Entertainment as Advertising   Leave a comment

Film is a medium that we think of as entertainment, but often this is not entirely the case. Take military movies, for example. Films such as Top Gun included heavy involvement of the Pentegon and other military boosters to provide an awe-inspiring film. When Hollywood comes to the Pentegon with a request for production assistance, the military sees this as an important opportunity to tell the American public something about the US military that will help them recruit and retain personnel. It is a relationship of mutual exploitation. Movie makers get to use military props — where else are you going to find an aircraft carrier? — and the Pentegon gets to influence how it is portrayed on the silver screen.

That works the opposite way as well. Movies like Platoon, Dr. Strangelove and The Hurt Locker portray war in certain ways to influence the audience to reject war in any and all circumstances. These movies may not get the Department of Defense seal of approval, but they do no less an effective job at presenting anti-war propaganda for a particular political agenda — using entertainment to influence political viewpoints.

Promised Land (Matt Damon’s anti-fracking movie) is a clear example of this. Despite the Environmental Protection Agency saying there is no scientific evidence to support concerns over ground-water contamination from fracking, the movie has several scary scenes showing burning water coming out of the tap. For the record, the EPA has found no burning tap water that it is admitting to … and it’s the EPA, so chances are good, if burning tap water existed anywhere on the planet, they’d find it and put a stop to whatever was causing it. I’m expecting them to outlaw oxygen as a flammable gas sometime in the future — perhaps in my life time.

Ever wonder why there is now a gay character on almost every show on American television? Supposedly homosexuals makes up about 5% of the population, but they are represented on almost every television series. Why? It’s been on ongoing campaign in Hollywood since the mid-1980s to normalize homosexuality in the American mind, but it is hard to normalize 5% of the population. It’s too small a slice of the population to be viewed as normative. By presenting homosexual characters that are entertaining and likable on almost every show, Hollywood promotes a particular view of American society that doesn’t really exist. There is not a gay person in every office and not every family in America has at least one gay member. Having worked with a number of lesbians and gay men over the years that I worked in social work, I can tell you from personal experience that some of them are very nice people who live fairly ordinary lives, but none of the men I know are monogamous and the women are not lifelong partners with one another and, yes, some of them sexually abuse their stepchildren and sexual harass their heterosexual coworkers. Until that side of reality is shown on television, the portrayal of homosexuality on American television can be called propaganda in the same way that the unrealistic portrayal of heterosexual family life on 1950s television was also false, misleading and manipulative.

Again, while it is tempting to call for regulation to demand that entertainment and advertising/propaganda be kept separate and well identified, it never works out well to do it that way. Regulation is a slippery slope that starts out for the good of the nation and then turns into a tyrannical nightmare. A better solution would be for Americans to recognize the manipulation for themselves and use the power of the wallet to make it stop … or switch channels and read a book, which will amount to the same thing — and leave those who like to watch certain sorts of fairy tales to do what they like.

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