To fight any kind of evil (even extraterrestrial ones), Hollywood recruits its American ‘heroes’ to help save the day. These films usually center the US military, who go about saving the face of their own country, and the world. More famous than these loyal fighters are covert spies, who work with ingenious minds to bring down evil forces outside the country. Aliens also seem to launch an attack only against America for some reason; the country truly has no resource of its own, save for its money. The world’s mightiest superheroes are all American or British, and seem to limit the majority of their work to this one continent only. Why is it that Hollywood’s pinnacle of heroism is defined by an American, gun-brandishing, white man?
Hollywood has a deep relationship with the US military and federal agencies, but it runs far deeper than you think. It is perhaps the most intimate relationship the industry shares with any other arm of the government. Studios make good money out of muscly men bettering the world by shooting “bad guys” on an international scene. Another beneficiary of this success is the US administration, who are unabashedly spreading propaganda in the guise of art.
The Department of Defense has a longstanding relationship with Hollywood, right since the 1920s. Liaison officers from the DoD, Pentagon, and intelligence officers are a regular point of contact for producers who are looking to make projects with these elements. Scripts have to be approved by the concerned department, and only then do they see the light of the world. BuzzFeed News details how the FBI banks on the media for its portrayal – 100 million people watch titles based on US intelligence, every week. This footfall might be more pronounced because these shows are aired outside of the US as well. The world has an idea about FBI and CIA operations simply based on Hollywood portrayals. For example, in India, Tom Clancy’s: Jack Ryan has done a fairly good performance, being one of the most popular shows in 2019. What is India going to make out of Ryan’s heroics, in matters absolutely unrelated to India, anyways?
The image of the infallible USA is held up, while Hollywood mints money because of factual and equipment support from these agencies. This is a case of “mutual exploitation”, as termed by author Lawrence Suid, whose work is centered around this relationship.
Operations of these agencies are not made public. Those that can sate the public’s curiosity cannot survive in the open if a news channel decides to do a special series on it. Writers and directors pick up some of these tidbits that lay around in public domain, and go digging for more. They inevitably have to knock on the doors of these liaison offices, who vet their stories for accuracy. These officers read the whole script of the project, not limiting themselves to the parts that concern their operations. If necessary, they also ask to make changes to certain elements in the script. And who says no to these reputed institutions, dedicated to serve the country until the end?
The Pentagon exercises their control over the narrative scores of people interpret after watching these movies. It perpetuates the image of American bravehearts, who do nothing but put duty before everything in their lives. The trauma faced by many soldiers in reality is also another card the military plays to gain sympathy from the public. There are also instances when corrupt military or federal personnel are given their due deliverance, but it is barely a peek into the reality of the issue. There is no cinematic mention of all that they have really done in reality, like destabilizing governments for their own use. It is somehow portrayed as a necessary counter-action that the US military and investigative agencies have to do, to save that particular country. Countless news agencies have seen and reported on the failures of the many operations that yielded nothing but loss of lives. It won’t be much too favorable for the Pentagon and intelligence agencies to have their real image out for the world to see.
Even the film The Report fails to truly distance itself from the propaganda. It is based on 6400 pages long report of the Senate Intelligence Committee that scrutinized the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques. Following 9/11, the CIA cracked down on anyone they considered suspicious, many of whom were unrelated to the perpetrators. The techniques were pure torture, and have left many of its victims traumatized. The Report is a cinematic absolution of the CIA’s misdeeds for the world to see, despite its good intentions.
The biggest movies in Hollywood have seen military involvement. They have even asked to make changes to military characters that were originally written as snarky. They did this in Pearl Harbor, one of the most memorable war movies. The CIA had significantly funded the adaptation of 1984, a landmark novel in literature history. The agency promptly moved away from the novel, quaintly disrespecting what George Orwell had asked for with his book. Marvel is high up on the Pentagon’s good books, having cooperated with most of its titles. There’s no telling about its involvement in Iron Man, Captain America, and really every other hero. Sure, there are the accords and stuff, but they’re managed ultimately by the US government in the franchise. The only title that did not have military cooperation was The Avengers, only because it was too wacky for the military to wrap their heads around.
There is not one title in Hollywood that explicitly criticizes US defense and intelligence for its fallacies. Those that did, had to cut down on a lot before being approved for release. A real portrayal of these departments is the worst case scenario for them. It would cause public distrust of the American administration, and could prompt resignations of the top order. In its perseverance to uphold democracies across the world, the US fails to adhere to democratic values on its own soil. And it does all of this, unabashedly, via Hollywood, which has an influence on public mindset like no other entity.