Wings, in 1927, won the first Oscar for Best Picture and used more than 3,000 infantrymen, pilots and crew.
So begins our meta narrative...
I had a bit of a debate with a friend of mine about influences going into science fiction in the media, and the intersection between the Pentagon and Hollywood. The US military has had a presence for nearly a century in American filmmaking but insight into its outsized influence has gotten quite lost.
Even more oddly, the government has always been keen to get involved in any films about extraterrestrials -- including the CIA. The Pentagon has certainly firmed its grasp around alien-related movies in recent years.
This post jets in a few far out-directions. Rather than split it into more narrowly focused narratives, I wanted to linkdump a breadth of material so I can send it out there when these topics come up, as they all seem rather enmeshed anyhow.
If nothing else, Michael Bay should become Secretary of Defense. He has gained hugely from this system, and could shoot cheap fake wars to entertain Fox viewers while sparing the rest of us the expense of patrolling the world and the cosmos. Synthetic Wag the Dog type video should be the whole system, not just a prop for strategy.
SciFi military influence works in relation to The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), which signaled a threatening concept for Pentagon leadership: the film's conception of military thinking as too limited for managing our social reality in the universe -- an alien turns up to critique nuclear weapons and earthbound militarism. (And weird UFO incidents continued at nuclear sites in decades following!)
The bland remake had Pentagon help, and didn't do well with critics or the box office. Journalist Linda Moulton Howe said that government sources told her 1951 the film was "inspired by the CIA" and "one of the first major government tests of public reaction to such an event."
Fast forward sixty years later: fare like Stargate SG-1, Man of Steel and Transformers are marketed to appeal mainly to young male demographics and the military as a whole is usually presented as a cosmologically viable, if weak, buffer force against a fairly nihilistic universe, and if misguided still gets brought around.
Bad eggs, rather than systematic failures of the military as an institution, usually form the narrative boundary.
On the other end of the cosmic spectrum, Sony's Captain Phillips and the little-remembered Jurassic Park III were other projects where the military cleans everything up at the end. Despite different plot trappings, the subsidized state Pentagon presence is quite similar in all of these.
Phillips "used a U.S. military guided missile destroyer, an amphibious assault ship, several helicopters, and members of SEAL Team Six, who play themselves but are not on active duty — all courtesy of the U.S. Navy, who were able to work the shoot into their training…. For "Man of Steel," using military efforts cost less than $1 million on a movie with a production budget of $225 million. Another perk of having Strub sign off on a Hollywood project is it often means production is able to avoid Screen Actors Guild (SAG) daily minimum rates ($153 for eight hours, plus overtime) for unionized actors. Then they save again by not having to pay residuals, notes Fortune."
All of these were produced with a great deal of Pentagon assistance and this is always done in exchange for certain specific, defined features, usually script points in the storyline. Characters get reconfigured and sometimes dropped so that a producer can get access to a free carrier to film on or whatever. Minders on-set ensure the final product is right to spec.
Enter the Alien Stage Left: In all of this comes a defined emphasis on spacefaring aliens -- they got an extraterrestrial type firmly defined in the popular mind by the 1950s through media productions. Looking at so much of this sponsored work, there is almost a toolkit that has been diligently set in stone about what all the weirdness really means, and how it works.
Part of what writer Chris Knowles at Secret Sun blog has gunned away at for years is not just the complex of recycled ideas and flows of script control. It's a long exploration along the interfaces of popular culture and sophisticated groups planting, in retrospect, quite traceable ideas. For example, old Outer Limits, Star Trek, the Esalen Institute and Rockefellers form one compellingly weird Gordian knot.
Stargates and Solar temples is a real cosmic trip as well, linking a California-centered trend of contacting invisible alien spirits called the Nine with the Prophets (alien wormhole dwellers worshipped by Bajorans) in Deep Space Nine. Spoiler alert: Pleasure planet Risa also has numerous cues connecting it to Esalen as well. All this stuff is wild.
