Monday, June 14, 2010

"Militainment"? Or "Operation Perception Management"?

One of the major public diplomacy discussions I have come across in class is the use of the entertainment industry to promote the country's relevant interests. The US government is, perhaps, one of the few major countries that does not directly support the production of from-America-with-love type movies (with a single exception that dates back to the 1960s), and my understanding is that it prides itself for that. "Hollywood will do the job by itself." And yet, the case is far from being such for Pentagon, which has a long-running relationship with the film industry (and not only).

I will be honest and say that I was naive enough never even to consider the possibility that all those war movies - that have been fairly popular over the past decade or so (not very recently, though), and which I have, myself, watched with great disgust but also interest - could have had their scripts pre-approved by the Pentagon before production. That is, not before I saw the latest episode of The Listening Post:



And no, none of that is "secret" of course. A simple Google search resulted in some articles from the earlier 2000s, that talk about this fact (Top Gun had resulted in some discussion too, back in 1986). There is also another one, as recent as 2006. And yet, there is nothing in the mainstream news today that would discuss the issue openly. Is it taken for granted that the Military "provides support" or, especially, pre-approves scripts of movies to be made? (For example, The Hurt Locker ran into a problem with the latter issue, apparently. Still got the Oscars...) Or is it just that we all conveniently forget about it?

Pentagon is willing to provide "technical support and advice" to any movie that deals with the subject, since that, in itself, provides access and direct (even if limited) control over the image of the US Military, as well as over the image of the wars it fights. But even if the script does not provide any venues for specific "message transmission", the simple fact of advertising the Military in movies should be worrisome.

All that is overshadowed by the role that video games play, though. These are much more effective - especially when it comes to potential recruiting - since they are more engaging and interactive, unlike "simple" movies. Having known some avid video game enthusiasts, I can say that they do indeed "work", especially when played from a younger age. Not only do they pump adrenaline - much the same way real battle supposedly does - but they also provide a sense of invincibility, power, and pride (now that I come to think of it, it might be really dangerous to go into a real battle zone with such a mindset...).

Furthermore, the story becomes ever more interesting when the virtual enemies are the Russians, or the Iraqis. The following trailers from a couple of very popular video games speak for themselves:

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare



Red Alert



Although "just a game", the players are much more likely to enthusiastically despise the "Russian comrades," the Arab "terrorists", or the "world-ambitious" Japanese in the real life, too. (As I was reading up to write this post, I came across a plot that sounds very, very interesting, and involves Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and a Russian double-agent. Should I start playing, now...?!)

Wonder where they are getting all their awesome ideas? Well: Hollywood and the Pentagon. Apparently.

And the result? War becomes "fun", despite all the blood and killing, as the target audience is desensitized and gets disconnected from the real, human aspect of it. All that is, in turn, reinforced by one-sided, embed-provided reporting by the "news media". Seems like they found a smart, shrewd, and effective way of conducting domestic PsyOps of some sort, since the audience is mostly unaware of the DoD support (of whichever nature), while entertainment is increasingly taking over every aspect of life (especially so in the case of "impressionable youth").

What I would personally want to find out, however, is whether the Hollywood Liaison Office falls under the Strategic Communication division within DoD, or...?

(Here I will take the liberty to share my "favorite" military recruitment ad. I kept seeing it in the cinemas for quite a long time, several months ago. I think I illustrates the convergence of Hollywood-style entertainment and the Military "communication techniques" very well. The only difference in this case, of course, is that it's clearly labeled as an ad.)





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