of Yahoo News to talk “Patriot Games,” the second Jack Ryan movie of the 1990s and the first to star Harrison Ford. They discuss Ross Perot and the 1992 presidential election, Irish nationalism (and Irish bars), the film’s unambiguously pro-C.I.A politics, WASP triumphalism and the politics of George H.W. Bush.

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Links from the episode!

New York Times for June 6, 1992

Janet Maslin’s New York times review

Roger Ebert’s review

Nov 12, 2021
The Hunt for Red October
58:21

This is the first episode of Unclear and Present Danger, a new podcast by Jamelle Bouie of the New York Times and John Ganz, a freelance journalist writing a book on American politics in the 1990s. It is a podcast about the political thrillers of that decade, and what they said — or did not say — about the United States in the last years and immediate aftermath of the Cold War. We’re going to cover a wide range of movies, but we thought we would begin with a paradigmatic example of the genre, John McTiernan’s The Hunt for Red October, based on the best-selling Tom Clancy novel.

A quick correction: In the episode, Jamelle said that McTiernan went to jail for tax evasion. This was incorrect. He actually went to prison for lying to the FBI.

Oct 28, 2021