Knowles also stresses that powerful ideas like hidden folk ('elves', spirits, elementals), walk-ins (like possession & speaking in tongues), or other ultraterrestrials have been with humanity apparently since the beginning but are totally obfuscated by factors like the Pentagon's reorganization of the Other through the media (if I can summarize a very long and branching line of inquiry). They call our attention to Grays to draw it away from the Wee Folk.
It seems like the Pentagon likes to push away the idea that some connection would be made to somewhat unreal or alternate dimension intelligences, who might bear some positive wisdom if only we were more open to it. [Knowles attributes some of this hostility to a shadowy Collins Elite, hardliners kind of like cosmic Birchers, opponents of the Rockefeller Disclosure squad like Dr Steve Greer. He sees echoes of the Collins Elite in the 10:13 produced X-Files spinoff Millennium. ]
Another common theme is that the military is not a systematically wrong approach to the cosmic universe. Star Trek and Stargate SG-1 are the strongest examples, which always resonated better with Americans than elsewhere. The complete notion or the ontology of a military agency facing outwards into the void as the political surface membrane of human bacterial cell in the galactic body, through the US Air Force Space Command, is beyond doubt.
Even when members of the military make bad decisions like in WarGames or SG-1 episodes, it gets reconciled and the structure is redeemed. In these boundaries there are not Strangelove-like transgressions. Even after apotheosis and enlightenment, still the military structure stands. It just needs course corrections, it never goes down like the Titanic. [Plenty of script tweak examples listed below]
Independence Day was not produced with military help (they certainly didn't want Area 51 in the mix, apparently) but everything still lands in a martial framework.
The notion of utopian existence without state militaries withers away, reversing the Earth Stood Still, getting it all spinning once again.
(source http://fakeclenews.com/images/independence-day-area-51.jpg )
Much as it seems easier to imagine the apocalypse nowadays than living outside of capitalism, so too it is harder to imagine exploring both the outer and inner universe outside of a martial foundation.
British angle: I'm less familiar with overseas version of America's media-military complex, but it seems the British used James Bond films to put certain ideas out there, at least. The BBC looms large over Brit sci-fi. Torchwood, Britain's answer to Men in Black, seemed kind of like NCIS for space. I didn't see much of it but it seemed like a reframing of high weirdness phenomena into manageably concrete martial terms.
While poking around this stuff I came across Gordon White's website Rune Soup including this fun passage in The Other Place of Dead Roads:
The trickster unifies major, but seemingly unrelated, themes surrounding the paranormal. For instance, the paranormal is frequently connected with deception, and deceit is second nature to the trickster. Psychic phenomena gain prominence in times of disruption and transition. Tricksters are found in conditions of transition. The paranormal has a peculiar relationship with religion; the trickster was part of many early religions, and he was viewed ambivalently. The statuses of paranormal phenomena are typically uncertain or marginal in a variety of ways. Tricksters’ statuses are similar. [The Trickster and the Paranormal.]
Also interesting: Under Familiar Skies. To this intersection of shamanism and management of Otherworldly perceptions check out: Risk a Little More Bite if your interests lie anywhere between Terrence McKenna and John Podesta's improbable recent tweet about UFO files.
Narrative and the New Nihilism: Along with all of this is a "new nihilism" linked to what Knowles derisively calls Nü Atheism (aka the adolescent-minded Dawkins/ Maher/Harris scene). This piece touches on it: "They kept saying they believe in nothing" | Red Dirt Report. Nihilism is a perfect worldview to match the perspective that nothing tangible positive is reachable in the interior of the psyche or the cosmos. (See also The Secret Sun: Pop (Culture) Has Eaten Itself)
There is certainly some gender dynamic in scifi that saw Star Trek: Voyager as the high water mark for non-alpha male storytelling ( Now, "Voyager": in praise of the Trekkiest "Trek" of all). Now everything seems to have drifted back towards typical gender roles, as the story notes. Even the idea of a black James Bond is controversial - Roger Moore facepalm...
Circling back to the general issue of the Pentagon in non-scifi moviemaking: This is hardly a small affair or just a few producers and G-Men scooting some cameras onto the odd aircraft carrier deck. It's a major system and important to the whole way that America perceives itself in the world - and indeed the universe.
