Operation Cinema

I’m guessing that it’s no real sceret that Hollywood and the Pentagon (or Homeland Security in this case) have been collaborating in the war on terror. In fact, the Pentagon has had an Entertainment Office since it was established in 1947. This USA Today article briefly mentions David Robb’s thesis in Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies that the Pentagon office is a “propaganda machine that cajoles Hollywood into showing the military only in a positive light.” While I haven’t yet Robb’s book, though I certainly feel like I should, I found the Pentagon response worth noting because it relies on the assumption that the filmmakers themselves would find the Pentagon’s participation disruptive. Entertainment Office rep Phil Strub comments, “If this was so coercive and onerous, why would people keep coming back?”

This realy doesn’t seem to be the question that Robb is asking, and it’s certainly not the most relevant question. Hollywood filmmakers have a vested interest in working with the Pentagon, and this collboration, far from “onerous,” would seem to provide filmmakers with a greater sense of importance or involvement in the war effort. While some filmmakers might find the Pentagon’s help “coercive,” they’re not likely to seek it out anyway. Instead, the concern is that only one side of the story is being told, that we’re more likely to get a single point of view. Hollywood has long been happy to serve as one of the world’s greatest public relations tools for the Pentagon. That being said, I’m willing to acknowledge that not all films screened for the Pentagon necessarily conform to the Bush administration’s stand on the war in Iraq.

The Pentagon and CIA offices also miss the point when they point to films that appear to criticize these organizations such as the HBO movie about Alrdich Ames, the CIA-spy turned Russian mole, Alrdich Ames: Traitor Within (IMDB). The point isn’t that the CIA cooperated on a film about one of its most notorious failures as an organization (though by far not the worst or most notorious). It’s that the film still conveys the need for such organizations in the first place. In fact, showing these mistakes would seem to be good PR for the CIA, in part because it shows a willingness to portray the organization’s failures.

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