The Peace Corps as a Plot Gimmick

I read where Brooke White, an “American Idol” Season 7 finalist, will star in Change of Plans, a TV movie presented by Fox. The 27-year-old singer-turned-actress will play a woman who becomes the legal guardian of four children after her best friend dies while serving in the Peace Corps.  (Wait, a PCV with four kids?)

This is just the latest in a series of movies (and books) that uses the Peace Corps as a plot gimmick. The most famous one, and one of the first, was the very lowbrow movie Volunteers starring  Tom Hanks years before Hanks was an Oscar-winning megacelebrity. 

In this silly movie, Hanks meets and stars with Rita Wilson who Tom later married. Volunteers is set in 1962–back when the Peace Corps was all the rage–and Hanks, speaking with an unfortunate accent meant to represent aristocratic wealth, plays a compulsive gambler, recently graduated from Yale, whose father suddenly refuses to pay his debts. To escape some particularly shady characters, he joins the Peace Corps and boards a plane headed to Southeast Asia. (What no interview? references? endless emailing to the Recruiter? Medical? Hardly realistic.) But nevertheless… .

This movie, as has been written about it, is “far from being politically sensitive.” The politics of the movie are all messed up, and the movie ends as a huge indictment of the Peace Corps as a corrupt tool of the government, despite some kind words for the agency and PCVs at the end.

The movie costars, John Candy, plays a character called Tommy Tuttle from Tacoma, Washington. (And I thought I served with Tommy Tuttle in Ethiopia.) 

Matt Losak (Lesotho 1985-88) who worked with me in recruitment in New York always believed that the Peace Corps should get Hanks to do a public service ad for the agency because of Volunteers. As Matt always said, the movie made Hanks’ career and he met his wife while making the film. Sounds like just another PCV story to me.


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  • “Animal House”-John Belushi On being busted, and reflecting on his undergraduate career “Seven years down the drain, I guess I’ll have to join the Peace Corps.”

    It is still a tag line that our family uses to break up any serious crisis…still gets a laugh.

  • Novelists and short story writers do a more realistic job with the Peace Corps. But using it as a plot device? Sure!

  • A Volunteer with four children? That’s a distortion of the PC Volunteer. Then again, it’s a Fox TV movie. Since they simply make up history on their news channel and create lies as current news, why should they worry about getting anything about the Peace Corps right?

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