Over more than a century the US government’s entertainment liaison offices have supported over 1000 movies, along with thousands of documentaries, TV episodes and other entertainment products. But why does this matter? In this episode I outline my cultural philosophy and how my work on the ELOs fits into that. I analyse the conventional, trivialising media coverage of state-sponsored entertainment media, and the societal consequences of this phenomenon.
Before we get into today’s title question let’s start with another – why am I doing this episode? Or more precisely, why now? Why wait until over 200 episodes in to address this question?
Primarily, because I assume the people following my work do so because they already see the importance of this area of research that I focus on. I don’t like to waste people’s time telling them things they either already know or can get elsewhere. On the flipside I don’t do a lot of introductory episodes – most of what I discuss builds on things I’ve written about before, as I learn more and understand more I try to modify my thinking and improve it, and then turn that into new content.
It’s also because I have a bit of a blind spot – to me, it’s so obvious why this matters that I’ve never explicitly addressed that question. But what’s obvious to one person is obscure to another, and vice versa.
A couple of recent exchanges provoked me to do this episode now – one was with yet another conspiratard who got in touch for the sole purpose of telling me how wrong I am about everything because I’m talking about Hollywood, which is apparently trivial, and not the federal reserve or the secret commies or whatever. Needless to say, I told them exactly what I think of the barely coded anti-semitism of blaming everything on Jewish bankers, and the childish idiocy of blaming our economic problems on the existence of central banks.
But the point is, they clearly don’t get it.
I also got an email recently from a much more supportive and intelligent listener who we’ll call Matthew, because that’s his name. He wrote:
I am an avid listener of your podcast, ClandesTime, I find it gripping and illuminating. I am a High School social studies teacher in the USA, and I show ‘Margin Call’ in my Economics class. Really liked your comparison between that and Big Short. My students frequently request Big Short, and I cringe. I bought your book NSC on Amazon. I recently used it to create a lesson in my Econ class, breaking down the funding of Clear Present Danger. I Teach in a small affluent town, and my students are bright. The lesson was 90 minutes long, but it didn’t go well. I’m kind of crestfallen. Some of the vocal students thought that as long as the military was providing support, then it was fine that the film was changed. I though the facts would obviously cause the students to be alarmed by the manipulation of independent art, even if its a commercial enterprise. Maybe my students (or the public at large) don’t appreciate how media affects our understanding of our environment? But now I’m second guessing myself, that I’m just paranoid.
This guy was obviously a little disappointed and frustrated by the lack of impact his lesson had on his students – understandably so. So let’s get into the various reasons that might explain their lack of reaction, or their rather tepid reaction to this information.
1) They’re high school students, and most high school students are so immersed in pop culture that the idea of being hostile towards it, the idea of seeing it as a problem, is so far outside of the limits of their usual discussion that it’s very difficult to get them to consider that. Naturally there are exceptions, and I was very much one of the exceptions when I was that age, but for the most part this is true.
2) They are Americans, and frankly Americans are not very good critical thinkers and tend to obey authority. This is also true of lots of other people, but from my entirely subjective limited experience it is particularly true of Americans. They are infantilised and constantly told how amazing America is and how great American values are (whatever the fuck that means in a very diverse country of over 300 million people). Again, to be hostile towards the government – rather than towards specific politicians or parties – is far outside of their usual discussion.
3) In the US the military has so successfully infiltrated pop culture and daily life that it seems normal and uncontroversial. It’s one thing to have a military for the purpose of national self-defence, entirely another for it to be the biggest, most powerful, most ubiquitous institution in the country.
4) This particular lesson was being taught as part of an economics class, and in economics all human, environmental and other considerations are relegated beneath the logic of the transaction. As long as two people or two organisations make an agreement over an exchange, the morality of that exchange is considered irrelevant. As I’ve said before, anarcho-capitalists take this to a ludicrous degree whereby as long as money or goods exchange hands, they have no problem with that. It places the ability to trade above all other considerations. This is capitalism at its most literal and most sociopathic – where capital itself outranks and subsumes everything else. So it’s no surprise that many people see the Pentagon-Hollywood relationship as one of mutual exploitation, which in a capitalist system is all fine and dandy because in a capitalist system that’s how everything works.
5) There are some other reasons but we’ll round off this list by observing that it’s a difficult thing to take a new area of research and show how it is relevant and important. Often, the significance of new discoveries doesn’t become clear until decades or centuries later.
Now, I have no intention of living that long so I’m going to devote the rest of this episode to attempting to do just that – explain why this all matters so much that I’ve spent years of my life working on it and trying to find people to work with to help push this forward. And when I say ‘this’ I don’t just mean an area of research or even the academic and media discussion about this area of research, I mean the entire relationship people have with mass culture.
