Growing up, Spies Like Us, was one of the first comedies I ever saw, and is one of the reasons Dan Akroyd and Chevy Chase are two of my favorite actors of all time. The movie takes place in the Cold War days of the 1980s. In the movie, the “Ace Tomato Company,” a secret government agency responsible for national security, notices a team of Soviets with a nuclear bomb moving across the Russian border. In reaction, the Ace Tomato Company sends four spies to Russia to complete a very risky objective: to launch the nuke at the U.S. and attempt to destroy it mid-launch in order to test a new nuclear defense system. The team of spies used in this operation consists of two highly trained “real” spies, and two phony spies to be used as decoys, Akroyd and Chase.
Although the movie’s primary purpose is to be funny and have an excuse to crack jokes, Spies Like Us contains one place that makes an argument about the secret and powerful role of our government in the 1980s during the Cold War. The place is referred to as WAMP, which is an underground military nuclear defense base that is in the middle of a vast dessert. The depiction and overall role of this underground base effectively argues that during the times of the Cold War, and even today, our government has secret places where operations take place that even the President doesn’t know about.
When the spies reach the nuke traveling through Russia, two men from the Ace Tomato Company join the military at WAMP, to prepare to destroy the nuke that the spies are instructed to launch.
The symbolism and role that WAMP plays in Spies Like Us, is important to the film’s argument of pathos. At this place and time in the film, WAMP is quite literally the only place in the world that is capable of stopping a nuclear bomb from landing inside the United States and causing an instant global nuclear war. The people inside WAMP and the spies, according to the movie, are the only people in the world that know of this possible threat to the destruction of humanity, not even the President. The emotional appeal of this film’s argument about the government’s mysterious power lies in the gravity of this situation that takes place only inside this secret underground base. The situation invokes an eerie and anxious mood that causes the audience to ask questions like; How do we know something like this hasn’t happened before? Do places like this exist? How much does the government know that I don’t know? WAMP symbolizes a location during the Reagan Administration that was ultimately responsible for protecting American’s lives, and curing their greatest and most realistic fears, a nuclear attack.
The argument of ethos used in Spies Like Us is the effort that the film takes to depict WAMP as technologically advanced, accurate, and powerful. This detailed depiction establishes credibility to the film and to the argument the film makes by the use of WAMP. In the scenes that involve WAMP, the movie leaves out humor and takes time to show the power and mystery of this secret government location. During scenes inside WAMP, the background sounds in make this place seem very “high tech,” including various beeping computer sounds, large metal doors shutting, and other industrial machinery movement noises. During the scene where the people at WAMP try to shoot down the nuke from space, WAMP’s computers eject two enormous “laser gun” looking machines from underground that look like something from a futuristic space movie. The bizarre, futuristic looking, and advanced technology in WAMP speaks for the place’s credibility as one that is spot-on to what a real nuclear defense base looks like. The shock and awe of this computerized technology and machinery, which was a major cultural obsession during the 1980s, allows the audience to believe that WAMP is making a statement to resemble a place that exists in real life.
Another example of an argument that WAMP makes through ethos is the secret base’s underlined purpose, to protect the United States. In this film, as a place that is protecting American’s lives, WAMP might argue for people to be supportive of secret government operations involving nuclear defense. During the 1980s, a Russian attack was possible and this caused much anxiety among Americans; because of this, spending billions of dollars, such as the spending on technology in WAMP, to protect the U.S. from a Russian attack was a core belief for many Americans. According to Lunsford in Everything’s an Argument, “You can also establish credibility by connecting your own beliefs to core principles that are well established and widely respected” (Lunsford 60). Showing that WAMP has the capability of stopping a nuclear attack gives credibility to the place and the argument that nuclear defense systems, even if they are secret, are necessary to protect the United States.
The use of logos as an appeal stating that secret places like “WAMP” are necessary in such times of the Cold War is also used. In the 1980s, a crisis like the one depicted in Spies Like Us, is one that is very possible. According to the movie, the defense system in “WAMP” is a new system that needed to be tested, which is one of the reasons the missile is launched at the U.S. When commenting on the tremendous risk involved in the unauthorized launching of the nuke at the U.S. for defense research, General Sline, the man in charge of “WAMP,” states, “To guarantee the American way of life, I’m willing to take that risk… a weapon unused is a useless weapon” (Spies Like Us Film). General Sline uses logic to state that in order to secure American life, risky and secret actions like the ones taken at “WAMP” need to happen. Since the crisis in this movie is one that was realistic during the time period, the audience could logically assume that places like “WAMP” definitely exist due to the possibility of extreme situations like the one in this film.
The depiction and role that “WAMP” plays in Spies like Us effectively argues that we don’t know the entirety of the power and secrets of our government. During the 1980s the threat to national security was one of all American’s greatest fears, and since Spies Like Us shows that how our government can secretly destroy nukes from outer space, while being extremely hilarious, I’ll give it 5 slurpees.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gK5tWGKHdA4 (note only watch from 0:00-1:45) *this was the only clip from the movie I could find that shows WAMP