Patriotism and Propaganda – Superman: Man of Steel [Collateral News]
Once again it is summer blockbuster season. Along with incessant pleas for us to spend hard earned dollars to see the flick claiming to have the biggest explosions and the most seamless CGI, we are also inundated with advertising tie in campaigns on screens big and small. This of course is nothing new. But what many people are unaware of is that the military has been in on this game of working with Hollywood filmmakers for even longer than the retailers have been playing the game. And, like most things, with age comes experience.
Operating collaboratively since World War 2, the military has deftly been working with Hollywood to mold a consciousness of patriotism by slipping propaganda messages into films. The Pentagon assists filmmakers by providing authentic military hardware or personnel to enliven scripts. Therefore, it really should come as no surprise that right-wing director, Zack Snyder, would embrace the partnership the US National Guard has forged with Warner Bros. to make the new Superman move, Man of Steel. His newly produced National Guard recruitment video and all the patriotic hyperbole around it is worthy of closer examination.
While the iconic Superman has long been known as the boy scout on steroids championing truth, justice and the so called American way, we really haven’t seen him in his cape being used to sell war and recruit people into wars since WWII. Sure, we’ve seen him in comic books and in animated cartoons where he fills the power void and supports the military when it comes to battling super-powered villains or extra-terrestrials bent on global conquest, but it’s been decades since we’ve seen him used to blatantly sell a pro-military message.
Interestingly, the Superman/National Guard tie-in recruitment effort is not selling war, or the service in war at all. It is selling an idea: specifically, that we can be like Superman if we enlist in the National Guard, put on a uniform that isn’t as form fitting as his, and serve one’s state when it is under siege by tornados, floods and other types of disasters. Cleverly left out from this transmission of ideas is the stark reality that for the last twelve years the National Guard has been used in ways beyond the heroic rescue of people trapped on the tops of roofs, or buried under earthquake generated rubble. In this new recruitment strategy there is no mention of the role the National Guard now plays in supporting modern war policies and the waging of war abroad – wars where no one is as bullet proof as Superman.
According to Snyder, he took on the task of making the one-minute recruitment video as a show of gratitude to those Guard members who appear in the movie. What is more likely is that Snyder and Warner Brothers, in exchange for the a taxpayer subsidy from the Pentagon’s supplying in the form of military hardware and real-life guardsmen for their story, agreed to direct a recruiting video that lends Superman’s image to military recruitment efforts, and to displays linking patriotism with service. Snyder seems quite happy to direct this video, and military participation in a film project often comes with tangible benefits to the filmmakers.
Apparently the National Guard NASCAR team has Superman emblazoned on their racecars, and there is even a new National Guard recruiting website with a video game tie-in to the Superman movie franchise. We’re all inured to deceptive ad campaigns these days, but take a moment to consider just how disingenuous it is to use the globally recognized image of the quintessential do-gooder in order to sell the US National Guard to young children, and to do so without acknowledging the complexity of Guard Membershiip. These citizen soldiers, as they are often called, are pulled from their homes, jobs, and communities to participate in a seemingly endless war on terror. How many ten year olds will see one of the worlds most beloved fictitious characters equated with military might, and then have fixed in their minds the idea that this should be their destiny, only to find themselves years later being thousand of miles away, in a foreign country, fighting people the US government has labeled enemies? How many young teenagers who see these ads will eventually become compelled to enlist, only to be the victim of an IED which doesn’t kill them, but leaves them able to only eat through a tube and unable to bathe themselves?
If only one person were recruited due to this blurring of patriotism and propaganda it would be one person too many, but we should assume the National Guard expects to reap a far larger harvest of young lives from the tacit endorsement of Superman. I’d like to believe that the hero we all know and love wouldn’t really stand for this type of deception. This is something we should think about as we consume our popcorn and high-fructose corn syrup while watching the latest blockbuster addition to the DC Comics franchise.