It is quite common for many critics of Hollywood to raise the image of product placement. It is as though seeing an indirect or even a blatant advert in a film somehow detracts from their movie-going experience. In films of $100M+ budgets, on top of that sum advertising costs can crawl into almost half a billion dollars, it is no wonder that filmmakers look to other companies to help pay for some of the costs. After all most films these days are just products themselves.
It is just as common for the anti gun voices to vocalise their concerns each and every time a despicable human being goes on a deadly rampage. Hollywood is often associated with a certain vocal elite who are sometimes skewed in their opinions, whether they happen to be safe political messages or at times controversial criticism of the then current presidential regime. They have this right as individuals. Their status as icons in popular entertainment allows them a taller soap box upon which to stand and with various methods of social media these celebrities can tweet or snapchat their cultivated day to day ensuring greater spread for themselves and that which they seek to sell or promote.
Marred inside many of the critics and elite’s opinions alike lurks a disfigured reactionary jerk pertaining to gun rights. Though most political masters and celebrity elites themselves own firearms and are often surrounded by well armed protectors they look down on the peons of society who also seek to protect themselves, their families and their property with firearms. The same police that they have access to, and seem to disregard in actual practice is supposedly adequate for the non-famous, un-wealthy masses to rely upon for security. Many of the film critics themselves come from the masses and tend to agree with their elite celebrities, perhaps via impression or because it is a simplistically easy fear to cling to. That does not however mean that all should suffer beneath such imperial instincts to put the theatre of safety above liberty. Empirical evidence is never as seductive as the glamour of fiction.
It is an obvious stab to point towards the two gun wielding celebrities starring in their newest block buster blasting to death scores of goons. To mention the celebrity that certain firearms gain after being featured in key roles, ie inside the hero’s grip, is perhaps a moot point. Take famously for example the films Lethal Weapon and Die Hard featuring the Berretta’s M92. A hand gun which would go on to gain commercial success thanks to the films, and would also see wide adoption inside police, military and government agencies. Thanks to its own merits but also in part to it being the side arm of choice of both John McLane and Martin Riggs as they dispatched villain, terrorist and criminal with keen entertaining shooting. Just as John Rambo inspired the sales of large combat knives and Dirty Harry helped to boost the sales of Smith and Wesson’s hand cannons, so too would these two films assist Berretta in its mostly US sales.
Outside the commercial success of firearms to the civil market, the relationship between the US military and Hollywood is obvious. The need to utilise current and even older equipment and facilities can make and break a film. This has often worked in favour both for the military itself and the film makers. Top Gun helped recruit more people to the US Navy than any advertising campaign or amount of school recruiting. The film used US Navy vessels, aircraft, personnel and bases to help make a 1980s mega hit. In more recent times the Marvel and Transformer franchises are so intermeshed with the US military that it is at times hard to determine what is the film makers intentional preference and what has been directed by their military handlers-advisors.
The era of film makers of independent means and vision are long gone, at least when it comes to large budget productions. The motion pictures of the modern era are simply products. They sell, make billions and the paying public crave them. The message and narratives inside these products are simplistic and often pose no questions, merely often pre-approved answers. The notion of a dissenting hero or an anti-war message is unlikely. The US military is far too hands on and the US government, now more than ever needs to appear to be competent and on the side of good. The occasional rogues within the heralded institutions of government withstanding. The US military has the tools in its utility shed to convince the film makers to abide, not with coercion as is often the government way but with the allure of access. Do what we want and you can film and use our cool death machines. After all it seems sexy to see an ageing Bruce Willis tangle with a Lockheed-Martin F-35 or Iron Man get intercepted by a pair of F-22 Raptors, the computer generated fighters can perform wonders and do anything, leaving such an impression with many film watchers.
Films such as Catch-22, Cross of Iron, Full Metal Jacket or Platoon which all questioned the folly of war and depicted the military in a less than spectacular light are unlikely to ever be made again. The film makers like Sam Peckinpah and Oliver Stone are not emerging in the new Hollywood and even if they did, would they be allowed to make such films inside the large production companies? Are such films digestible enough to sell tickets, are they advertising friendly and most of all would the US military sign off on it? It is perhaps unlikely that they are, complex narratives and tragic characters condemned to futile wars are less appealing to producers than emoticon based products or reimaginations of decades old classics. Besides how can computer generated heroes saving an American city from alien space invaders fit into a gritty depiction of real world war?
