The United States Department of Defense often provides a bit of assistance when movies are being made, a cooperative venture that is either interpreted as being in good fun, or being a contribution towards propaganda by those both more paranoid and less fun than I. Generally it amounts to cooperating so that the film makers can get shots they need of aircraft and tanks and such in action such that the footage can be integrated into the film seamlessly. When Iron Man fights an F-22 back in the first Iron Man, that’s in there courtesy of the Department of Defense. It’s becoming less and less of a matter of importance these days with the spread of CGI, but it’s still frequently sought nonetheless.
One of the important parts of the policy, that keeps it from being an engine for supporting propaganda is that the DoD rarely turns down requests. And even then the rejections tend to be along the lines of specific films showing specific things in a bad light. That can be abused, but I haven’t heard any complaints about it having been over the years.
But this morning the Internet got a good laugh when it emerged that the DoD had refused to provide assistance to Avengers, even though they had been helping early in production. The reasoning:
We couldn’t reconcile the unreality of this international organization and our place in it. To whom did S.H.I.E.L.D. answer? Did we work for S.H.I.E.L.D.? We hit that roadblock and decided we couldn’t do anything [with Avengers].
A great many people assured the world via three letters that they indeed were expressing their detection of humor by audible means. Seriously? Unreality? But you didn’t have a problem with the attention to documentary integrity in Transformers and Battleship?
But there is actually a good defensible reason in that statement. The problem isn’t that heroes are fighting gods and aliens, or even that it’s absurd that S.H.I.E.L.D. is a bureaucracy that gets stuff done. It’s that there is no clear explanation for who the organization reports to. That sounds hilarious at first, the military bureaucracy’s head exploding because the bureaucracy doesn’t make sense, but it’s actually a very critical point.
One of the holiest tenets of democracy, one of the things that keeps us from becoming like some of those places that most of us only see on the news, is that the military is strictly under civilian control. Breaking that rule leads eventually to tanks in the streets, down the road of every possible future. This is the line that cannot be crossed, and even if it’s not talked about much because it is simply a given in most of the West, it doesn’t mean it’s not always there. It’s the nightmare flickering in the recesses of our consciousness.
So this film is showing us not just some lone individuals doing good, not a military force gone rogue and bad, but a full-fledged military bureaucracy with fighters and a flying goddamned aircraft carrier to boot. And they’re deploying force into American cities and it’s portrayed as a good thing? Hey if you think that the DoD cooperation with films is just propaganda then they should have supported this; it’s fantastic propaganda. But their response actually betrays a nuance of thought that should be applauded.