Abolish the Military-Entertainment Complex

For every one of the few anti-militarist screenplays that are made into films, far more are reflexively spiked because their defiant content raises objections from military leaders.

The military quietly infiltrating a movie studio . . . the idea might seem like a fantastical plot from a film, but Top Gun: Maverick is a reminder that it’s all too real. The new blockbuster is the latest product of a shadowy Military-Entertainment Complex that few know about, but that shapes so much of what we read, see, and hear about the military and militarism.

Films are where this pro-military stealth propaganda system is most prevalent — even though it is barely disclosed to audiences.

For example, to help filmmakers pull off the Top Gun sequel, the navy delivered up pilots, fighter jets, and aircraft carriers, and even broke its own flight training rules to make Tom Cruise look as cool as possible. In exchange, the movie’s production team didn’t just pay $11,000 an hour in plane rental fees — they let the Pentagon help shape the film.

As noted in the most recent Lever Time podcast by University of Georgia Professor Roger Stahl, director of the documentary film Theaters of War: How the Pentagon and CIA Took Hollywood, open record requests revealed that military officials were allowed to make changes to Top Gun: Maverick, including ensuring that “key talking points” on topics like recruitment and foreign policy were inserted into the film.

Now, to capitalize on the film’s success, the air force is running recruitment ads before screenings.

As a top military recruiter told Fox News, “We want to take advantage of the opportunity to connect not just the movie and the idea of a military service, but the fact that we’ve got jobs and we’ve got recruiters waiting for them.”

This sort of quid pro quo is nothing new. For decades, the military has been working hand in hand with Hollywood to help make promotional films and television shows — and deter the making of movies that question the military and militarism as an ideology.

The way it all works is pretty simple: the military’s film offices offer movie studios free or cut-rate access to bases, aircraft carriers, planes, and all sorts of other hardware. But there’s a catch: in exchange for that access, studios have to submit scripts to be line edited so that films are pro-military.

This demand has created a powerful dynamic in Hollywood. Getting access to military hardware at free or reduced rate prices is effectively a huge government subsidy to studios that agree to the military’s propaganda demands — and in some cases, the military has used that power to press filmmakers to distort American history.

On the flip side, being denied access means movies often don’t get made — because studios know they would be more expensive to make.

Military leaders have long understood the power of influencing cultural products — and doing so without disclosure.

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