Because what do we mean by mass culture except something that is mass produced and consumed on a huge scale, rendering people ever more homogenous, and therefore boring? It is the antithesis of heteregenous culture, which is often produced by a small number of people for a small number of people, but which means a lot to those people and makes them and their lives more interesting. Which is what culture is supposed to do.
The creative spark that leads people to make new things is one of the best elements to human nature, and it manifests in billions of weird and unpredictable ways. Mass culture acts as a massive restriction on creative freedom, which should be the free-est aspect of human behaviour. State-sponsored mass culture even more so.
So in terms of a cultural philosophy this is why the entertainment liaison offices matter so much and why I’m trying not simply to expose them, but to help create counter-culture against them. I am trying to manifest my own creative freedom as an example of the very idea I’m espousing – not individualism per se, but pluralism. Culture is like ‘fish’ or ‘cheese’ or ‘Vietcong’ – it is already plural.
And I believe it should be as plural as possible, as diverse as possible, as different as possible. Any time a specific culture folds back on itself and becomes repetitive – from boy bands to conspiracy theories – a little part of what’s great about humanity dies. That the government is deeply involved in helping kill that part of humanity is perhaps no surprise, but it’s an assault on a fundamental element of being human that I cannot and will not tolerate.
It’s ‘Just Entertainment’
One of the frequent and most dumbwitted objections I hear is that it’s ‘just entertainment’ and that I’m ‘taking it too seriously’. This is what I got told all through secondary school as I tried to explain to my schoolfriends (and non-friends) how pop culture was ultimately doing them an incredible disservice and contributing to their false consciousness whereby they felt they had to pretend they were happy even when they weren’t.
Yeah, I was kind of a pain in the arse as a teenager, but I stand by most of what I said.
Of course, many people just don’t want to hear this, don’t want to think about the simple fact that the TV show that to them is ‘mere escapism’ that they watch in the evenings after work – their reward, if you like, for continuing to be part of the system – might have been created with quite specific aims in mind.
This is exacerbated by the endless myth-making that we in the West live in ‘free societies’ where everyone can choose what to think and feel and believe, not like those authoritarian countries where the government tells people what to think. Again, this involves an incredible degree of false consciousness because most people don’t do jobs they love, and when they get home most people still watch TV networks where some scheduling analyst in the marketing department decides what shows are on in what order to try to maximise advertising revenue.
Even if you use a non-scheduled entertainment service like HBO+ or Netflix, their algorithm is still trying to tell you what to watch by making no end of unhelpful suggestions. The notion that the people who made these shows are just creative people expressing themselves and the people watching them are making free choices at to what to watch is just absurd. The production process for most film and TV is just as restrictive and mechanised as any production line in any factory in the world. And if they didn’t really care what you watch and were happy for you to make a free choice then they wouldn’t spend billions on advertising.
That’s right. The very existence of advertising explodes the myth of a free society, whether we’re talking films, politicians, washing machines or parenting techniques.
But because people engage in this false consciousness and believe in this myth of their own individual freedom they don’t want to believe that they’ve been manipulated into watching a piece of manipulation. The idea that soap operas shape the minds of the people – largely women – who watch them isn’t acceptable to the soap opera addict any more than most heroin addicts are able to admit their lives might be better if they stopped injecting themselves with heroin. The addiction to the myth of freedom is very powerful.
And I am not one of these people who says that it’s only by consuming the alternative that one becomes truly free. Unlike Mark Dice I’m not going to claim that you can prove that you’re really free by believing that Israel did 9/11. The alt media, the conspiracy culture – indeed all the major so-called counter-cultural centres are just as deceitful, just as marketed, just as manipulative and – critically – just as laden with the myth of freedom as their mainstream counterparts. No matter what you watch, you’re patted on the head and told you’re a good boy for watching it, all the while you’re also being told how free you are for… doing what you’ve been told to do.
Take Punk music for example – which was primarily consumed by working class people who considered themselves counter-establishment but which was produced by middle class and upper-middle class people who were part of the establishment. Alongside that you had the Punk fashion – nose rings, ripped jeans, green hair, whathaveyou. This was largely created by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, it was imposed from the top down onto people who – for whatever reason – felt they wanted to appear rebellious. By wearing the same clothes and having the same hair as everyone else who wanted to appear rebellious.
Now, I’m not a fan of punk music, especially, and definitely not a fan of punk fashion, but I do like the spirit of rebellion that in many cases in the punk movement is and was quite genuine. But the ease with which those rebellious spirits were coralled into listening to the same music, dressing the same, thinking and believing and saying the same things, speaks to the power of mass culture even when – or perhaps especially when – it appeals to people who want to think of themselves as free or different. That yearning for plurality, which is a very good thing, can easily be channelled into a very narrow set of behavioural norms just like any other narrow set of behavioural norms.
So this isn’t ‘just entertainment’ – it’s a mechanism for manipulating how people feel and how they think, and as a consequences how they behave, how they vote, what they will tolerate from the system.
