Representations of military in popular entertainment

An obvious starting point is sci-fi which in the USA - not that I’ve seen too much of it recently – was always about military structures and hierarchy and the nobility of serving, of sacrifice for the greater good, etc. The contrast between, say, the whole Star Trek / Voyager thing and the ideas and humour based entertainment of Dr Who / Red Dwarf makes that point clearer.

Then there’s the representation of leadership all the time. How many times is the President of the USA featured making difficult military decisions for the nation and the world – yes, I know he’s Commander in Chief. Contrast with how often you see films from other nations featuring contemporary leaders at all, never mind in some militaristic context. It’s as if to underscore something that’s kind of difficult to define but is, again, about the nobility and decency of service and for the greater good. All of which opposes the reality of a shit self-serving politician lying and manipulating all the way though a giant power trip. There’s a conflation of militarisation and politics in the USA that, I don’t believe, any other culture has practiced or currently does.

Another thing that really strikes me is the way people speak to each other. Contrast US screen dialogue with any other and it’s as if everyone exists in a serving hierarchy where you will do this thing right now in the way: the way military personal talk to subordinates now seems acceptable in not just other uniformed roles – which is bizarre enough – but in office environments: ‘I need this from you and I need it now’ <person marches off to perform their order>. That has to transfer from the screen to real life in the same way ‘Friends’-speak did a decade or more ago.

I’m not making a great case here but there’s something weird in all this for me. Maybe you can’t see it too easily when that’s your entire context but I’d suggest it is clearer if your entertainment is less USA-centric.

People might say ‘well, it’s an empire, it’s gonna happen’ to which I suppose I’d say why? Is it the role of entertainment to promote imperial values, why not just Dr Who?

Just some idle thoughts.

Right off the bat, I have to say that it seems your exposure to science fiction in the USA is pretty limited. Even if you’re only considering SF on TV, there’s plenty that has little to do with the military, and lots in which the military isn’t necessarily good. In fact, one can make a case that a lot of it is actually anti military.

Can one? Examples would be nice because it seems my knowledge is limited to Star Trek and Voyager, etc ? Fwiw, as far as I understood the Borg were representations of communism and or Islam . . .

There are a couple reasons for the way the military is portrayed in American entertainment media.

First of all, yes, other countries have militaries, but by and large, they tend to either suck or be a tool for oppression.

America has a long and proud tradition of using our military in what we perceive to be the defense of freedom. Our military is generally considered to be an “army of the people”, dating back to it’s roots in Colonial America. Even when the wars they are involved in are not popular, there is still a sense that the individual soliders are regular people who signed up (or were drafted) out of a sense of duty.

Military themes are common in science fiction (Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Babylon 5, Alien etc, etc) for a very simple reason. The spectacle of futuristic armies using their advanced technology to blast the hell out of each other. War has always been the subject of drama and what is more dramatic than war on a scale unimaginable with our current technology?

Clearly you have never worked in an office environment…or a military environment for that matter. Corporate management often borrows leadership and management techniques from the military and vice versus. Other than training or combat situations where orders have to be given loud, clear and unambiguously, I suspect that during the normal course of performing their duties, military personal provide instructions to each other just like civilians.
Another reason is that in the future, space travel is likely to still be expensive and dangerous. Typically only the military or organizations with close ties to the military (like NASA) would have the resources and training to operate future spacecraft.

Communism. i.e they are a communal species. Nothing to do with Islam or any religeon.

I don’t have any experience in a civilian office environment, but I am in the military. An averaged day at work goes like this: Show up at 9 AM, Platoon Sergeant says (with the whole platoon present) “OK, we need to do this, that, and the other today.” Team leaders assign specific tasks to specific people, we all go about our business. When we accomplish all of our tasks for the day we all go home.

There is hardly ever a need for sergeants to go about barking orders at privates all day in a normal military working day.

For the record I am in the US Army and it is my experience that different services do things very differently, hell different units in the army have vast differences in how they do things; so none of the above necessarily applies outside my own work environment.

This is about the same (from a civilian tech rep POV) that I’ve seen in the Air Force and Navy. Except for the fact that airmen and sailors have short hair and are typically wearing BDU/ABUs (or occasionally flight suits or service uniforms as formality and personal preferences dictate), most military personnel who are not on some kind of deployment (i.e. working in an office or support service environment) could not readily be distinguished in manner and speech from your average cubical zombies. Even Marines–who like to yell and (seemingly) be yelled at–don’t bark commands and derision nearly as often as portrayed on TV.

Most of the portrayal of the military that you see on movies and TV is radically dramatized, highly institutionalized, and usually at least twenty years out of date with regard to terminology and behavioral politics. For instance, in The Unit–which was one of the best shows (at least in the first couple of series) in terms of portraying realistic small unit tactics, albeit in an elite Special Operations unit–uses a lot of jargon that was probably common during producer and technical advisor Eric Haney’s tenure in 1SOFD-D, but sounds almost anachronistic now. The operators are constantly saying, “Most ricky-tick” to each other (meaning quickly or very soon), even though that term has fallen largely out of use. (I suppose this could be somewhat executive producer David Mamet’s influence and his penchant for anachronistic dialogue, but it just seems a little dated, as if they’re trying a little too hard to seem “military”.) In general, as with everything, it is a portrayal of the military as imagined by screenwriters most of whose prior experience is watching other movies and shows about the military, so the portrayal ends up being a self-referential conception.


