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Hollywood’s Service to Empire: More Than Entertainment — Americans Are Propagandized by the Film Industry

Photo by Mark Vegas.
After seeing American Sniper, I found it unsurprising to learn that a large number of Americans were influenced by the film to post comments like these on Twitter:
  • “Great fucking movie and now I really want to kill some fucking ragheads.”
  • “American sniper makes me wanna go shoot some fuckin Arabs.”
  • “Just watched american sniper and I feel like killing every sand nigger on the fucking planet.”
  • “American sniper got me pumped up to kill sand people.”
  • “American Sniper was so good. Makes me wanna join the Seals and take some towelheads out.”
  • “Damn props for the director of American Sniper making me wanna snipe some towel heads/sand niggers.”
  • “American sniper made me appreciate soldiers 100x more and hate Muslims 1000000x more.”
  • “American Sniper best movie EVER hands down. Really captures just how insane Muslims in Iraq and Syria are.”
  • “Nice to see a movie where the Arabs are portrayed for who they really are – vermin scum intent on destroying us.”
  • “American Sniper the movie is about one of our HERO warriors but it also exposes the sick culture of Muslims and there way of living.”

By PAUL STREET
The United States corporate media’s function of transmitting ideology and propaganda in service to those atop the nation’s reigning and interrelated structures of Empire and inequality is hardly limited to the news. Equally if not more significant for that that task are “entertainment” media, including – of special interest on the eve of the 2015 Academy Awards – the US movie industry. Far from restricting their hearts-and minds-influencing powers to the (Aldous) “Huxlean” mass diversion, distraction, and infantilization, US movies (like US television sit-coms and dramas and video games) are loaded with richly “Orwellian” political and ideological content.

US citizens are being more than merely entertained when they sit before the nation’s 40,000 commercial movie screens. They are also propagandized by a film industry whose owners and executives are deeply biased on behalf of the aforementioned hierarchies.

Many Americans would find it strange to think of their local Cineplex as propaganda sites. But more than six and a half decade ago, the notion of US movies as tools of propaganda was hardly debatable for right-wing McCarthyites determined to eliminate leftists from Hollywood. As US Court of Appeals Justice Bennett C. Clark explained in upholding the conviction of ten Hollywood screenwriters and directors who refused to “confess” current or past Communist Party membership in 1949, US motion pictures play “a critically important role” as “a potent medium of propaganda dissemination” (quoted in Ellen Schrecker, Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America [Boston, 1998], 328).

Zero Dark Thirty: “Pure Storytelling”?

Indeed they do. Look, for example, at Zero Dark Thirty, a 2012 “action thriller” and war film that dramatized the United States’ search for Osama bin-Laden after the September 11, 2001 jetliner attacks. Directed by the Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow, the movie received critical acclaim and was a box office-smash. It was also a masterpiece of pro-military, pro-CIA propaganda, skillfully portraying US torture practices “as,” in Glenn Greenwald’s words, “a dirty, ugly business that is necessary to protect America.” By “excising the moral debate that raged over the interrogation program during the Bush years,” The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer rightly noted, “the film …accept[ed] almost without question that the CIA’s ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ played a key role in enabling the agency to identify the courier who unwittingly led them to bin Laden.” Under the guise of a neutral, documentary-like examination, Zero Dark Thirty marked a distressing new frontier in US military-embedded filmmaking whereby the movie makers receive unprecedented technical and logistical support from the Pentagon in return for producing elaborate public relations on the military’s behalf.

The film’s defenders and Bigelow herself argued that the film was neither pro- nor anti-torture: “Pure storytelling,” film supporter Mark Bowden wrote, “is not always about making an argument, no matter how worthy. It can be simply about telling the truth.” In reality, however, Zero Dark Thirty’s outward impartiality over the sickeningly cruel and unusual punishments inflicted by CIA torturers amounted to a normalization and endorsement of torture that was all the more insidiously potent precisely because of its understated, detached, and “objective” veneer.

American Sniper: “Makes Me Wanna Go Shoot Some Fucking Arabs”

The 2014-2015 blockbuster American Sniper, directed by the Republican Clint Eastwood, is another good example of Hollywood’s “critical role” as “a potent medium of [US imperial and military] propaganda dissemination.” The film’s audiences are supposed to marvel at the supposedly noble feats, sacrifice, and heroism of Chris Kyle, a rugged, militantly patriotic, and Christian-fundamentalist Navy SEALS sniper who participated in the US invasion of Iraq in order to fight “evil” and to avenge the al Qaeda jetliner attacks of September 11, 2001. Kyle killed 160 Iraqis over four tours of “duty” in “Operational Iraqi Freedom.” So what if the invasion was one of the most egregiously criminal, brazenly imperial and mass-murderous (evil anyone?) acts in the long and bloody history of Empire? And so what if Iraq had nothing to with 9/11 and al Qaeda?

Like Zero Dark Thirty’s apologists, American Sniper’s defenders claim that the film takes a neutral perspective of pure and true storytelling, neither for nor against the US occupation of Iraq. Eastwood has even claimed that the movie reflects his opposition to the war. In reality, however, the movie is so rife with reactionary, racist, and imperial distortions and deletions as to function for all intents and purposes as flat out war propaganda.

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