Thursday, June 9, 2011

Selling the Endless Wars: Michelle Goes to Hollywood

First Lady Michelle Obama is bringing her "Joining Forces" campaign to Hollywood next week, with the goal of pursuading the movers and shakers of the entertainment industry to make more feel-good, heartstring-pulling movies and TV shows about the military families of America.  After more than a decade of endless war on at least three fronts (Afghanistan-Pakistan, Iraq and now Libya), the American public is losing its appetite for the terrible human and monetary costs of war.  What better way for the government to numb our minds than joining forces with the corporate entertainment industry to churn out some of that good old wartime propaganda?  Nothing will make us stop bitching about war and stun us into a shamed silence like a movie about how, for example, an Iraq War amputee runs in a marathon.  Watching stuff like this will make the masses forget about their own paltry domestic problems back here in the Homeland.

Lost a job lately?  Hey, it could be worse.  At least you're not losing a leg.  Lost your home to foreclosure, getting evicted, and being forced to move?  Stop the kvetching -- military families have to move all the time and live in horrible, overcrowded barracks!  Military children are having to grow up fatherless and motherless, not necessarily because of the death of a parent, but because the wars and the deployments are forever.

Part of the appeal of Michelle Obama's propaganda campaign rests in parading the most heart-rending military families before the cameras and giving them a big famous Michelle hug and maybe a plaque.  There was one  recent event showcasing a military child battling cancer.  Now, that would make a great made-for-TV movie and it would also make big bucks for the advertisers, the cable companies and -- maybe best of all -- inspire thousands more unemployed 20-somethings to join up and be all that they can be.

According to The White House,  the First Lady will be sharing these stories with the writers and directors and producers, who presumably will also be donating big-time to her husband's re-election campaign during her foray into Tinseltown.

As I wrote in an earlier post, the Joining Forces initiative is largely funded by a neoliberal think tank called Center for a New American Security, with a staff composed of  titans of the Military-Industrial Complex - including executives from Lockheed Martin, retired military brass and the most recent addition, Citigroup Chairman Richard D. Parsons, who also serves on the White House Council on Jobs and Competitiveness (this Administration's sole answer to our unemployment crisis).  The inclusion of deposed Afghanistan War General Stanley McChrystal in the PR  effort has sparked outrage, mainly due to his coverup of the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman. 

Michelle Obama last month became the first-ever president's wife to speak to the graduating class of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, right before she and her husband departed for Europe. Parts of the speech I found kind of creepy, but maybe I've watched one too many History Channel documentaries of 1930s Germany and I am overreacting. You can read the transcript and see the video here.  From her speech:

As I look around at the cadets in this room, it is very clear to me that you all reflect everything we hope to see in ourselves and our country – firmness of character and strength of heart, a strong body and a ferocious mind, a devotion to country and to family. (that patriotic firmness of body and ferociousness of mind in that brand spanking- new uniform is quite titillating).

  For all of you, I know this has been a magnificent journey, a journey full of academic and athletic victories, a journey that has taken you across the country and around the world.
You’ve learned new skills and immersed yourself in new cultures, which will serve you well on today’s battlefields. (learn about new cultures the better to kill people on those global battlefields -- why else study how people live?  Also helps with those Psy-Ops propaganda campaigns to win the hearts and minds of the countries you plunder!).

  You’ve also created a Bionic Foot, an Exoskeleton, and other robotics and cyber defense projects that will help troops in the field.  (for sheer awesomeness, check out the bionic foot.  What an inspiration when a group of college students invents a prosthetic foot because they know the chances are very good they will lose at least one of their own feet.  But as President George Bush told some amputees at Walter Reed one time, "we'll just get you some new legs."  The Exoskeleton, also known as the "Hulc" sounds neat too.  It's some kind of gizmo invented by Lockheed Martin that lets you become a virtual robot and carry upwards of 200 pounds for ten miles.  Hollywood definitely can make a movie out of this concept.  The Incredible Hulc.  Terminator meets Rambo.)

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Michelle Obama urged us to elect her husband "because our souls are broken in this nation."and that "dreams and inspiration are everything." Now that the luster of that promise has worn off, and we are still one big collection of soul holes, her new shtick is uniting us all as a country through the double mantra of Family Values and Militarism.  Here's an excerpt from a Parade magazine interview with Michelle and her JF partner, Second Lady Jill Biden this past April (designated Month of the Military Child) --
PARADE: If Americans rally around our military families, what do you think this new connectiveness could do for us as a country?
JILL BIDEN: It would create a lot of patriotism, you know, that feeling I had as a child. We just need to say to America, “Wake up. You need to support these families and we need to lift them up and really value them.”
MICHELLE OBAMA: And the truth is, I think that’s how most Americans feel.
Yes indeed, use the suffering military families to form a  power movement to give the concept of Empire a much-needed boost in the minds and holey souls of the public,  and instill in us a sense of that lost patriotism for The Homeland.  That is just what we need to make us forget about the Second Great Depression.  It worked in 1930s Europe, so why not in neofascist USA?

Meanwhile.... while I am sure many military families are appreciative of the Joining Forces initiative, some are not.  One group called Military Families Speak Out is demanding that Michelle Obama use her influence to end the wars entirely rather than simply call for more people to support the troops. According to their policy statement: "Mrs. Obama is telling Americans to volunteer to support military families, but what we really need is policy change.... The burdens affecting military families, veterans, and service members are the results of government policies and practices, and need to be addressed by those responsible, rather than placing the burden on schools, non-profits, churches and local communities who are struggling themselves with funding cuts and affects of the ongoing recession.  Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Biden need to use their influence to change the policies that are hurting us."

