The Center for an InformedAmerica

Celluloid Heroes: Part I
or: You Can See All the Blood as You Walk Down Hollywood Boulevard
(With apologies to The Kinks)


David McGowan
January 20, 2002

“Radio and television are psychological warfare.”
Herbert Mullin, falsely accused and convicted Santa Cruz serial killer and the son of a highly-decorated WWII Army Captain

I couldn't help noticing that Black Hawk Down has now gone into general release. When I first heard about this film, I assumed that it would be a shameless glorification of a reprehensible, imperialist, oil-driven U.S. military operation that was itself shamelessly glorified as a humanitarian mission to feed the hungry.
        But I was wrong.
        As it turns out, the movie is much more than that. It is also, for instance, a shameless glorification of a convicted child rapist and sodomizer. And, lest we forget, it is one of the most obvious pieces of government-sanctioned, pro-war propaganda to come out of Hollywood since .... you know, I think we may have to go all the way back to Behind Enemy Lines on this one.
        But at least that film didn't romanticize the military exploits of a child molester. For the record, the 'hero' of Black Hawk Down, Ranger John Grimes, was given a deceptive name-change by the filmmakers following a request from the Pentagon's PR people. It seems the Ranger's real name was John Stebbins – who is currently serving a 30-year-sentence for an attack on a child under the age of 12. Stebbins' ex-wife told the New York Post: "They are going to make millions off this film in which my ex-husband is portrayed as an All-American hero when the truth is he is not." (1)
        He sure looks like one up there on the silver screen though. How could he not be when he is being brought to screen-life by Hollywood hunk Ewan McGregor? Far be it from me to suggest that the larger-than-life hero up there is actually a convicted pedophile. That would be like, say, suggesting that the hero played by Brad Pitt in that wretched movie about Tibet was actually a Nazi seeking 'proof' of Aryan supremacy.
        Of course, using the magic of Hollywood to transform repellent cultural and historical figures into screen heroes is standard operating procedure in Tinseltown. It is something that the film industry really excels at. We are talking here, after all, about an industry that recently gave no less an appalling figure than the Marquis de Sade a Hollywood makeover.
        But the point that I started to make before getting sidetracked is that the repugnant piece of celluloid known as Black Hawk Down is a painfully transparent piece of propaganda – its release coming precisely at a time when the Bush team is beginning to drop broad hints that Somalia could be very highly-placed on the list of nations about to suffer from Sudden Aerial Bombardment Syndrome – all in the name of fighting terrorism, of course.
        Expansion of the war into Somalia could prove to be a tough sell with the American people though. Despite being conditioned and encouraged to have famously short memories, there is always the danger that some of us might remember those graphic images of a Special Forces operative being drug through the streets of Mogadishu. Good thing then for the Washington crowd that this film came along at such an opportune time – and amid a clamor of cravenly gushing reviews.
        What better way to sell a war than on the nation's theater screens? According to an article in the Online Journal, "Many who have seen the film report leaving the theater feeling angry, itching to 'kick some ass.'" (2) Nothing like some emotionally-charged propaganda to fire up the people for a war of 'revenge' against a nation of people depicted as barbarians.
        But wait a minute, you say. This film can't be deliberate propaganda. Production on this movie had to have begun long before September 11, long before there was a 'War on Terrorism.' The timing of the movie must then be just a bizarre and fortuitous coincidence – just like the timing of all the other war and 'spy' films flooding the nation's theaters is just a coincidence.
        The release of the aforementioned Behind Enemy Lines, just as real-life Special Forces operatives were being sent behind 'enemy' lines, was surely just a coincidence. Likewise for Spy Games and, so as not to leave out the little ones, Spy Kids. And Collateral Damage (Ahhnuld takes on the terrorists), We Were Soldiers (Mel Gibson helps rewrite the Vietnam War), Hart's War (Bruce Willis helps rewrite WWII), The Farm (aka the CIA's training center in Langley, Virginia), Bad Company (more of the same), Spy Kids 2, The Accidental Spy, I Spy, and the further adventures of fictional 'spies' James Bond and Jack Ryan.
        And it is obviously just a coincidence that the television networks are quickly filling timeslots with spies as well, having premiered no less than three new series glorifying and romanticizing the exploits of the CIA just weeks after what was purportedly the most massive intelligence 'failure' in U.S. history.
        We know that this was a coincidence because these new series were obviously 'in the can' long before 'the agency,' as CBS refers to it, had any inkling that it would be thrust into the limelight in September as it suddenly earned a much more visible role in formulating U.S. foreign and military policy, and a much larger budget.
        As a brief aside, I just realized that I wrote "U.S. foreign and military policy" as though those were two separate and distinct concepts. Sorry. I have no idea what the hell I was thinking.