Here are some links to hit, plenty more where that came from:
25 years later, how ‘Top Gun’ made America love war - David Sirota - WaPo OpEd August 2011: "In June, the Army negotiated a first-of-its-kind sponsorship deal with the producers of “X-Men: First Class,” backing it up with ads telling potential recruits that they could live out superhero fantasies on real-life battlefields. … [In Top Gun] Time magazine reported that Goose’s death was changed from a midair collision to an ejection scene, because “the Navy complained that too many pilots were crashing."
The Pentagon’s Man in Hollywood: I’m a Eunuch | The New Republic - Dec 2012
CIA and Pentagon have long-running influence over Hollywood’s representation of military - RawStory Jan 2013
'Act Of Valor' And The Military's Long Hollywood Mission - HuffPo Feb 2012
Hollywood and The Pentagon: A Dangerous Liaison - Top Documentary Films (37 mins, free) [also here]
Hollywood and the Pentagon: A relationship of mutual exploitation | Al Jazeera America - July 2014
On the CBS hit show “NCIS” (Naval Criminal Investigative Service): “If you watch the episodes, it’s always a dead Marine or a dead sailor and reverse autopsy to see if they were the victim or the perpetrator,” Coons said. “In many cases you’ll see we hold ourselves accountable when the investigation reveals we’ve done something wrong, and we take that person through the proper steps to punish them or make them whole if they were the victim, and it’s demonstrated for the public to see.”
I am baffled people find such bland step-throughs watchable but apparently they're as addictive as crack once you get into them.
Operation Hollywood | Mother Jones - Sept 2004: "They never -- at least that I’ve seen -- help movies with aliens. Usually in those movies, the military is shown to be ineffective in combating the aliens, and it’s always some tricky, enterprising person who figures out how to defeat them. " Notice this has since been reversed with Transformers and Man of Steel. "….when the world’s most powerful medium colludes with the world’s most powerful military to put propaganda in mainstream films and television shows, that has to have an effect on the American psyche."
The Pentagon and Hollywood - quick note from Stanford, date unknown.
Since 1989, this guy: Phil Strub Controls Hollywood's Military Access - Business Insider - March 2014. This guy is Director of the Marine Corps liason office now > Curtis Hill | LinkedIn
Hollywood Is Becoming the Pentagon's Mouthpiece for Propaganda | Alternet - May 2008, looks at Iron Man
Propaganda and Censorship: The Hollywood Industrial Complex by Sean A. McElwee -- Antiwar.com - April 2013. Covers Iron Man 2. "In the original GoldenEye script a Navy Admiral sells state secrets, the final version, it’s now a Frenchman." Handy index:
2012 Act of Valor
2011 Transformers: Dark of the Moon
2011 Battle Los Angeles
2010 Iron Man 2
2009 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
2009 Bones (TV series)
– The Hero in the Hold (2009) (this episode could not have been made without the support and generosity of – Phil Strub)
2008 The Day the Earth Stood Still
2008 Eagle Eye
2008 Iron Man
2007 I Am Legend
2006 Flags of Our Fathers
2006 Al Franken: God Spoke
2006 United 93
2005 The Great Raid
2005 War of the Worlds
2003 American Valor
2003 The Core
Pentagon rules target Hollywood leaks | TheHill - Sept 2014. Can't have anyone telling stories outside of school! [Look back on Secret Sun for clues about old Outer Limits possibly publishing leaked material wrapped in scifi]
US Marine Corps list of TV and Film requests for involvement
A Credit to the Corps - latimes - on Josh Rushing & Al Jazeera, August 2004. He got reassigned to the Marine Corps' Hollywood office after a spokester media tour early in the Iraq war.
