This article originally was published on TomDispatch.
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“Liberal Hollywood” is a favorite whipping-boy of right-wingers who suppose the town and its signature industry are ever at work undermining the US military. In reality, the military has been deeply involved with the film industry since the silent era. Today, however, the ad hoc arrangements of the past have been replaced by a full-scale one-stop shop, occupying a floor of a Los Angeles office building. There, the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and the Department of Defense itself have established entertainment liaison offices to help ensure that Hollywood makes movies the military way.
What they have to trade, especially when it comes to blockbuster films, is access to high-tech, taxpayer funded, otherwise unavailable gear. What they get in return is usually the right to alter or shape scripts to suit their needs. If you want to see the fruits of this relationship in action, all you need to do is head down to your local multiplex. Chances are that Iron Man–the latest military-entertainment masterpiece–is playing on a couple of screens.
For the past three weeks, Iron Man–a film produced by its comic-book parent Marvel and distributed by Paramount Pictures–has cleaned up at the box office, taking in a staggering $222.5 million in the US and $428.5 million worldwide. The movie, which opened with “the tenth-biggest weekend box office performance of all time” and the second biggest for a non-sequel, has the added distinction of being the “best-reviewed movie of 2008 so far.” For instance, in the New York Times, A.O. Scott called Iron Man “an unusually good superhero picture,” while Roger Ebert wrote: “The world needs another comic book movie like it needs another Bush administration…[but] if we must have one more… Iron Man is a swell one to have.” There has even been nascent Oscar buzz.
Robert Downey Jr. has been nearly universally praised for a winning performance as playboy-billionaire-merchant-of-death- genius-inventor Tony Stark, head of Stark Industries, a fictional version of Lockheed or Boeing. In the film, Stark travels to Afghanistan to showcase a new weapon of massive destruction to American military commanders occupying that country. On a Humvee journey through the Afghan backlands, his military convoy is caught up in a deadly ambush by al-Qaeda stand-ins, who capture him and promptly subject him to what Vice President Dick Cheney once dubbed “a dunk in the water,” but used to be known as “the Water Torture.” The object is to force him to build his Jericho weapons system, one of his “masterpieces of death,” in their Tora Bora-like mountain cave complex.