There isn’t any part of popular culture which allows the citizens of this country to escape the glorification of American imperialism. One can’t watch a football game without seeing an honor guard present the colors, or soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, or in the worst case scenario a flyover of military jets. Commercials advertising everything from cars to dog food present endless images of soldiers returning home from the battlefield.
The movie industry has embraced the glorification of militarism and American violence practiced abroad as eagerly as professional sports or advertising. There is scarcely a big budget action movie whose plot doesn’t include a scene on an aircraft carrier and even children’s cartoons and games are brought back to life with story lines made in cooperation with the Department of Defense.
Now the propaganda has migrated from the backdrop of action movies to being the focal point of serious drama. Two recently commercially successful and award winning movies were all about the empire. They were praised by critics and popular with audiences as they spread vicious lies and or defended the worst impulses of the American government.
Osama bin Laden had barely taken his last breath when Hollywood gave the green light to dramatize the story of his assassination. The film Zero Dark Thirty filled the bill, complete with a validation of torture, which is considered a war crime nearly everywhere on earth except the United States.
The producers of Zero Dark Thirty were given access to classified documents, an action which ought to have impugned the film makers’ integrity and made it unacceptable to audiences and critics. The Obama administration forgot about its draconian whistle blower punishments in order to make sure that the president and his policies were lionized on film.
While in one instance propaganda demanded a speedy take on history, in another case an old story suddenly became interesting. Thirty years after Americans were taken hostage at their embassy in Iran, Hollywood came calling at an opportune moment politically. Argo won an Academy Award at the precise moment that the Obama administration is making its most serious case for war against Iran. The story of the six hostages who escaped to the Canadian embassy would seem to be interesting enough on its own merits, but the filmmakers added a climactic but completely fictional chase down an airport runway just in case any viewers didn’t hate Iranians enough by the end of the movie. Not to be outdone in the propaganda department, the lead role was played by a white actor when the real life and still living protagonist, Antonio Mendez, is Latino.
If there was any doubt that government propaganda was the order of the day in entertainment, first lady Michelle Obama presented the best picture award for Argo at the Oscars. She was surrounded by military personnel in uniform as she did so.
It is a little known fact that the Central Intelligence Agency has a film office. Its entertainment industry liaison office came into being in the 1990s and has been used to by movie and television producers to shape the agency’s image. Of course, that means lying about history. The producers of Argo gave passing recognition of the CIA operation which over threw a democratic government in Iran and placed a monarch in power in the early 1950s. They didn’t raise the question of why all the hostages weren’t released until Ronald Reagan’s inauguration day or delve into charges that his administration thwarted Jimmy Carter’s efforts to end the standoff.
There was a time when the entertainment industry promoted an anti-establishment counter culture, consciously creating a space for nonconformity. Movies and music were means of escaping the dictates of the status quo. Now they are part and parcel of the establishment and leave no outlet for true creativity or independent thought. Movies have become a happy arm of the United States government as they advocate for violence and war crimes to be carried out around the world.
Hollywood is after all an important part of corporate media. Like other media, it is now shaped by fewer and fewer players, with large conglomerates replacing the creative people who once made films interesting. The endless sequels and big budget action movies now comprise most of what we can expect to see at the multiplex. In a country becoming more and more imperialistic every day, it isn’t surprising to see the Pentagon’s world view on screen.
While not surprising, it shouldn’t be acceptable. If Barack Obama or any other president declares that there will be war against Iran, then most Americans will approve. Sadly, that approval will be even harder to fight against if the powerful and appealing images seen on the silver screen are perceived to be part of the call to arms.