Culture Military Movies

Hollywood And The Pentagon: Entertainment Or Propaganda?

The close ties between the United States’ military and the US movie and television industry is one of the biggest open secrets in Hollywood. It’s not that anyone is trying to hide the cooperation between government and business in the production of high profile films and TV shows, especially the genre releases that have become a staple of the summer season. It’s just that neither side feels the need to overly advertise it either. While most observers believe that the shocking events of 9/11 and the so-called War on Terror spurred a new era of collaboration between the Pentagon and Hollywood, the template actually goes back to tail end of the Cold War and a slow rebuilding of relationships following the post-Vietnam lows of the 1970s (with the Tony Scott-helmed Top Gun in 1986 being a prime example of the growing detente). Contemporary levels of cooperation don’t just manifest themselves in the Pentagon’s supply of military men and materials to fill up the cinema screen. In many cases the liaison people for the Department of Defense are given a say over the film and television scripts, requesting changes to scenes and dialogue in order to better reflect the image and policies of the US government. Which blurs the line between privately-funded entertainment and state-sponsored propaganda.

Here are two video essays examining the subject, the first from the YouTube channel Just Write and the second from the Pop Culture Detective.

1 comment on “Hollywood And The Pentagon: Entertainment Or Propaganda?

  1. What you are looking at is to some extent a competition thing.

    Many movies like “Platoon”, “Apocalypse Now”, “An Officer and a Gentleman” were made without Pentagon support, and that was before they had the CSI miracles we can do today. So it’s clearly possible. The trouble is that an in ultra-competitive business environment like Hollywood any operation that turns down financial help is seen as a “worse calculated risk”. “Top Gun” was originally planned as an anti-war film.

    That said, I partially agree with the quote attributed to Francois Truffaut, “There is no anti-war war film.” At least in the sense that people tend to take from movies what they bring with them. A lot of times films end up glorifying war implicitly regardless of what Stone, Coppola, Kubrick might have intended. I can remember that when my brother and I, walked out of the movie “Platoon” as children without nearly polar opposite impressions about the Vietnam War. He concluded that this movie proved everyone who protested the Vietnam War “deserved to be shot between the eyes”, and I came out thinking that war should never be anything but an extreme last resort. The anti-war version of “Top Gun” might have bucked the Truffaut theory. Here’s one article from an associate of mine on the topic.

    One small group of movies that often are not Pentagon backed but have done more damage to The US anti-war movement in my opinion that all those garbage high-touch war flicks are the movies that promote what some people call “The Vietnam Dolchstosslegende”. Rambo is the biggie, but there are clearly others like “The Visitors” in 1972 (there are many movies by that name). Having been an anti-war activists in the US (Iraq) I could forgive the boys who tried to rape me as a teenager 100X over and then some before I could even contemplate forgiving Sly Stallone or anyone else involved in the movie Rambo for that Birdseed.

    And I think that Dolchstosslegende is an engine behind a lot of what you see behind war propaganda in the US. Attitudes were very different in the 1970’s. Much of it is like the Soviet meetings where people used to pass out because nobody dared to be the first person to stop clapping for Tovarisch Stalin-at least once the guy who passed out went to the gulag. Whenever somebody ups the anti people are afraid to do anything but agree.

    To some degree Kaepernick broke the ice with his kneeling protest. My views on the topic he’s protesting are complicated. I don’t think police brutality is exclusively a black problem. And while racism is still a serious problem in the US, I don’t believe a white or even Latino anti-war activists would have gotten away with Kaepernick’s protest for 1/10 as long as he… I said it’s complicated.


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