Recently, the head of Research and Development at the Walt Disney Company announced that he was leaving Disney to head all research at the Pentagon's National Security Agency.
It shouldn't surprise me that the government would seek out someone whose last job was working for a company famous for cartoons. However, I am surprised — and disappointed — by another development in the Hollywood-Washington relationship: video and computer games are now being created to make war seem more attractive.
For the first time, video games are now being used for recruiting purposes. One of these games is a version of the well-known "Sims" series, and another is an adaptation of the popular "Unreal Tournament," a game known for its graphic, nonstop killing. The Pentagon has spent $5 million to develop these video games.
However, they leave out the tedious, the difficult, and the dangerous, and emphasize the fun, the entertaining, and the exciting parts. Nobody is shown spit-shining their shoes or peeling potatoes. More alarming, nobody is shown shivering for hours, waiting for the enemy to show up. Nobody is shown sobbing on his buddy's bloody shoulder.
Another example of the Hollywood-Pentagon axis is the $45 million Institute for Creative Technologies. The ITC has enlisted the help of some of Hollywood's most creative minds. The supposition is that sometimes people in the military may be thinking too narrowly, so why not bring in people who are more imaginative? I have no quarrel with that. I think good ideas for making us all safer should be considered no matter where they come from. But I am concerned about the goals of the project.
Jim Korris, who serves as ICT's creative director, explains that "the military had very accurate, big training exercises but it wasn't entertaining. That's a problem for the young recruits."
So, the ITC hired people like John Millius, co-writer of "Apocalypse Now," Ron Cobb the creature designer for "Star Wars," and David Ayer, the writer of "Training Day" to come up with more entertaining training videos.
Specifics of who suggested what are a military secret. But considering that Randall Kleiser, the director of "Grease" is another person involved, perhaps they will try to appeal to recruits with a big, fun war musical. Maybe instead of marching to "hut, two, three, four," they will soon be dancing to "Beauty School Dropout" on the parade grounds.
And why stop there? Why not try to convince them that interrogating prisoners is just like a military version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" Emeril Lagasse could show how easy it is to cook in the middle of a battle. And the creators of "American Idol" could come up with a show demonstrating that the soldiers who sing the best get the most medals.
Purposely making soldiering and killing more "entertaining" and "fun" is a great disservice to the people the military is trying to recruit. It's dishonest and morally corrupt. Moreover, instead of trying to tell people that "war is just like a video game," shouldn't we be telling them just the opposite — that war is not a game? Wouldn't the world be better off if all governments tried to convey to their citizens that war is not fun?
Maybe I'm being too cynical. After all, there has been a rocky romance between Hollywood and Washington for a long time.
Even though politicians blame the media for everything from teenage sex to violence, they court Hollywood for money, publicity, and propaganda.
Movies imitate the military and the government, and vice versa. Countless elected officials have tried to model their public images after movies like "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." Public officials laud the heroic virtues in films ranging from "The Longest Day" to "Saving Private Ryan."
So, perhaps one of the reasons for my cynicism is that I have the feeling that too many politicians in recent years have been modeling themselves after two other movies: "Take The Money and Run" and "Liar, Liar."
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.
By Lloyd Garver
Copyright 2002 CBS. All rights reserved.