America is no stranger to employing subtle propaganda tactics against its own citizens in the hope of engendering a jingoistic, militaristic culture.
Following the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the Pentagon in collaboration with Hollywood, set about transforming the mood of the American public – who up until this point had favoured a policy of isolationism from World War II – by creating films that perpetuated a heroic myth of American militarism and racially stereotyped the enemy combatants as a terrifying horde.
The same sort of dehumanising tactics were employed daily by certain tabloid newspapers to manipulate public opinion during the recent migrant crisis, and throughout the last 70 years of American cinema, Hollywood has been happy to play its part in using the same strategy to further the ends of the Pentagon.
The founder of modern propaganda, Edward Bernays, described it as ‘the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the habits and opinions’ of a society, and following Bernays, Hollywood filmmakers have been doing just that in these six films that are basically unsubtle examples of U.S. military propaganda…
Olympus Has Fallen
The makers of hyper-nationalist disaster romp, Olympus Has Fallen, really couldn’t be arsed disguising their intentions.
Borrowing heavily from action classic, Die Hard, the movie follows a disgraced Secret Service agent in his attempt to save the President from a North Korea sanctioned guerrilla attack on the White House.
From the name of the movie (‘Olympus’ implying the White House is the residence of the Gods themselves), to the plot basically triumphing a trained killer, to the implication that the rogue-state North Koreans were able to take advantage of state restrictions on Wall Street to pull off their attack, the movie lathers on the paranoia of the Republican-party in thick, easily digestible globs that an already Fox News-ified fearful public will no doubt swallow whole.
Like I said, subtle…
White House Down
What is it with Roland Emmerich and blowing up the White House?
He’s done it in so many films now, the only conclusion we can reach is that he’s somehow sexually aroused by the seat of American power exploding horribly.
That, or he just likes making propaganda movies that tap into some of the most powerful symbolic expressions of American legitimacy and blowing the fuck out of them to scare us into believing that terrorists are going to butcher us all, unless we let the government fit us all with microchips for our own good.
If you’ve already read the paragraph on Olympus Has Fallen then just re-read that for this film basically, as they’re both virtually identical…
The Sum Of All Fears
Anything by Tom Clancy, and in particular the Jack Ryan series of which The Sum Of All Fears is a part, basically apologise for all the secret CIA dealings and blowbacks that they’ve caused by having a dashingly handsome moral type running around trying to stop explosions that the CIA itself actively caused through its foreign policy.
This is that same story – this time featuring Ben Affleck’s trembling chin.
In fairness to Pearl Harbor, it’s quite difficult not to drench this film in pro-American sentiment, recounting as it does the surprise attack by the Japanese navy which prompted the formerly isolationist U.S. government into entering the war.
War films though, in the hands of more nuanced filmmakers, have the power to criticise war. Pearl Harbor doesn’t do this. Instead, it lathers on mawkish, borderline embarrassing sentiment, on top of a romance between cartoon heroes and their damsel in distress.
It’s probably the most expensively filmed, sugary waste of time in the history of war cinema. But then, that’s probably the point…
Zero Dark Thirty
Kathryn Bigelow’s take on the assassination of U.S. public enemy number one, Osama Bin Laden, serves a dual function of delivering a stark warning to America’s enemies that they always get their man, and as an explicit sanction of the CIA’s illegal torture of captives.
Despite reams of evidence that torture fails to get accurate information – and helps to radicalise former captives, Zero Dark Thirty never really gets into the nitty-gritty of addressing the efficacy of torture, instead preferring to draw a thread directly between the illegal rendition of captives and the successful assassination attempt.
Despite not having much evidence to paint a clear picture of what actually happened when terrorists tried to take over United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, Hollywood nevertheless was able to rush through this picture describing the action as ‘inspired by real events’.
The Pentagon, desperate as they were to distract attention away from their failure to predict the attack, fully supported this film in its heroic portrayal of American exceptionalism, painting the passengers as folksy everymen and women who were just not going to stand for terrorism – pretty revealingly, the only character who suggests reasoning with the terrorists is conveniently non-American.
The film invokes feelings of both helplessness and heroic sacrifice, subtly informing a nation in distress that in the War on Terror they’d have to make their own sacrifices – namely on their own civil liberties and privacy.