Militainment, Inc: War, Media, and Popular Culture
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Militainment, Inc. explores the increasing collaboration between Pentagon public relations and the entertainment industries from the Persian Gulf War of 1991 onward. Examining the realms of reality television, journalism, video games, film, toys, and theme parks, Roger Stahl not only maps the emerging “military-entertainment complex,” but also describes its role in constructing the citizen subject. Specifically, Stahl argues that whereas a “war-as-spectacle” motif dominated during the Persian Gulf War, more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have tended to surround the citizen in an immersive environment that invites one to play soldier from a safe distance. This new “interactive war” is the book’s central object of inquiry, and Stahl goes to lengths to describe both the institutional hardwares and rhetorical softwares that have reprogrammed citizen identity as an extension of battlefield operations.
“Roger Stahl is a one-man bomb squad, painstakingly disentangling the complex cultural circuitry that wires our entertainment consumption habits to U.S. military hardware. This richly sourced, vividly illustrated page-turner will recast your next cinema, stadium, or virtual world visit in a startling new light.” – Gordon Mitchell, Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Pittsburgh and author of Strategic Deception: Rhetoric, Science and Politics in Missile Defense Advocacy
“Roger Stahl has systematically researched U.S. popular culture and recent military history and has provided a highly illuminating study of how recent wars have been produced as media spectacles and processed by audiences as entertainment, hence the term Militainment. Providing illuminating studies of the media, sport, video games, TV reality shows, and other forms of militainment, Stahl’s book should be read by everyone concerned with the intersection of war and entertainment in the contemporary era.” – Douglas Kellner, Professor at UCLA and author of the forthcoming Cinema Wars: Hollywood Film and Politics in the Bush/Cheney Era
“While many have written about militarism, and many more have written about the entertainment industry, I do not know of a book that ties the two together in such an insightful argument. ‘Militainment, Inc’ is a smart and engaging book about how US citizens relate to and engage with US military actions and how the increasing integration of militarism and the entertainment industries limits democratic commentary. I can’t imagine anything more timely.” – Susan E. Jeffords, University of Washington and author of Remasculinization of America: Gender and the Vietnam War
“From the thrills of virtual war worlds to macabre fascinations with deadly killing fields, Roger Stahl tracks a culture where war and its horrors are transformed into a landscape of entertainment. This new geography of Militainment is mapped with great skill in an original work that is essential reading for those who would like to see beyond the battlefield to a world of peace and stability.” - Robin Andersen, author of A Century of Media, A Century of War, winner of the Alpha Sigma Nu Book Award 2007
Review from The Times Higher Education in the UK.
Reviewer : Steve Redhead is professor of sport and media cultures, Chelsea School, University of Brighton.
15 July 2010
The militarisation of entertainment, or what Roger Stahl astutely labels “militainment”, is a new social formation for our catastrophic times. In a year when The Hurt Locker won both cinema awards and liberal approval, and the sport-related non-fiction of Invictus looked like a war film when translated to the screen, the whole question of the militarisation of popular culture is an important contemporary cultural and political issue. Indeed, Stahl conceives of war as an extreme sport, and spots discourses of militainment everywhere. Militainment, Inc. started out as a documentary in 2007, made by Stahl about militarism and pop culture in the US. This is the book of the film, and it is well worth reading. Put it on the war, pop and media shelf alongside James Der Derian’s 2001 book Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Complex.
In an era when war is the pre-eminent media spectacle and war journalism consists of embedded “conscripts” scribbling letters home on behalf of the military, we desperately need critical thinking about war and the media for the classroom. This book helps to provide it. Stahl traces the changing civic experience of war in the US in the early 21st century, drawing on a wide range of cultural and media theories to critique the celebration of militarism in entertainment – his introduction to the book, entitled “Step right up!”, is exemplary in this regard, combining insights from the likes of Jean Baudrillard, Paul Virilio, Georges Bataille and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti with sharp, informed commentary on the links between war and the mass entertainment industry.
The bulk of the book proceeds to show the generality of the Pentagon’s influence on the entertainment industries of media, sport, video games and TV reality shows in a comprehensive mapping of militainment, taking in films such as Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down and United 93, games such as Full Spectrum Warrior and Conflict: Desert Storm, and the burgeoning military toy industry, complete with collectable Marine-themed teddy bears for adults.
Where Stahl is theoretically advanced is in the development of his theme of the new consumption of war as “interactive” rather than, as in the past, passive. He shows how the citizen in the new social formation of militainment enters the military/entertainment complex anew in the Noughties – the citizen is now a virtual soldier, according to Stahl, since we are not just watching but playing war now. He is very good on how the entertainment industry in America has interpellated citizens as soldiers in various processes and practices.
In many ways, what we get in Militainment, Inc. is a sophisticated story of remasculinisation in one country through the discourse of militainment. Virilio proclaimed the modern turn to what he calls “endocolonisation” – in other words, the colonisation of a country’s own population. War, of course, used to be about the colonisation of other countries’ populations; militainment allows endocolonisation to proceed apace.
The problem with Stahl’s perspective is that militainment is a label generated within US culture post 9/11 and has mainly American applicability. Social formations are still specifically nation-based despite the power of globalisation over the past two decades. If the studies in this book were applied to Canada or the UK, for instance, the “results” would be very different. This is very much a book about the US. I would argue that the onset, and ideological effects, of militainment are not the same everywhere.