Reel Power: Hollywood Cinema and American Supremacy

Hullo there. Over the last few days I’ve been reading a book about Hollywood and how it reflects and bolsters US cultural and military hegemony. I reviewed it for the Morning Star, but I’m sure they won’t mind if I post the rambling, non-edited version here on my blog.

Reel Power – Hollywood Cinema and American Supremacy
Matthew Alford

The villains came from outer space, rather than Russia or the Middle East. Their monument-destroying lasers act without compunction or mercy, quickly knocking out The White House, The Empire State Building, and Big Ben. The rest of the world acted as it is supposed to: it waits for America to come up with a solution; which it inevitably does, thanks to its heroic fighter-pilot President and brave citizens and military. Cue cheering, whooping, and, at the film’s conclusion, Independence Day being adopted by the entire world.

You can’t help but admire the chutzpah. Despite the bleatings of the American right over the alleged “liberal bias” of Hollywood, it is clear that most blockbusters are, as Alford suggests, “at ease with the spectacle of US high-tech violence against villainous foreigners”. Hollywood’s role in maintaining America’s ‘soft power’ – its cultural and ideological hegemony – is impossible to deny, regardless of the left-leaning nature of certain individual actors, screenwriters or directors.

The book’s revelations that the makers of the gung-ho likes of Top Gun, True Lies and the aforementioned Independence Day all colluded with the Department of Defense are unsurprising. Some of the details, however, are fascinating: The Pentagon suggested the makers of the latter “eliminate ‘any government connection’ to Roswell and Area 51”, which should send conspiracy theorists a-quiver.

More subtly, in the CIA thriller Clear and Present Danger’s original script, the President, despairing at Columbian drug lords, says: “Those sons-of-bitches… I swear, sometimes I would like to level that whole damn country – and Peru and Ecuador while we’re at it”. Thanks to Pentagon pressure the offending line was removed – but more importantly, as the author states, no version of the script ever mentioned the real-life web of weapons and money that underpin the US-Columbian relationship. In the movie, there are a few bad eggs, but the system will catch them. The system works.

Occasionally Alford falls into the trap of po-faced statements of the obvious. “Few would deny that the politics of the James Bond or Mission Impossible films are anything other than in the camp of Western government,” he notes. But few would deny that the films are anything other than pure camp either.

And he has a more general problem with irony. The beauty and satire of Team America: World Police, by the makers of South Park, lies in its mastery of the absurd. “Don’t worry, everything is bon”, says a member of the Team to stunned Parisians, who have just seen their city reduced to collateral rubble in the process of killing some Arab terrorists. Yet to Alford, the film’s closing “dicks fuck assholes” ‘justification’ speech for US military misadventures “ignores the fact… the US provides support to assholes… including Saudi Arabia, Angola, Chad, Colombia…”. But the makers of Team America revel in equal-opportunity profanity and offensiveness. They probably just found the speech funny.

The book is most convincing when it deals with films traditionally thought of as nuanced, or critical of US foreign policy, such as Three Kings or Hotel Rwanda; he highlights their adherence to the idea that US military intervention is generally correct, the problem being when and for how long to implement it. Also, the argument that only big budget films made by eccentric mavericks such as Paul Verhoeven (responsible for Total Recall’s futureworld of corporations owning the very air we breathe) are able to escape tacit censorship rings true.

Alford’s conclusions – that Hollywood wishes to entertain and not to upset the powers that be – are hardly earth-shattering, but his book is an engaging look at the innards of the dream factory process. It’s easy to see why a film like Independence Day was made, and why it received these words of recommendation from none other than former Republican Presidential candidate Bob Dole: “We won, the end. Leadership. America. Good over evil. It’s a good movie. Bring your family, too.”

~ by jamboshoeshine on November 9, 2010.

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