The 1970s was a time of great change for the US. It had fought and lost a war in Vietnam; it had seen one of its presidents forced to resign to avoid impeachment; and its decade-long detente with the Soviet Union was perceived in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to have failed and to have been a ‘long con’ by the opposing superpower.
The election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980 was a turning moment for the US. Backed by the newly emboldened Christian right, Reagan seemed to bring back the US’s self-esteem. Casting the Soviet Union as ‘the evil empire’, he redefined the US as the ‘leader of the free world’, a beacon of liberty and human rights founded on rugged individualism rather than big government, and backed by a technology-enhanced and financially boosted military. On top of that, the arrival of the microchip in the 1970s began to revolutionise technology and, in particular, computers, touching on more or less every industry, from manufacturing all the way through to music, and it was this ‘white heat of technology’ that helped Reagan to cement this philosophy in practice and demonstrate American superiority.
How the entertainment industry reacted to the new official American outlook varied. Movies, still full of an independent spirit but sensing the shift in perspective, began to embrace technology and the new sentiments. TV shows, however, under attack for the perceived effect of violence on children, retreated more into fantasy rather than face up to the new Cold War and American military might straight on.
But there was one TV show that embraced all these trends whole heartedly, becoming perhaps the epitome of the Reaganite philosophy. It was also one of the best US TV shows of the early 1980s.
Created by a former US marine and Christian Republican, with a central, rugged, individualist Vietnam veteran as hero, full of religious symbolism and military technology, and with the oppressors of the Soviet Union and its allies firmly cast as the enemy, Airwolf was coming.