What’s the answer? At its simplest, stop looking outward for the answer. People with a rebellious instinct need to stop looking for some leader to follow or some tribe to be a part of, some form of groupthink which is only different from the mainstream groupthink in that it isn’t mainstream, and in every other respect is identical.
And this isn’t easy – one of the hardest things I have to do in life is only participate in the system inasmuch as I need to in order to get things done. Honestly, if I had the money I’d quite happily say fuck it, buy a small island somewhere that wasn’t too hot and just let human civilisation fall off that massive, Road Runner Wile E Coyote sized cliff it’s so obviously heading for. But I don’t, so I do have to interact with the economic system to some extent in order to survive, while devoting most of my time to trying to find imaginative ways to fuck up the propaganda arms of that system.
It would be easier to just conform, either to the mainstream system or one of the cheap, lazy, well packaged alternatives like conspiracism or the alt right. I could sit around complaining about how one scene in one Disney movie where one character mentions something that indicates they are a lesbian and this is proof of the niggerlovingcommiegayjewish conspiracy agenda in Hollywood. And I’d have a bigger following, make more money and be talking utter shite.
I’d also be reaffirming the christo-fascist white supremacism that underpins so much of the system, regardless of the woke liberal veneer it has adopted in recent times. So I wouldn’t really be rebelling against anything, I’d be supporting it. In which case I might as well go get a job in Google’s PR department trying to convince internet users that harvesting their personal data on a vast scale is somehow good for them.
And I’d make more money, live an easier life and desperately want to kill myself.
So I found something that’s right for me – not something that’s been presented to me in an enticing or flattering way, not something that’s easy or profitable, not even something that makes me popular with any particular crowd. But something that’s creative, intellectually challenging, highly unusual and has gained respect from people whose opinions I actually care about.
Katy Perry vs the Rebel Alliance
I am getting sidetracked, but trust me, I sort of know where I’m going with all this. My basic point is that to be a rebel doesn’t mean boycotting Marvel movies or looking down your nose at Katy Perry while you listen to Slipknot, it means actually changing the way you relate to the system, and trying to inspire and empower others to do the same. It isn’t easy, it won’t make you lots of money or lots of friends, but by christ is it worth it when it comes to feeling good about the person you are and what you’re doing with your life.
Indeed, you can listen to Katy Perry and still be a rebel. You can even enjoy Katy Perry and still be a rebel, though I struggle to believe that anyone actually enjoys Katy Perry except for over-excitable 13 year old girls and gay men trying to act like over-excitable 13 year old girls.
Where I’m going with this is that it’s not really about what culture you consume, it’s how you relate to that culture. As long as you don’t internalise the values of Katy Perry songs – the superficiality, the self-obsession, the implicit racism, the promotion of the military – then you can enjoy the music without becoming a boring, homogenous zombie. The same applies to anything else – if you’re conscious and critical of your experience, and don’t let it sneak into your subconscious and become part of your mind’s identity, you can watch or listen to anything you like, attend any cultural event you like.
And of course, thinking critically does NOT mean only applying one mode of criticism that conveniently means that your interpretation of that culture and relationship to it fits in with a pre-constructed worldview that conveniently makes you feel clever for getting it and makes you look down on others who respond differently. This is one of my main problems with both conspiracist and Marxist cultural criticism – it abuses the power of interpretation so that it flatteringly elevates the critic and reinforces what they want to believe, regardless of whether the culture being interpreted actually functions in the manner described. This is increasingly true of feminist criticism, whereby everything in mass culture is seen as part of the evil patriarchy of sexual predators and misogynists, unless it has a ‘strong female’ protagonist.
Even though quite a lot of culture with ‘strong female’ protagonists is just as stereotyping, simplistic, restrictive and homogenous towards women (and men) as most culture without that sort of protagonist. So it all just becomes circular logic, groupthink and self-aggrandising/self-victimising bullshit. These modes of interpretation don’t empower people, on the whole. They are just another mental prison from which one interprets other mental prisons, and that process of interpretation only reinforces the bars of the initial mental prison. While being sold to you as ‘real freedom’.
Indeed, there is no one method or mode that constitutes critical thinking – the key to critical thinking is to adapt to circumstances, identify assumptions and blind spots, use lateral thinking to rotate things around in your mind and look at them from different angles, and to never, ever rely on one clear or simple way of interpreting things. Again, plurality is key – the best critical thinkers aren’t the ones who make the same arguments no matter what they’re arguing against (cough, Stefan Molyneux, cough). They’re the ones who are able to adapt to different things with different kinds of criticism and scepticism and often don’t know what they’re about to say until they say it.
While my presentational style is somewhat rehearsed and controlled, when I write these podcasts I often don’t know what I’m going to write next, I just let it flow out of me and then try to present it in a reasonable way that won’t make people respond in a stupid or crazy way. Though, to be honest, I still get a fair number of crackpots trying to waste my time and then complaining when I tell them to go fuck a chicken. It seems that on the internet you just can’t avoid these people.
