On the rise of militainment

By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  September 28, 2011

HAVE THE ARMED FORCES BEEN AN ACTIVE PARTNER IN DEVELOPING THIS NEW FORM OF MILITARIZED ENTERTAINMENT? WHAT'S IN IT FOR THEM? The best way to answer this question is to describe the longstanding relationship between Hollywood and the Pentagon, which has existed since the end of World War II. To make a war film, a Hollywood producer typically approaches the Pentagon's film liaison office to inquire about the use of authentic materials — anything from military bases for sets to personnel as extras. The film liaison office agrees to provide these resources in exchange for control over the script. By cutting this deal, the film producer gets a competitive advantage or "more bang for the buck," and often scripts are written with future Pentagon support in mind. This is not limited to war films. Sci-fi blockbusters like the Transformers or Iron Man franchises have maximized commercial success this way. In return, the Pentagon leverages this relationship to tilt the public image of war to favor its own interests, which include recruiting, increased military spending, and an increased public willingness to authorize state violence. This essential relationship has been replicated across television, video games, and even toy manufacturing.

WHAT CHALLENGES DOES AN INTERACTIVE MILITAINMENT POSE TO DEMOCRACY? A founding principle of our American democracy is civilian control over the military (as opposed to, say, a military dictatorship). Because we the people ultimately authorize state violence, the citizen has a solemn duty to deliberate official policy. The culture of militainment poses two important challenges to this sense of duty. First, it trivializes war, presenting it as something to be consumed rather than deliberated. Second, recent trends toward interactive militainment encourage us to immerse ourselves in the technical gee-whiz of playing soldier. This diverts our attention away from where policy is deliberated and toward where it is executed. The antidote to all of this is to instead cultivate a strong sense of participatory democracy. As citizens, we must resist the elements of our media system that invite us to sit back, enjoy, and leave everything to the experts.

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