Columns, Opinion

Philosophical Soup: The glorification of the U.S. military-industrial complex in film

The following article contains spoilers for “Outside the Wire.”

Action movies are undeniably entertaining and captivating, and the genre is typically defined by big, strong military heroes. Take “Outside the Wire,” all of the “Captain America” movies or basically any Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero film for example.

In reality, however, superheroes such as Captain America and Captain Marvel are just figures who are glorifying the United States’ military-industrial complex. And Marvel movies aren’t the only films that do this.

In the recent Netflix movie “Outside the Wire,” Anthony Mackie plays a U.S. robot soldier fighting against Russia in a civil war in Ukraine. Captain Leo, Mackie’s character, is the latest in the line of supersoldiers in films. At the end of the movie, he goes rogue and tries to prevent future wars and the super-soldier program by launching nuclear missiles against the United States.

Max Ferrandino

Ultimately, Thomas Harp, the hero of the movie, stops Leo from launching the missile. Framing Leo as the well-meaning villain only serves to glorify the United States’ endless wars. Netflix tries to make a complex point, yet it falls short once again by letting the U.S. hero win.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is another example. While the action sequences in this film are excellent, it, too, glorifies the military-industrial complex.

“Avengers: Endgame,” another action movie, was the second highest-grossing film ever, raking in only around $46 million less than “Avatar.”

It raises the question: What does the United States love so much about action movies that are steeped in military themes?

I watch action movies simply because I enjoy watching them, not out of any sense of patriotism. However, I think this may be too simple of an explanation. If you think about it more, action movies — perhaps similar to all forms of media — help us escape the mundane nature of our lives.

I do not seek to take my mundane life for granted. I am incredibly lucky to be able to go to college and have a set routine. Places that are currently being destroyed by the U.S. military are not so lucky.

Just last week for my Introduction to International Relations class, I watched a video in which a Syrian mother described how a berry tree was able to protect her and her children from the shrapnel of a Russian bomb that dropped on their village.

The United States, and other countries, has been pulled into a humanitarian crisis in Syria. The lives of those who live in Syria have been affected by near-constant war for the last 10 years. This in turn has become a sort of proxy war between the United States and other countries.

Alexia Nizhny/DFP STAFF

I know the damage our military-industrial complex causes, yet I still unintentionally support it through watching action movies. Can I reconcile my enjoyment for movies such as “Lady Bird” with my enjoyment of “Captain America” and the violence it helps to normalize?

The depiction of U.S. exceptionalism in films have influenced cultural perceptions of enemies in these movies and real-life U.S. adversaries. In most films, these enemies are the Russians or Soviet Union — a remnant of the Cold War — North Koreans or Islamic extremists.

The United States has fought so many different countries around the globe that there is no shortage of enemies for action filmmakers to use. By using a biased narrative and blurring the line between real and fictional wars, the United States gains control of who is perceived as the enemy of the people. This can be dangerous if used to misguide or miseducate the public to garner support for wars.

To sum up, our perception of the United States cannot be separated from how action movies depict the country. One feeds the other.

The military thrives upon the media industry portraying the institution in a positive light. To understand the United States, all you need to do is watch an action movie to get a sense of what the country thinks of itself as: the shining beacon of light in a sea of chaos.

Yet the United States image as a world power has been tainted, which is why it is so necessary for action movies to show a U.S. perception of reality and why it is doubly more crucial for us to recognize and be aware of this propaganda the next time we indulge in the MCU and other films.





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