I should probably try at this point to start addressing the title question so I’ll begin doing so with a recent example. I imagine by now that all of you have watched my Jack Ryan video, which is replete with clips from various interviews and Q and As and presentations where the cast and crew talk about the government support and so on. Shortly after I posted the video some twitter user cut out a couple of clips and posted them, and they went viral, sparking off a fresh round of accusations against John Krasinski. This, in turn, sparked a string of articles in Business Insider and places like that, all of which reported on the twitterstorm and on Krasinski.
But not on the original research and video that caused all this, or on the CIA’s actual, true role in the entertainment industry. I even saw some independent media like the Michael Brooks show doing the same thing – reporting on the conversation and trivialising the whole issue, and giving credit to the person who snipped the clips out of my video while ignoring my work completely. Needless to say, that pisses me off and I’m less inclined to watch that show now, but it is still pretty good so I’m not trying to put you off watching it if you are so inclined.
This stream of coverage led to Krasinski giving another recent interview where he denied making political propaganda, claiming to have never thought about the political connotations because he’s just a nice guy making a movie or two. He pulled this exact same nonsense in interviews around the release of Jack Ryan season two, saying the show had nothing to do with the real life political situation in Venezuela.
We can conclude from this that Krasinski is basically just a liar who is trying to play into the ‘it’s just entertainment’ cliché to avoid criticism. I don’t especially blame him for that, he isn’t the first Hollywood celebrity to do this and certainly won’t be the last either. But he’s still a lying piece of shit.
But this isn’t really about Krasinski, it’s about the CIA. If they weren’t a criminal organisation who use Hollywood to help cover up their crimes and make them look like a benevolent force in the world then this wouldn’t matter, it’s because they are that and are doing that that it does matter.
But pretty much all the coverage of this – from twitter users to major media – focused on the relationship between Krasinski and his audience, not between his film and TV projects and the security state. They all played into this peculiarly American obsession with the individual – the celebrity himself – not the values and ideas that make Jack Ryan a piece of state propaganda.
This is what I mean about modes of interpretation – if you keep thinking that the important thing here is Krasinski himself then you’re not really thinking any more critically than the people who like Krasinski and Jack Ryan. You’re just aping the celebrity obsession mindset from a slightly different angle. Instead of ‘he is so important and I love him’ it’s ‘he is so important and I hate him’. Don’t hate John Krasinski, he is not a criminal organisation that should be abolished, the CIA is.
Now, I was momentarily discouraged and am still a little disappointed and frustrated by this but on the plus side my work is clearly having an impact. One video provoked a social media frenzy, a bunch of articles and a pathetic denial from the snivelling Krasinski rat bastard. Just because all the focus in is in the wrong places doesn’t mean I should be discouraged, and now the initial anger has faded it just makes me more determined to continue.
To connect this back to the title question – this is one reason why the ELOs matter, because they show just how politicised and serious Hollywood really is, despite the vast majority of media coverage being shallow and trivialising. Indeed, that whole superficial gloss of self-promoted political irrelevance is one of the biggest lies about Hollywood, and enables the propagandists to disguise what they’re doing. Propaganda is so much more effective when people don’t recognise it as propaganda, which is why the Hollywood form is so much more effective – and thus important – than the news media kind.
Another dimension to this that I want to discuss is what I call ‘narrative tone’ i.e. how a story structure feels. When you wrap up propagandistic messaging in a compelling narrative with characters you like and care about, it embeds into your psyche far deeper than any newcast does. People still refer to movies they saw 30 years ago. Most people can’t remember what was on the news last week.
Remember the horse meat fiasco? Remember Greta Thunberg? Remember the Ice Bucket challenge? These things all dominated the minds of large numbers of people for a brief period of time, only to be forgotten as soon as the news cycle and social media cycle moved on. Very few people were affected deeply or will remember these things in years to come. News media, and especially social media, are inherently shallow, while presenting themselves as serious or important.
Hollywood is the opposite – it presents itself as shallow and unimportant, when in reality it has a much greater effect on a larger number of people than news ever can or ever could. When I say the line ‘clever girl’ I’m sure many of you know that’s a reference to Jurassic Park. If I say ‘they’re coming outta the goddamn walls!’ I’m sure many of you know that’s a reference to Aliens.
But if I say, ‘Americans fill the world with art and music. They push the bounds of science and discovery. And they forever remind us of what we should never forget: The people dreamed this country. The people built this country,’ how many of you know that’s from Trump’s state of the union address? It sounds like the sort of crap every American politician says so you probably guessed that much, but do any of you know which of Trump’s state of the union addresses this came from? I’m betting the answer is no. Even I don’t know, and I just looked it up.
And that’s from the reality TV president supported by Fox News – the originators of what’s called ‘entertainment news’. But it’s less memorable, has less impact on people’s minds, than a line from a 30 year old movie about genetically re-animated dinosaurs running amok in a theme park.
