The US entertainment industry and the military often go hand in hand and help to sustain the worst parts of an unfair and exploitative capitalist system through their mutually beneficial cooperation. Like many sporting occasions, the 50th Super Bowl event, which brought together music and Hollywood icons, provided a very public stage to encourage military recruitment and support for some misguided political decisions to go to war.
In film, directors may use military equipment or premises often with the understanding that the military brass give scripts their approval – if they don’t give it they may ask for changes to the script or stop cooperating altogether. This relationship has been documented on multiple occasions, but does not always work in the military’s or the government’s favour. Take for example Kevin Costner’s brave rejection of changes suggested by the Pentagon to their portrayal of US generals during the Cuban missile crisis in the film Thirteen Days.
“That ‘elites’ try to make the worst off in society think that ‘elite’ goals are their own, when they are clearly against their best interests, is a well established theory with much truth to it.”
The modern gladiatorial games of the majority, the sports; the National Basketball Association, the National Football League and Major League Baseball, all help promote recruitment for dirty wars. The massive Super Bowl ceremony was certainly no exception, providing an amazing spectacle and exciting event that appealed to everybody’s emotions. Bringing together top stars from the music industry, it was a real family occasion. But the tentacles of the US war machine have been ruining the party by attempting to mix in a toxic fuel of patriotism and military fervour with these emotions.
Troops are often included in pre-game ceremonies and it emerged that the US military pays sports teams for them to include military officials in the starting proceedings and to honour the war dead before games begin. The NFL included 16 teams that received funds from the Department of Defense. These funds equated to nearly $6 million over 4 years. In 2014 $7 million was spent. Although Senators voted to stop tax payer money going to teams the government and some segments of society still expect them to show support or risk being labelled unpatriotic – and they do. War planes also frequent games and flyby as the national anthem rings out creating almost free advertising for recruitment purposes. Officials seem to think it is a sports team’s duty to support the military and that they should act as recruitment tools. I am sure Thomas Jefferson would have approved: “The spirit of this country is totally adverse to a large military force.”
As noted in a fantastic article by Rory Fanning, these shows of patriotism also create an honour system that puts soldiers on a pedestal, labelling them heroes and in turn decreasing the likelihood of internal dissent, and keeping them fighting for prestige.
“The event was a huge display of patriotism which, whilst many players and crowd put hand on heart and sang aloud, some Americans did not seem altogether comfortable with it.”
Patriotism, militarism and capitalism are uncomfortably mixed together in US sports, as advertisements and sponsors fill every interval. Free packages of branded goods are parachuted or shot into the crowds by their mascots at NBA games and the national anthem plays all too frequently at others. The 50th Super Bowl played host to a rendition of the song America the Beautiful. Whilst military men and women wearing their medals bellowed out the song, we were shown images of the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, and other US sites. The event was a huge display of patriotism which, whilst many players and crowd put hand on heart and sang aloud, it is unfortunate that some Americans did not seem altogether comfortable with it.