Clint Eastwood and Mel Gibson recently have managed to indirectly make films that question the popular mantra when it comes to war and history, their films are contrarian in many aspects and because they are historical it is often accepted. As though the audience lacks the imagination to transpose the none too distant past, to the now and suppose that little has changed. Both Gibson and Eastwood have rallied controversy around themselves, thanks to their personal life and not their professional one as film makers. They are archaic outsiders in Hollywood. Film makers interested in cohesive stories, not merely in ejaculating safe products.
Leonardo DiCaprio, the young and debonair superstar celebrity is at times a poster boy for modern Hollywood. He holds the secure opinions of much of its politics and says enough to ensure that he is not pariah or controversial. He is Hollywood royalty and the hit film “Inception” that he starred in was both original and inspiring to subsequent film makers. Hidden among the layers of dreams and surreal physics was the most overt product placement of all time, for the firearms manufacturer of Belgian FN Herstal was given almost exclusivity when it came of providing the films firearms. From some of its older long arms and hand guns to its most recent and futuristic looking kit was on display and wielded by all inside the film. Those product placement critics of the internet were mute on this fact, as was the elite anti-gunners who seem happy taking money directly from firearm manufacturers. While a clumsy Adam Sandler film wrapped around Dunkin Donuts and its ‘Dunkaccino’ is cruder and an easy target for film advertising critics, the sophisticated elegance by which arms manufacturers insert their product placement is only on the nose to those who can detect the whiff of gun oil.
Some films will arise on a large budget that will question the role and legitimacy of Government, as Captain America Winter Soldier sort of did, one can only imagine the rewrites and script approvals that may have been needed to get that film made. Or as the confused arc of Tony Stark has taken a turn away from being the man who “privatised defence” to now being just another corporate billionaire eager to serve the State. There is an over used political term that gets thrown around pertaining to obedient corporations that profit from war and public works, to call Iron Man a Fascist is perhaps unkind but so is the reality to its victims. The ever changing narratives are apparent inside the popcorn selling products of cinematic universes but most may not care to notice, maybe one should not bother to, they are after all mostly comic book films. But found inside the pages of many comic books traditionally was a rich platform for both commentary and dissenting opinions. Not merely yes men and women dressed in gaudy costumes.
While many idols of culture take to their twitter account and use their television spots as a moment to express their indignation, one cannot help to notice the selectivity of it all. The violence of Las Vegas in early October 2017 was disgusting and scary, thus bringing many out in droves to spout conspiracy theories, ideological mantras and out right instances of tragedy exploitation. Many, if not all of these same voices are silent on the endless war that is going across this Earth, one of such consequence and savagery that millions shall suffer into the decades. Those distant victims, not dead or injured because of the maniacal brutality of a single deranged man but systematically slaughtered by a professional military of well trained, and well armed operators. Unfortunately those dead victims are simply props to either be saved by imagined heroes or to die on so that others may cut their teeth in a sick glory play of societal imaginations. The gore too graphic for even Hollywood to gorge itself upon.
Foreigners, those born into the sand of poverty or the jungles of torment do not matter. They are soulless, human goats. There only to be sacrificed upon the alter of another’s heroism and national glory. Simply black and white images on the other side of a screen, alien voices screaming out to an Oriental God as they shoot at red blooded heroes of nation, or starving babies, bleeding tears dying one gulp at a time thanks to an embargo aided by those who helped to make Top Gun or benefit from Stark industries wonder tech. There are no super heroes or transforming robot aliens flying down to save those children, to protect those civilians. It does nothing for the box office. Optimus Prime and his Autobots do not carry medicine and food inside his trailer so that the children of Yemen can live another week, that would after all defy Uncle Sam and thus the producers of Hollywood.
As the bodies of the most recent victims are buried and their families mourn the very real tragedy of their loss, Hollywood will for the most part talk outside of both sides of its mouth. Many of its power brokers will eagerly talk about gun control and the need to disarm the populace to protect future victims, a sincere and easy to come to conclusion given any tragedy. Many elites of Hollywood love to appeal to mostly pro fun audiences with their bang bang action sequences and the infatuated lust many paying cinema goers have for such violence. Many of the same elites are all too eager to criticise those who own and wish to own such firearms, known as props to them.
So long as the US military, its many contractors and the manufacturers of firearms support Hollywood, the hypocritical elites will go on making big budget pornographic depictions of violence. The tools-props needed to kill in fiction and life will be integral co-stars, thus entertaining both the gun grabbers and pro-gun people mutually regardless of any irony. They are after all only just films and out of touch with reality, just like most of those who profit from them.
Kym Robinson, October 2017