The consequences of this are quite extraordinary. One straightforward example is why do people believe the government’s version of a terrorist attack, or any crime? Is it because they trust the government? Not particularly, because most people don’t. Is it because they trust their news source? Not particularly, because most people don’t. I think it’s because the stories we’re told about crimes and criminals, especially terrorism, has the same narrative tone as the entertainment versions of those stories. It feels the same. The sense of cause and effect, of motive and manifestation is the same.
After all, most people haven’t a clue who committed any given crime or why they did it – it’s an essentially intuitive process of believing in a narrative that is presented to them, and evidence or counter-evidence becomes irrelevant. To a large extent people believe what they want to believe, and it is narrative art that most heavily conditions them to want to believe one thing rather than another. Desire is a crucial part of the cause and effect logic of narrative.
The same is true of those people who believe counter-narratives, of course. Evidence isn’t the relevant factor, it’s that it feels like the story is true. We saw this for years with the whole false flag exercise nonsense, whereby significant numbers of people merely had to be told that a terrorist attack took place at the same time as some sort of training exercise and immediately concluded the attack was some kind of false flag. That’s all they needed to feel the same way they felt the last time they heard this narrative and believed in it. Whether there was actually any connection between the exercise and the attack, or indeed whether the exercise actually took place, doesn’t matter. It has the same narrative tone, and for most people that’s enough.
So when that intuitive process is weaponised, especially by the state, it is extremely powerful, more powerful than continuous 24 hour a day rolling news coverage is. Because it shapes people’s intuitions and their emotional expectations, as well as their explicit thoughts and beliefs, it has a deeper influence and a more long-lasting influence. I’m not saying news and other forms of media are irrelevant or ineffective, but when it comes to mass propaganda I don’t think anything is more effective.
And I include social media in that statement. The primary effect of social media, as I see it, is to make people more childish and impatient and intolerant. In terms of the way they think about specific, real events it isn’t any more influential than a news item, and arguably less influential. In terms of the overall trajectory of human thinking and behaviour it is pretty influential, but I put it to you that it’s simply the latest incarnation of the ‘dumbing down’ process. Important, yes, but not an explanation for why people see a particular war a certain way, or a particular economic or environmental policy a certain way.
Perhaps you disagree, and I am surely not saying that the Pentagon’s army of social media spambots is unimportant, or that NSA spying and mass collection of personal data via social media is unimportant. For example, the other day I stumbled across a post on Instagram which was about an app that generates fake phone numbers so women can give a fake number to a guy who asks for their number, rather than just saying no. It very much played into this false idea that a woman cannot say no to a man without risking being raped or murdered. I took issue with this post, its misandry, sexism and paranoia, and among the response was one from an account apparently belonging to a woman. She said she had been through my profile and I was obviously one of those ‘nice guys’ in inverted commas, i.e. a sociopathic misogynist who just pretends to be nice to women so he can get what he wants from them.
Now, there are two massive problems with this. Firstly, I’m not a nice guy. I’m a temperamental, argumentative pain in the arse. Ask any woman who has ever known me if I pretend to be nice and she’ll tell you no, if anything I’m excessively rude and blunt and anti-social. The other problem is that my profile on instagram is 90% posts of government documents, which isn’t a typical profile in any way and certainly isn’t a basis for concluding what kind of personality I have or how I see women.
I initially thought this is just a stupid woman trotting out a bunch of sexist, paranoid cliches in order to defend more sexist paranoid cliches, but it was so divorced from reality that I started to wonder if it was a bot. Is this just a sock puppet account or a computer program going around spreading this gender war horseshit, no matter who the other person is and no matter what they’ve actually said? I don’t know, obviously, and I am getting sidetracked again, but I imagine you take my point.
I won’t remember that exchange in 12 months time, but I will always remember what it was like watching 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time, or any number of other films and TV shows. Likewise, I could rewatch my favourite films many times over and still enjoy it. I can’t even watch most news once without feeling slightly ill and like I want to murder a news anchor or two. I am Tom’s incandescent rage towards news media. That’s a reference to Fight Club, which I’m sure most of you recognised.
Bad Reporting and the ELOs
And on the subject of my incandescent rage towards news media, for this segment we’re going to look at a typical report on the entertainment liaison offices and everything that’s wrong with it. So I don’t prejudice you too much I’m going to play it all through once and then come back and break it down segment by segment.
As I’m sure you’ve heard me say before, there’s so much wrong with this it is difficult to know where to start. The first thing is that this video was made by a typical youtuber – a hipster twat who runs a channel called Today I Found Out. It’s a channel designed for urban office workers to watch on their lunch breaks and while they’re commuting, to inject a tiny bit of something interesting into their otherwise boring lives. And because their lives are so boring, these videos only have to be ever so slightly interesting in order to fulfil that role. It’s filler for water-cooler chitchat so these people can pretend their lives have some meaning, as they spend their days shuffling paper for the corporatocracy.
