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Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|hollywood: the propaganda machine|
|06/05/02 at 18:10:01|
If you thought the days of Hollywood acting directly as a propaganda machine for the government ended with Warner Bros.’ anti-“Jap” WWII cartoons, you haven’t been paying attention to the people behind the silver screen: Drug Warriors, Pentagon brass, and intelligence officials. I’m not talking about ways in which ingrained patriotism may make people want to make their country and its institutions look good. Instead, I mean the State using quid pro quo to directly influence movies and television to the point of causing scripts to be changed. Meet the almost unknown power players of Hollywood:
The Military. The armed forces help filmmakers by letting them use military vehicles, other hardware, and land, saving the studios millions of dollars in expenses. In return for this service, though, the military often asks for changes to the movie, changes which always make the armed forces look better. With disturbing regularity, the filmmakers--even big-name ones--cave in. Ridley Scott removed a scene from G.I. Jane because a Navy commander said it “carries no benefit to the US navy.” The producers of Top Gun obtained Navy cooperation only after they changed Kelly McGillis’ character from an enlisted woman to a civilian (fraternization between officers and enlistees is a no-no). A Marine major complained about The Jackal because helicopter pilots didn’t have an “integral part in the action--they are effectively taxi drivers,” so director Michael Caton-Jones wrote back: "I am certain that we can address the points that you raised...and effect the appropriate changes in the screenplay that you requested." Once the fly-boys were given a better role, the Marines cooperated.
Some filmmakers slobber on themselves in an attempt to appease the military. Dean Devlin, the writer and producer of Independence Day, told the Pentagon: “If this doesn't make every boy in the country want to fly a fighter jet, I'll eat this script.” A Disney executive reassured the old soldiers, “We firmly believe that with the support of the US military, Armageddon will be the biggest film of 1998, while illustrating the expertise, leadership and heroism of the US military.”
Among the films that were given military cooperation after passing the acceptability test: Air Force One, A Few Good Men, From Here to Eternity, The Hunt for Red October, Pearl Harbor, Apollo 13, and Tora Tora! Tora!. Among those that didn’t receive an official stamp of approval and, thus, any military assistance: Apocalypse Now, Catch 22, Dr. Strangelove, Forrest Gump, An Officer and a Gentleman, Platoon, and Sgt. Bilko.
As one government memo said: “Military depictions have become more of a 'commercial' for us.”
The CIA. As part of its effort to appear more open, the CIA in the mid-1990s began offering “consultation[s] and research assistance,” as the New York Times terms it, to producers. The spooks have even created a new full-time position: public affairs liaison to Hollywood. “Producers say the CIA will have input on scripts but not script ‘approval,’” notes media watchdog Jeff Cohen. At the start of the 2001 TV season, the CIA’s first liaison, Chase Brandon, was a consultant to the producers of The Agency (CBS) and Alias (ABC). After reviewing the scripts for the former show, he was so delighted that he allowed the pilot episode to be filmed in CIA headquarters at Langley using CIA property as props with CIA employees as extras. (He has refused to help with two recent movies that he says “slander” the CIA: Spy Game, with Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, and The Bourne Identity, starring Matt Damon.)
Brandon complains, "Year after year, as moviegoers and TV watchers, we've seen our image and our reputation constantly sullied with egregious, ugly misrepresentations of who we are and what we stand for. We've been imbued with these extraordinary Machiavellian conspiratorial capabilities." (In case Mr. Brandon would like a refresher course in Machiavellianism, we refer him to William Blum’s heavily-documented Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II for lessons on the Company’s roles in assassination, torture, destabilization, and the overthrow of democratically-elected governments.)
Luckily for Brandon, some producers are now willing to overlook the CIA’s indiscretions. "To see our image changing for the outside world makes us feel better about ourselves internally," he told the Times. "It's a good morale booster."
The Drug Czar. In early 2000, Salon kicked up a lot of dust when it revealed a scam in which the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) was directly influencing--and even okaying--scripts for TV shows, including ER, Beverly Hills 90210, Home Improvement, and General Hospital. What happened was this: Congress passed a plan to spend $1 billion to buy ad time for its anti-drug commercials for the next five years. The catch was that the networks had to sell the ad time for half-price, meaning they would get only $500,000 for a spot that would cost any other advertiser $1 million. The TV execs weren’t happy about the reduced rates, so Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey made them a deal they couldn’t refuse: The government would relinquish some of its ad time if the networks incorporated anti-drug propaganda into their shows.
Most of the networks sent scripts in advance to the ONDCP, which would then approve the script or ask for changes, which were usually implemented. For example, the ONDCP got the WB Network to change an episode of Smart Guy. Two kids taking drugs at a party were changed from cool dudes into losers. Salon reveals: “Other drug office-approved shows featured: a career-devastating, pot-induced freakout of angel-dust proportions (The Wayans Bros.); blanket drug tests at work (The Drew Carey Show) and for a school basketball team (NBC's Saturday morning Hang Time); death behind the wheel due to alcohol and pot combined (Sports Night); kids caught with marijuana or alcohol pressed to name their supplier (Cosby and Smart Guy); and a young teen becoming an undercover police drug informant after a minister, during formal counseling, tells his parents he should (7th Heaven).”
Salon later learned the ONDCP’s influence over content also extended to magazines (including US News and World Report, Family Circle, and Seventeen) and to Channel One, the station that provides news (and commercials) to classrooms across the US. In the latter case, the Drug Czar rejected certain news segments that weren’t deemed to have a strong enough anti-drug message.
And all of this was before the White House had a November 2001 meeting with Hollywood bigshots, asking them to toe the post-911 line. According to E! Online: “Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone, Screen Actors Guild president-elect Melissa Gilbert, Viacom entertainment group chairman Jonathan Dolgen, Television Academy chairman Bryce Zabel and reps from both the Writers Guild and Directors Guild all attended.” The chiefs of Paramount Pictures, the Walt Disney Company, and the Motion Picture Association of America were there, as well. Much was made in the media of this blatant attempt to turn Hollywood into a propaganda machine, but as we’ve seen in this section, it’s absolutely nothing new.
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