        Anyway, the point here is that we know that the CIA's crack counterterrorism experts had no hint of the impending attacks because if they did they would have heroically risen to the task of saving the lives of the doomed inhabitants of the World Trade Center towers, just like they do every week on TV.
        And that, of course, didn't happen.
        So it had to be just uncanny timing that brought these new shows to America's television screens at the precise time that the much-maligned CIA was desperately in need of something to burnish its image.
        And in a not-so-shocking development, the CIA is now openly participating in the crafting of its image for both the big and small screens. This is in stark contrast to the old days, when the intelligence community covertly participated in crafting its image – and the images of just about everything else, for that matter. Like the Hollywood crowd is fond of saying, it is the agents who wield the real power in Tinseltown.
        With military and intelligence types overrunning both the big and small screens, some might be tempted to ponder whether there isn't a coordinated psychological warfare campaign being waged against the American people to condition them to support a serious expansion of the 'War on Terrorism.' In retrospect, some skeptics in the crowd might even wonder whether the country hasn't been being primed for a major war for quite some time.
        We have been, after all, bombarded with Steven Spielberg's masterful work of flag-waving war-glorification we all know and love as Saving Private Ryan. Some have noted, by the way, that Spielberg's films are structured to resemble nothing so much as Nazi propaganda films of the 1930s. Not unlike, for example, the films of Leni Riefenstahl – the master propagandist for the Reich who gave the world Triumph of the Will. If you aren't familiar with Riefenstahl, you will be soon: she's about to get a Hollywood makeover courtesy of actress/director Jodie Foster.
        But that's beside the point ... sort of.
        We also had to endure that wretched bit of historical revisionism known as Pearl Harbor, which was made by the very same Jerry Bruckheimer who is now offering us Black Hawk Down. Before Pearl Harbor, he gave us Enemy of the State and a godawful cable television series by the name of Soldier of Fortune, Inc.
        One of Bruckheimer's earlier works was the feature-length recruiting film, Top Gun, that was released not long before the 1990s dawned as the decade in which it would become a rather routine practice for America's 'top gun' pilots to bomb the piss out of various defenseless nations that are selfishly hoarding their oil reserves.
        In those days, Bruckheimer was working with co-propagandist co-producer Don Simpson – who opted out of the partnership when he was found dead in his home, allegedly the victim of a drug overdose or of natural causes, depending on who is telling the story. Simpson's personal physician and apparent drug supplier had likewise been found dead, in Simpson's poolhouse, and likewise was said to be the victim of a drug overdose. Shit happens.
        In Hollywood, shit happens all the time. Since shortly after its emergence circa 1915 as the entertainment capital of the world, Hollywood's streets have been littered with the bodies of those who have died under, shall we say, questionable circumstances.
        In September of 1920, Olive Thomas - a beautiful and very young actress with everything to live for - purportedly killed herself by overdosing on, of all things, mercury. One year later, actress Virginia Rappe turned up dead at a party hosted by silent film star Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. In February of the next year, 1922, producer William Desmond Taylor - a former British military officer whose life is shrouded in mystery to this day - was found shot to death.
        In 1923, matinee idol Wally Reid was found dead in a padded cell at the mental hospital to which he had been confined. Reid was just thirty years old. His death was attributed to his morphine addiction, though how he would have fed that habit in a mental hospital remains a mystery. His widow then starred in an anti-drug film that she had lobbied for. The film was produced by Thomas Ince – a partner of D.W. Griffith, who gave the Ku Klux Klan a rather notorious Hollywood makeover in Birth of a Nation. Ince caught a bullet to the head in November of 1924 while attending a private party aboard William Randolph Hearst's yacht (though it was claimed that Ince died of natural causes, a story propagated primarily by Hearst's own newspapers).
        And so began a tradition of unsolved and/or covered-up deaths that plagues Hollywood to this day. And the funny thing is that if you scratch beneath the surface of virtually any of these untimely deaths, you find the same cast of characters that you find lurking about the fringes of any self-respecting political 'conspiracy theory' – namely Mafioso, native and imported fascists, drug traffickers, and intelligence operatives.
        As another brief aside, I just realized that I wrote "Mafioso, native and imported fascists, drug traffickers, and intelligence operatives," which is kind of like saying "Larry, Curly, Moe, and the Three Stooges."
        The bodies continue to pile up in Hollywood to this day. Recent additions include: Robert Blake's wife, who acquired some unwanted bullet holes in her head; William Shatner's wife, who ... uhhh ... drowned ("we've got you covered, Captain"); singer Aaliyah, whose plane - flown by a Florida-trained pilot with drug connections - went down because it was reportedly overweight, despite the fact that much of the band's equipment was reportedly left behind ("can we move some of this equipment out of here? - we have to make room for all these drugs"); and comedian Phil Hartman, whose shooting death was covered up with a murder/suicide story that had more holes in it than an Al Queda tunnel complex.