Also, a channel called Today I Found Out instantly makes me think ‘and tomorrow you’ll have forgotten’. There’s nothing of any lasting purpose or meaning here, it’s all incredibly shallow content for incredibly shallow people. Finally, before we get into the video itself, this is a youtuber responding to market demand from the least interesting segment of the population, much like soap operas or reality TV does. There’s no attempt to educate, inform, inspire, provoke, change people’s minds, try to get them thinking or behaving differently. It’s just reflecting the most tedious and inconsequential aspects of humanity back at itself.
Whereas there is no pre-determined market segment for the sort of work I and quite a lot of others do – I am not responding to a pre-existing demand and trying to capitalise on that, like most online media producers, indeed, like most media producers. I’m trying to create demand for something different, something better. So I’m not just swimming against the tide in terms of getting this information and evidence, I’m swimming against the tide in terms of trying to get people to give a shit.
But it’s OK, I have strong shoulders and a pretty good lung capacity despite my smoking habit, and I float relatively well. Plus, I like a challenge, I like a good fight and I’d be dangerously bored if I wasn’t doing something really difficult. So I am absolutely not complaining – I chose this life and I could choose to give it up, that’s on me – but I am criticising spineless youtubers who are making irrelevant pap.
But enough of me complaining, let’s tear this fucking video apart.
0 – 0:10
The first issue with this is the phrase ‘mutual exploitation’, which comes up a lot in commentary on the ELOs. It’s simply misleading, this isn’t about Hollywood and the Pentagon mutually exploiting each other like a one night stand – the military get a lot more out of this relationship than Hollywood ever does. They aren’t equal partners – one is a private industry that could go bust, the other is a massive institution which is permanent and has a greater budget than the annual revenue of the world’s biggest corporations. There’s a massive power imbalance here, which this hipster prick is totally whitewashing.
0:10 – 1:25
We get a bit of a history lesson in this segment, but he’s downplaying the influence of the US military on these films, as well as their consequences. As I explored in my history of war films (episode 160) many of these films simply couldn’t have been made without military support. We’re not just talking a few background vehicles and a bit of stock footage, in some cases it was hundreds of vehicles and thousands of men – something Hollywood could not have generated privately.
Furthermore, the WW1 films were so viciously racist towards Ze Germans that they convinced the US public of the need to enter that war, and actually prolonged the war by making a peace settlement harder to negotiate. Given that over 20 million people died and around the same number were injured in that war, that means Hollywood (with the military’s help) contributed to the death and wounding of a huge number of people.
The hipster prick also trots out the old canard about the Pentagon’s script review process making films more realistic – this is fundamentally not true. He mentions Wings, but presents it as though the incredible flight sequences in that film were simply a backdrop for a romance plot, when in reality they were the reason the film was so popular and won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
It’s also a highly unrealistic and misleading film, because it portrays the US Army Air Corps as playing a crucial role in WW1, effectively winning the war. This is totally untrue – the Corps didn’t send a single plane into combat in WW1. Nothing depicted in this film actually happened, it was all a massive pro-war, pro-military PR effort.
He also ignores Birth of a Nation – a violent, profoundly racist origin story for the US which, again, could not have been made without military help. It basically depicts the Ku Klux Klan as saviours, which isn’t even remotely realistic. And ignores that Hollywood was making movies before 1910 – indeed, there are a couple of films from the 1900s that had military support. So even his basic history lesson is wrong.
Finally, the line ‘as America entered the great wars the need to project American power and resolve became paramount’ is basically him praising these propaganda efforts and promoting them to his audience. I can barely think of a less credible thing for a journalist or media producer to do than to make excuses for government propaganda operations.
1:25 – 02:05
Here, hipster prick lists a dozen or so movies made in the post-war period that depicted the military and their employees positively. He’s not wrong that they did that, but this is a tiny fraction of the DOD-supported films in this time period. At that time Hollywood was making around 20 war movies every year – the overwhelming majority supported by the Pentagon.
Indeed, for over a decade after WW2 every major military movie benefited from US government assistance. For example, in 1955 producer Cy Roth wanted help for his aircraft carrier drama Air Strike, but Don Baruch at the Pentagon didn’t like that the script depicted both Jewish and Black servicemen experiencing racism and discrimination. Baruch insisted that it didn’t happen, so Roth wrote back saying it did happen, and cited Admiral Rickover who had spoken out about the antisemitism he had faced.
Nevertheless, he ‘eliminated all references to religion and race in the script.’ Baruch responded, thanking him for changing two characters – Leavitt and Jones – to Loring and Alexander, but objected that there ‘is a character named Goldstein.’ Roth responded ‘Don’t worry. None of the characters will be black or Jewish. This picture will be wholly protestant.’ I’m not kidding, this is actually what the correspondence says.
