America’s greatest enemies have been lined up for the latest add-on to Grand Theft Auto Online – perpetuating the old trope of an imminent global threat that only the US can meet.
Within seconds of the opening of the trailer for the popular game’s ‘Doomsday Heist’ add-on, all the usual suspects are named as possible culprits behind a bid to start a war against the US. “It has to be the Russians… or the North Koreans… or the Chinese… or the Iranians,” a billionaire tech mogul tells his crew of true US patriots assembled to save the fictional city of San Andreas from total annihilation.
While the tone of the trailer may be somewhat tongue in cheek, it continues a global trend of presenting whoever happens to be the bogeymen of US foreign policy as the perennial bad guys. And in the eyes of the western entertainment industry, the new axis of evil of Russia, North Korea and Iran, is ripe for picking.
Some of the most successful US TV series’ of recent years were plotted on the concept of the foreign enemy. In the Netflix series ‘House of Cards,’ fictional Russian president Viktor Petrov shares striking similarities to the western media’s characterization of Vladimir Putin.
Similarly, ‘Homeland’ has plots that often run parallel to political goings on while also pushing Islamophobic stereotypes. Meanwhile, ‘The Americans’ bolsters Russian paranoia by reminding the audience that even your next door neighbour could be a KGB officer.
Dr Matthew Alford, a Teaching Fellow in Politics at the University of Bath, whose research focus is on the relationship between screen entertainment and political power in Western democracies, told RT.com that “popular culture provides mood music for political culture.”
“Collectively our mainstream entertainment provides considerable support for the national security state,” he added.
Earlier this year, Alford co-authored the book ‘National Security Cinema,’ an in-depth analysis of the relationship between the US government and Hollywood. Based on thousands of pages of US military and intelligence documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act, the book reveals the power of the Pentagon to stop a film from being made by refusing or withdrawing support.
One such film is ‘The Recruit’, the 2003 film starring Colin Farrell as a CIA agent in the making. Documents reveal the movie, which also featured Al Pacino as Farrell’s mentor, was heavily influenced by the CIA’s long-serving entertainment liaison officer, Chase Brandon.
The blockbuster includes lines about the new threats of the post-Soviet world along with rebuttals of the idea that the CIA failed to prevent 9/11.
“The level of military manipulation on film scripts has been fairly comparable since the early years of Hollywood. Over the last twenty years though, there has been a real spike in the military's involvement in TV and the CIA has gotten much more pro-active,” Alford said.
The cliché of the Russian baddy has been around so long that it’s perhaps no surprise that recent political allegations against the nation have been so easy to swallow. Is there really a need for concrete evidence of Russian interference in US elections when audiences have been digesting negative propaganda about the country and its people since the height of the Cold War.
However, it’s not just the Russians that get the stereotypical arch-villain treatment. Any one’s game as long as it doesn’t affect box office dollars. The 2012 remake of Red Dawn (originally about a Soviet invasion of the US) intended to pit the Americans against an invading Chinese army, but later the antagonists were changed to North Koreans in order to maintain access to China’s profitable box office.
“The potential influence on the public of military-backed record-breaking blockbusters like Avatar should ring alarm bells in a democracy. This story of censorship has been routinely suppressed and soft-pedaled for decades,” Alford said.
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