        But here I have digressed at some length.
        The point I was trying to make is that a psywar campaign has been in effect for quite some time now to condition the American people for what has been occasionally billed as World War III. The operative strategy has been to romanticize and glorify World War II, creating a kind of perverse wartime nostalgia. Hence we have seen the likes of Pearl Harbor on the big screen, Band of Brothers on the small screen, and literary masterpieces like The Greatest Generation in the bookstores.
        And those works of 'art' are just the tip of the psywar iceberg. The media has become so besotted with images of heroic military and law enforcement personnel that the World Socialist Web Site recently felt compelled to commend an otherwise forgettable film simply because: "its protagonists are not generals or admirals, Navy Seals, Green Berets, marine commandos, FBI or CIA agents, state troopers or municipal police officers, sheriffs or deputy sheriffs, prison wardens or guards, secret service or Treasury agents, customs inspectors, immigration investigators, federal marshals, judges, bailiffs, parole or probation officers, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms inspectors, Internal Revenue criminal investigators, Fish and Wildlife Service special agents, or any other fictional representatives of law enforcement."
        They seem to have left out federal prosecutors, district attorneys, judge advocate generals, Supreme Court justices, U.S. embassy personnel, White House staffers and .... well, I think you get the idea.
        As for the spy trade, there have historically been two primary representations of intelligence operatives in our propaganda entertainment media, both of them grotesquely disinformational and at least one of them crafted by the spooks themselves. That would be the notion of the intelligence operative as a dashing, cultured, romantic hero. The prototype for this version of the fictional spy was largely provided by Ian Fleming, creator of the James Bond character.
        Fleming was a British intelligence operative during (and after) World War II, when he worked closely with Nazi 'defector' Rudolph Hess and a rather notorious character named Aleister Crowley – a flamboyant occultist, British and probable U.S. intelligence operative, and avid German and Nazi propagandist during World Wars I and II. Fleming's work is now being carried on by the likes of Tom Clancy, a 'former' Naval Intelligence asset and good friend of George Bush.
        The other predominant image of the intelligence community that has permeated the media is that of 'the gang that couldn't shoot straight' – the spy as a well-intentioned, bumbling fool. On the big screen, the Pink Panther films established the model for this archetype, along with such television series as Get Smart, which was co-created by Buck Henry. Henry also was credited with the screenplay for the film Day of the Dolphin – a blatantly disinformational look at the work of MK-ULTRA operative John Lilly.
        Assisting Henry on creating Get Smart, by the way, was Mel Brooks, whose most recent endeavor was adapting for the Broadway stage his film The Producers – an offensive piece of work that trivializes the crimes of the Third Reich and casts Herr Hitler as a cartoonish character. Strangely enough, Brooks chose to stage the gala premier of his play on April 20, 2001 – the birthday of its protagonist.
        Brooks wasn't the first to present a buffoonish screen image of Hitler. Charlie Chaplin did it far earlier – back in 1940 when The Great Dictator was released just after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. The funny thing was though that Charlie pretty much wore the same makeup to play the Fuhrer that he had been wearing for the previous twenty years.
        Chaplin's toothbrush-mustachioed 'Little Tramp' character was created and began gracing the nation's silent movie screens just as the similarly adorned Adolf Hitler began his climb to power in Germany's fledgling Nazi Party following World War I (after, it should probably be noted, spending some time in the Pasewalk Sanitarium). By the time the real Hitler stepped onto the world stage, therefore, the American people were predisposed to view the silly-looking character as little more than a joke.
        Coincidence? Probably so, but I thought I'd throw it out there anyway – along with the fact that the two men were born just hours apart: Chaplin on April 18, 1889 and Hitler on April 20, 1889. That means that .... actually, I have no idea what the hell that means, but it seems like it should mean something.
        Chaplin, by the way, who shared with Ranger Stebbins a well-known appetite for underage girls, was among the elite guests aboard Hearst's yacht the night Ince was killed, may have been present at the party of his friend Fatty Arbuckle that ended in the death of Virginia Rappe, and was the guest of honor at a 1972 party at which Oscar Levant made his last public appearance before being discovered dead.
        Though this warning may be a little belated, I would strongly caution everyone out there against attending any parties where Chaplin is on the guest list.

REFERENCES:
1.    Megan Turner "War-Film Hero is a Rapist," New York Post, December 18, 2001
2.    Larry Chin "Black Hawk Down: Hollywood Drags Bloody Corpse of Truth Across Movie Screens," Online Journal, January 3, 2002
3.    David Walsh "Four Recent Films," World Socialist Web Site, January 5, 2002
 
 

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