MARINE PAYING PRICE FOR ROLE IN DOCUMENTARY CAPT. JOSH RUSHING HAS BEEN REASSIGNED AND HAS BEEN ORDERED NOT TO GIVE INTERVIEWS ABOUT HIS ROLE IN 'CONTROL ROOM,' A DOCUMENTARY BY AL JAZEERA. - News-Record.com: Home
Ex-Marine Josh Rushing on His Journey from Military Mouthpiece to Al Jazeera Correspondent | Democracy Now! - June 2007
Pentagon Liaisons to Hollywood Have Some Great Stories - Roll Call July 2014
When the CIA infiltrated Hollywood - Salon.com by Tom Hayden - Feb 2013, covers Argo and earlier projects.
USATODAY.com - Homeland Security guides the stars - March 2005 Homeland Security and once again Tom Hanks in The Terminal. Along with USATODAY.com - Hollywood, Pentagon share rich past
The Case for Hollywood History by Francine Prose | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books - Feb 2015
Pentagon weighs in on some Hollywood movie scripts - AP 1996 - Yes they hit Forrest Gump and demanded his co-soldiers appear smarter.
The Pentagon Goes Hollywood | | The Escapist Feb 2013. Wow even Birth of a Nation had artillery loaned from West Point.
War is a racket: The Pentagon-Hollywood Connection - Brass Check TV
Military interference in American film production - World Socialist Web Site - March 2005
DivPA Los Angeles Public Affairs -
The Marine Corps Motion Picture & TV Liaison Office, also known as LA Public Affairs, provides assistance to directors, producers and writers in the entertainment industry by providing DoD support for major motion pictures, television shows, video games and documentaries to inform and educate the public about the roles and missions, history, operations, and training of the United States Marine Corps.
What we provide
Since 1917, we have helped producers, writers and directors of non-Government, entertainment and non-entertainment-based media productions with the following:
- Coordination for the use of personnel, aircraft, and equipment.
- Access to Marine Corps installations, both within the United States and forward combat zones.
- Assistance in obtaining broadcast-quality Marine Corps stock footage and "B" roll footage.
- Accurate Script and story development
- Access to highly-qualified subject matter experts (i.e. pilots, engineers, infantrymen, etc)
Note: All productions must be approved by the Department of Defense and meet specific criteria for support. Click on our FAQs link for more information.
What production companies should do
You may contact these people to try and borrow an aircraft carrier for your drug filled pacifist film capers at:
U.S. Military Assistance in Producing Motion Pictures, Television Shows, Music Videos
Department of Defense
Special Assistant for Entertainment Media
Department of Defense
The Pentagon, Room 2E592
Washington, DC 20301-1400
(703) 695-2936 / FAX (703) 695-1149
For information regarding U.S. military assistance in producing feature motion pictures, television shows, documentaries, music videos, commercial advertisements, CD-ROM games, and other audiovisual programs, please contact the Military Service being portrayed or being asked to provide assistance:
Chief, Office of Army Chief of Public Affairs
Los Angeles Branch
10880 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 1250
Los Angeles, CA 90024
(310) 235-7621 / FAX (310) 235-6075
Director, Navy Office of Information West
10880 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 1220
Los Angeles, CA 90024
(310) 235-7481 / FAX (310) 235-7856
Director, Secretary of the Air Force
Office of Public Affairs
Office of Public Affairs-Entertainment Liaison
10880 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 1240
Los Angeles, CA 90024
(310) 235-7511 / FAX (310) 235-7500
Director, Marine Corps Public Affairs
Motion Picture and Television Liaison
10880 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 1230
Los Angeles, CA 90024
(310) 235-7272 / FAX (310) 235-7274
Anyway I hope that gives some avenues to go check out and a better understanding of where all these bland military-involved plot points come from - movie execs that acquiesce to rather unconstitutional pressure from the offices named above here, due to budget pressure.
The remapping of outer space by this system is almost as strange as a UFO sighting - it rather pre-conditions us to certain conclusions, or frames of reference. whenever a truly weird incident happens.
Let's try to support weird cinema in 2015, cinema that opens our imaginations. Not this dull mixture of the same old military character injected into young male blockbusters and all-too-conventional scifi over and over.
Credit to Roger Ebert for inspiring me to throw some notes out there - just watched "Life, Itself" and it was quite awesome.