Roth wasn’t entirely happy and wrote to President Eisenhower saying he was trying to address segregation and racial inequality in his film, and the military wouldn’t let him. This resulted in the DOD writing back to Roth to tell him they weren’t happy with his approach to the White House, and they asked the FBI to do an investigation into Roth, suggesting he might be a secret communist, what with all this stuff about racial equality. Someone actually filed a FOIA for the FBI’s file on Cy Roth but the Bureau responded saying it had been destroyed.
Eventually, tempers cooled and Roth made all the changes Baruch demanded, the film got made without all this pinko civil rights stuff and the military provided assistance. Roth sent Baruch a thank you letter promising that his film would be the ‘best propaganda the Navy has had in years.’
And that’s just one example from this period, which has nothing to do with realism or accuracy and everything to do with covering up the DOD’s shameful record on racism. But hipster prick isn’t interested in anything controversial or meaningful, or in criticising these propaganda operations.
2:05 – 2:30
Here, the know-nothing hipster brings up Lawrence Suid, the historian who has done more than any other person in history to apologise for, promote and cover-up the Pentagon’s Hollywood propaganda efforts. For decades Suid maintained a private archive containing the only copies of documents on some of the biggest movies imaginable – Top Gun being perhaps the most famous. He had access to the DOD’s Hollywood database, he interviewed Baruch and Phil Strub and got files from them, and he wrote a series of anodyne books making the entertainment liaison offices seem normal and almost trivial. When David Robb briefly got access to some files in Suid’s archive and used those and others to write the explosive book Operation Hollywood, Suid picked a fight with him and tried to dispute his findings, even though Robb’s findings came from government files and interviews with both military officials and film-makers. Suid is an utter prick, but this other utter prick makes him out to be some kind of studious critic, rather than a hair’s breadth away from being an official military historian and de facto propagandist.
2:30 – 03:15
Here we get a bit of background about Baruch and Strub, but again he’s acting as though it was just these two guys, when in reality each branch of the US military has their own ELO, supervised by the likes of Baruch and Strub, and this process also involves base commanders and public affairs staff at all the locations used for filming. It involves dozens if not hundreds of people.
Also, even Strub admits he was making propaganda for the US Navy before he rose to the head honcho of the DOD’s Hollywood office, which is much more relevant than him making films of medical procedures. But would also reveal what’s actually going on here, which hipster prick is totally unwilling to do.
This ‘informative’ video is nothing of the sort, it’s actually a cover-up of the most important aspects to this whole phenomenon.
03:15 – 4:00
In this section, hipster prick admits that all the different branches now have ELOs – but that’s actually been the case for decades prior to Strub taking over from Baruch in the late 80s. I’ve seen documents from the 60s where Baruch was suggesting the satellite offices in LA be shut down and the whole process should be run by his office, though this didn’t end up happening.
Prick also throws in just two examples of script input – the Navy convincing the NCIS producers to make an episode about the Navy’s efforts to stamp out sexual assault, and the Jurassic Park III negotiations. There is no context at all, such as exploring whether the Navy truly is trying to eradicate sexual assault in the ranks (spoiler: it isn’t) and whether its current efforts are at all successful (spoiler: they aren’t), or whether this is in fact an endemic problem in the military that appears to be getting worse, not better (spoiler: it absolutely is an endemic problem that is getting worse, not better). So the relevance and importance of that NCIS episode is lost – it just sounds like a curio, a moderately interesting little detail to bring up in the pub, rather than part of a decades-long propaganda effort to cover up military sex crimes.
As to Jurassic Park III – there was actually a lot more to the negotiations than just the removal of the A-10 blasting dinosaurs out of the sky. The film was initially rejected because of that but then the producers came back months later with a modified script, which was then rewritten in places. I’ll get into all that in a video but the point is that that films get rejected, and many of them never get made as a result. But for hipster prick it’s all just some instantly forgettable chit chat about something that sounds like it doesn’t really matter.
4:00 – 4:35
The reasons why Independence Day was rejected are much more diverse than just that the aliens were more powerful than the military, and even though the film was rejected some of the DOD’s script demands were adhered to. For example, the original script depicted the Pentagon being destroyed by one of the giant pancakes but that isn’t shown in the finished film. I will get into all this in my own video – the two Independence Day movies and the military operations around them are quite a fascinating story so I think I’ll actually do that for my next video essay.
I have no idea what’s he talking about when he says some of the military crew in Zero Dark Thirty were CGI. And the much more important story there is that the CIA exploited the Abottabad raid in 2011 to sanitise the torture program, which included in Zero Dark Thirty. This just seems to be bad research on his part because the CIA’s support for that film had been widely reported, and I can find nothing about any use of CGI anywhere in the movie.