Because the military coopts the studio to show them favorably. You can have the cool jets and tanks and bombs in your movie – IF you show the militarty they way they want to be shown. If not, no movie for you! And no studio backing either. None of the big studios have the balls to take on the military-industrial complex. So much easier making films that will not challenge the peasants to think for themselves…

Some films have honorable, upright military men standing up to weak, treacherous civilian leadership (Transformers, or basically any Michael Bay movie), while the rest have the military as a bunch of war-mongering, twisted psycopaths funding mad-scientists to build dangerous weapons just for kicks and giggles (the most recent Hulk movie, for example).

There’s probably a little truth in both views, but movies, at least big blockbusters, tend to draw things in terms of black-and-white, so we end up with an over-the-toop version of either one side or the other. People try and take isolated examples of this and turn it into some statement on how Hollywood in general views the military, but I think that’s over-reach. Hollywood just likes to have clear villians and clear heroes, and whether the military is on one side or the other just depends on the needs of the story.

Big corporations, on the other hand…

Yes, that’s right; no film critical of the military has ever been released by a major studio.


Your user profile does not say where you are from so I’m going to guess that you do not live in the US. If you do, you must not have much experience working in a US corporate environment.

The command structure of corporations is much like that of the military. Even the business suit and tie dress is a symbol that represents a uniform of the command class.

I live in a state with “at will” hiring and firing labor rules. What this means is that I can be fired at any time, for any reason the company declares. I ‘serve’ at the will of the company. Insubbordination, or refusing to follow orders, is a legitimate reason to terminate my employment and being fired for insubbordination will negate any chance of getting severence pay and will disqualify me for government unemployment benefits.

So yeah, if you work in an ‘at will’ state for a company with poor human resource practices, you had better do what you are told.

It is usually not that bad, but it can be that bad and you have little recourse. Hollywood tends to exagerate this employer-as-tyrant meme, but it can be very real.

Independence Day was made without the cooperation of the USAF. The studio decided they’d rather make the film on their own rather than omit any reference to Area 51 (which was the Air Force’s only demand).

Tell you what- name as many movies as you can from, say, 1970 on, that portray the U.S. military as a wonderful bunch of heroic patriots.

Then I’ll name TWO in which the American armed forces are either insane or evil, just looking for excuses to kill the innocent, even when it makes absolutely no sense.

James Cameron alone (“The Abyss,” “Avatar”) is making my job easy!

:dubious: Where in “Avatar” are the American armed forces ever mentioned?

Except in Avatar there was no military. It was an privately run security force made up mostly of ex-military.

It’s all a matter of the company’s culture. The other side of “at will” is that employees can walk away from a job without notice. If work conditions are hostile, a company can rapidly lose its best employees to its competitors. I’ve seen it happen to another company–several of its contracts are about to be terminated for failure to perform because 90% of their staff left for greener pastures.

Count me among the people who see negative portrayals of the American military at least as often as positive ones. Soldiers are regularly shown as repressed, bullying, or downright homicidal, and the good ones are the ones who become disillusioned with the system, if they’re not completely emotionally scarred by their experiences. Not a cheery picture.

Technically true, but some of the news references in the movie (“shock and awe,” for example) go out of their way to draw parallels to the war in Iraq, so it’s not an unfair comparison.

Why shouldn’t the military decide which filmmakers it does and doesn’t want to cooperate with? Makes sense to me. And it’s ridiculous to claim that this has prevented any anti-military film from ever being released. :rolleyes:

And, if you’ve got a “superior” barking orders at you, there’s a good chance they’re going to get in trouble with their superior (who could find out from a number of different sources). Or at least realize that their orders are not getting quality results as well as working together would.

It brings up a good principle: most movie writers and directors don’t work in cubicles or military bases-- they aren’t conversant with corp. office politics, or up-to-date on “in the trenches” militarism.

So I hope there aren’t middle managers (or sergeants) watching movies and thinking “Oooh, that’s how I want to yell at my minions tomorrow.”

Corporate characters are often represented as archtypes:
Investment bankers, evil corporate lawyers and most young executives are handsome suit wearing, Mercedez driving, Red Bull drinking douches
All lawyers are good looking and either idealistic or totally amoral
IT workers are fat and slovenly, Asian or look like 19 year old X-Games rejects
Most low level employees are apathetic and miserable cubicle drones who perform undefinable tasks or no tasks at all
Mid level managers are always malicious, disgusting human beings
Salesmen are gregarious alchoholics in cheap suits with loose ties
Female executives are always tall, attractive, no-nonsense types.
And so on.

But also keep in mind your boss often doesn’t have the power to directly fire you. Also, as you rise in seniority, it’s often not that simple firing someone. That person may take clients, staff or intellectual property with them. They might go work at a client and refuse to do business with their former employer. They may damage the reputation of the company. Non-compete agreements don’t always protect the company either.

A Few Good Men struck a false note with me when the Marine Lt. Colonel killed himself–in a frame-by-frame copy of USMC recruiting ads of the time–simply because he’s a Marine and they do crazy shit like that.

That smelled like a cop-out midway through the movie.

“Oh, it’s not the military, it’s a private security force made up entirely of ex-military soldiers in a military hierarchy using military-grade weaponry and vehicles.”