Recently, photographic portraits of nine World War I vets (all 105 or older when taken) were unveiled at a Pentagon ceremony. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates then noted that, when it comes to their war, “There is no big memorial on the National Mall. Hollywood has not turned its gaze in this direction for decades.”
If true, that is little short of a miracle — as Nick Turse indicates below. Hollywood hasn’t been able to keep its gaze off either war or the Pentagon since “the war to end all wars” began in 1914 (and the favor has long been returned). In fact, Hollywood and the Pentagon have been in an intricate dance of support and cross-promotion for almost a century, from a time when the Department of Defense was still quaintly — if more accurately — known as the War Department. Today, however, without leaving Hollywood behind, the Pentagon has branched out into the larger universe of entertainment. Video games, TV, NASCAR racing, social networking, professional bull riding, toys, professional wrestling, you name it and the military-entertainment complex has a hand in it — and don’t forget about the Pentagon’s links to Starbucks, Apple Computer, Oakley sunglasses, and well, gosh… in one way or another, directly or indirectly, just about everything that looks civilian in (or out of) your house.
In fact, there’s a remarkable new book that looks into all of this, while doing the best job around of updating the old military-industrial complex, a term whose hard-edged simplicity an ever-expanding Pentagon long ago left in the dust. Whatever you do, don’t miss Nick Turse’s The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives. It’s an eye-opener on the degree to which we are, without realizing it, a militarized society; it is, as well, the latest spin-off book from Tomdispatch.com, where some of its parts were initially tested out. But let me just quote Chalmers Johnson on The Complex: “Americans who still think they can free themselves from the clutches of the military-industrial complex need to read this book. The gimmicks the Pentagon uses to deceive, entrap, and enlist gullible 18 to 24 year olds make signing up anything but voluntary. Nick Turse has produced a brilliant exposé of the Pentagon’s pervasive influence in our lives.”
In honor of its publication, I’m posting an adaptation of one small section of The Complex, its only Pentagon-themed “game.” Amid all the weaponry, military bases, and contractors, it’s certainly one of the book’s lighter moments. In it, Turse shows that just about every actor to appear on screen from Charlie Chaplin’s brother Syd to Dakota Fanning and Oscar-winner Gwyneth Paltrow can be linked to the Pentagon in one way or another.
Oh, and by the way, you can even check out a brief Tomdispatch video interview I did with Turse (with, as you’ll notice, a silent “Sigmund Freud” looking on) by clicking here. It was produced by freelance documentary filmmaker Brett Story, a new staff addition to Tomdispatch. Expect more Turse in the near future. Tom
The Golden Age of the Military-Entertainment Complex
Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, Pentagon-Style
By Nick Turse
In the late 1990s, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon — a game in which the goal was to connect the actor Kevin Bacon to any other actor, living or dead, through films or television shows in no more than six steps — became something of a phenomenon. Spread via the Internet (before becoming a board game and a book), Six Degrees has taken its place in America’s pop culture pantheon among favorite late-night drunken pursuits.