4:35 – 5:05
In this final segment hipster prick trots out the Pentagon’s line about no taxpayer money being spent on these projects. This is where the video crosses over and becomes nothing short of PR for the entertainment liaison offices – meta-propaganda, if you like. I’m not saying he was paid to say any of this, more so that he’s such a superficial person that the notion that the military might be lying about this just isn’t up for debate, and he wanted to produce an entirely nontroversial video which wouldn’t get him into trouble.
But they are lying about this. Strub and his replacement David Evans are paid a salary. That’s taxpayer money (and debt). All the people in Los Angeles are paid salaries and expenses. That’s taxpayer money (and debt). All the public affairs and other officials involved in this process – ranging from submarine squadron commanders to policy wonks at the Pentagon – are paid salaries.
On top of that the Pentagon has demonstrably subsidised productions to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars of free support, from Tora! Tora! Tora! to The Long Road Home. They found innovative ways to under-report the costs of the support they were providing, and thus charged it to taxpayers and to the national credit card.
So almost everything in this video is untrue or misleading and functions as propaganda for military propaganda operations. This is the problem with hipsters – they have no idea what they’re dealing with, and they are such short-termists that they just move on to the next thing without realising what they’ve done. I think the guy who made this video is primarily just an idiot stumbling around in a topic he doesn’t understand, repeating the same bullshit that official defenders of propaganda have put out there.
But ask yourself, if the ELOs were trivial and just a standard issue government PR program, would there be such a veil of bullshit surrounding them? Would they need a quasi-official historian to write grossly inaccurate histories of the ELOs? And would the media coverage of them predominantly consist of anaemic, shallow horseshit that will be forgotten almost as soon as the youtube video is over?
The Consequences of the ELOs
This has been quite a long episode already but the best way to illustrate why the entertainment liaison offices matter is to point to their consequences. The first, entirely intentional consequence is increased military recruitment, more unlucky souls sent out to fight people they know little (if anything) about in countries that pose no threat to us whatsoever.
The second is that ‘supporting the troops’ has been successfully conflated with ‘supporting the wars’. You hear this a lot from right wingers and a fair number of centrists – that if you’re anti-war you must hate all the people in uniform. The anti-war Left then falls into this trap and starts hating on random soldiers or marines without ever looking at the bigger picture. It turns the entire debate around war into a tribalistic, personalised squabble that does nothing to stop wars from happening.
The third consequence is the overall militarisation of US society, and Western society more generally, and ultimately of the whole world. This is only heading in one direction – we manufacture more weapons than ever before, our societies incorporate militaristic values and mindsets more than ever before, and we go to war as readily as ever, and a lot more readily than at other times in our history. The Obama administration spent more money on nuclear weapons than any other US administration in history. Did Hollywood give a fuck? No. That’s how truly ‘liberal’ Hollywood is.
The fourth consequence is that our culture, and therefore our public conversation, includes far less coverage of a number of very important issues that would otherwise be more prominent. The following is a list of script elements that have either been consistently censored or rewritten by the government entertainment liaison offices or were reasons they rejected requests for support. Or both.
War Crimes, illegal arms sales, CIA drug trafficking, black operations – coup d’etats, assassinations and so forth – sex crimes by military personnel, sexism and racism in the military, drugs and alcohol abuse in the military, the use of chemical or biological weapons, any suggestion that nuclear weapons might not be a sensible or safe response to the world’s problems, military incompetence, the failure to prevent 9/11 and any depiction of the military being bested by an opponent, even if that opponent is a giant monster such as in Rampage.
And anything mocking the White House, which is why Attack of the Killer Tomatoes was rejected.
Oh, and portraits of the mental illness resulting from combat, PTSD and military or veteran characters committing suicide. At times during the War on Terror there have been more US troops killing themselves than dying in combat and the Pentagon’s response has been to get Hollywood to help cover up the problem. Cynical and heartless. Both for the DOD and Hollywood.
And this is the fifth consequence – that this process makes our culture less compassionate, less understanding, less tolerant, less capable of disgreement, less mutually respectful, more violent, more paranoid, more bigoted and more stupid. And given that most people are essentially quite easily led this has a massive influence on human behaviour and on what our societies look like.
One final point – the war on terror has become so ubiquitous and normalised that it isn’t even referred to anymore. That’s partly because the BBC stopped using the phrase ‘war on terror’ and so did the White House under Obama, but the war on terror itself has continued and in many ways got worse.
Would that have been possible without hundreds of films and TV episodes dedicated to showing the terrorist threat as far bigger and more lethal than it is in reality? Without a steady, almost weekly stream of dramatic entertainment depicting thousands of terrorists plotting all kinds of mayhem? That’s what has made this all seem normal, to the extent that it’s barely even questioned any more. The opposition to the Trump administration isn’t to the drone program or other forms of assassination and murder, it’s to building a wall and saying prejudiced things on twitter. When you look back and consider how we got to this point, the entertainment liaison offices have played a massive role.