Saturday, November 19, 2005

Hollywood and the Military: Entertaining but No Substance

In his book, The New American Militarism, Andrew Bacevich explores the depths of America's fascination with the military. He reveals a transformation in the perceptions of the American soldier from the stereotyped drug abusing ruffins of the Vietnam era to today's selfless heroes and patriots of Iraq. Interestingly, he uses Hollywood, specifically three movies, to show how our perceptions have changed. He begins with Gere's portrayal of officer candidate Zach Mayo...the quintessential loner/loser who has no hopes for his future...his only redemption lies in becoming a naval officer. From his troubled inadaquacies, Mayo is tempered into a model officer. Bacevich then notes the evolution of the hero in Rambo II. No longer the loser, the soldier is reborn yet lost...John Rambo is a man lost in a world he cannot understand. He feels that the country he loved committed the highest betrayal and once again he is deceived into yet another fight. What unfolds is the absolute divison between the military and the civilian leadership. In the end, Rambo confronts the civilian buracracy head on only to leave once again bitter, disillusioned and betrayed. The evolution of the military hero ends with LT. Pete Mitchell as Maverick in Top Gun. Discarded is the belief that war is a dirty, bloody, and difficult enterprise. No longer must the soldier use brawn to win his and brains are the weapons of the day. One must only hop into their multi-million dollar machinery, rub in some slick hair gel, put on some shades and get a bomber jacket.

What Bacevich is driving home is just how different our perceptions of the military are from the past. Bacevich cautions that there could be trouble in creating a super human mystique in all that is military. Soldiers are people with the same flaws and inadequacies as civilians.

The trouble with this type of examination is that while this discussion may be really interesting...because we all love fun movies, Bacevich's analysis here lacks real substance. Hollywood's products are not reality and do not represent American attitudes about the military. In defense of Bacevich, the rest of his book is quite interesting and in it he makes a persuasive case for how Americans have been seduced by war. This hollywood analogy however by itself falls short of the real analysis we should all strive for in our work.

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