Elmo Say Me Want Troops Come Home!


Anne Lavoie said...

Thanks, Karen, from all the Soul Holes out here!
You said it.

The Obamas have been on this military kick since Day 1. I recall that when people were losing their homes, then jobs, all we heard about from both the Obamas was about the sacrifice and suffering of our troops, ad nauseum, as if the rest of us didn't count and weren't suffering or sacrificing. Even during the Gulf Oil disaster, it was still all about the troops.

So it's been 2 1/2 years now of this Support Our Warriors and to heck with everyone else theme. They have been nothing if not consistent in this war propaganda. Undoubtedly, Obama got his marching orders way back during election time, and played the good soldier for his generals and war profiteering CEOs since then to ensure his second term. Now if they can convince the country that he is the Patriotic War President, he's in. It's got to help tremendously that the power of the whole Establishment is behind him.

VLT said...

I sure hope Hollywood will do a movie but on Pat Tillman! I hope they stress how he loved Noam Chomsky and felt strongly about the concept of shared sacrifice – something completely lost on the chicken hawks.

I feel nothing but pity for these poor military families being paraded before the public. They are bombarded with propaganda convincing them that they are fighting and sacrificing for our country rather than the MIC and oil companies. Tragically, they see themselves as heroes rather than cannon fodder.

I saw a commercial when I was in the States last Christmas of a young - we are to assume country - lad just coming of age. He walks into what looks like a farm kitchen and up to his father, a hard, emotionless - but salt of the earth - kind of man. The boy quietly tells his father that he enlisted that day. The father rises silently from the table and as he leaves the room, lays his hand on his child's shoulder and says, "I'm proud of you, son." I felt like kicking my foot through the T.V. it was so manipulative, playing on the insecurities of young men with questionable job opportunities in their country towns. I could only imagine the slimy advertisers coming up with that one - none of whom would dream of joining the military themselves. Like Dick Cheney, they have better things to do with their dubious talents.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, we either need a draft or every politician who wants war must have skin in the game - a child sent into the bowels of war.

This is just one more reason for me to hate the Obamas.

4Runner said...

How nice of Michelle to speak before the military's upper elite @ West Point. I don't suppose she had the time to orate in front of, let's say, a class of grunts just graduating from basic training at some forlorn military base. Back in the mid-60s when I did my 2 years in the US Army, there was a steep hierarchy between officers and us of the lower ranks. On a troopship sailing to Europe, I still remember how the brass were treated as if they were on a cruise ship, while we peons did all the KP. Like, when an officer's wife walked her dog on the deck, a PFC followed to scoop up the poop. (No poop-deck jokes, please)

Janet Camp said...

I can appreciate Michelle Obama's compassion for military families, but of course that is only half the story--as Karen brings to our attention. It's kind of like adopting abused kids, but doing nothing to investigate and stop the abusive parents/priests/whatever.

I'll go out on a limb here and say that while I have every sympathy for anyone who has been grossly injured (physically or mentally), I do not consider every single military person to be a "hero" as is constantly stated by anyone who publicly refers to the military. The word has become meaningless with gratuitous overuse.

Also, while I am sympathetic to those who join the military in desperation due to lack of employment or educational opportunities, it must be said that a huge swath of the military is made up of right wing Christian fundamentalists who completely support their missions. I can still muster up some sympathy for the children who suffer from long separations and other hardships, and I don't want to paint with too broad a brush about the fundamentalist element, but it all adds up to not being real high on my sympathy radar.

Having said all that, given that Michelle Obama doesn't have the influence it would take to persuade her husband to end these wars, I guess I can make a case that it is good of her to do what she can for families, BUT, I would much rather she take the route of increasing all forms of assistance and support for military personnel and dependents, so that at least they don't lose their homes and go bankrupt.

Let me add that I was a military wife (with a child) a long time ago, and it can be a crushing experience, emotionally and financially. I don't think a Hallmark TV movie would have helped much, but the tangible assistance that I once received from the Navy wives association saved my life.

Jay - Ottawa said...

Thanks, Karen, for taking up the much neglected subject of our wars. With too few others you are pulling the bell cord mightily, the warning is clear, but the country sleeps on. And so the wars drag on.

Yes, a draft would involve the nation sufficiently to cut through the propaganda, but the militarists, so clever after the Vietnam fiasco, hit upon the all-volunteer army. Genius that was, although it’s awfully hard on those who do volunteer. It will take a lot more crippled soldiers to force the generals and their civilian overseers back onto the democratic discipline of a national draft.

Don’t give us your sons and daughters, just give us your applause. Don’t give us your boys and girls, just paste this yellow Mobious trip, signifying endlessness, on your bumpers and lapels and foreheads too, if you don’t mind, reminding everybody else to support our troops. That should divert them from examining our war policy – which policy we understand you to support because you do support our troops.

We don’t want the scrutiny of parents worried over what we’ll do with their children in uniform. We don’t want the troublesome, questioning children from a draft. No draft, no deferments. No draft, no draft dodgers. No draft, no danger of being called a chicken hawk. No draft, no demonstrations. Just give us your money, and we’ll make you safe and prosperous. $1.2 trillion this year alone for the bloated National Security Complex, according to Tom Engelhardt’s dispatch of this morning. And the new news is that NSC wants more!

Dan Berrigan once wrote an allegory about the nation’s military taking on the task of digging a hole. The hole got deeper and wider. After a time the earth moving equipment itself began to slip into the hole. In time the hole, stretching from one coast to the other, swallowed the whole damned country. Stay the course and support our diggers.

The hole has now swallowed Michelle, the First Lady, herself. She had her chance at glory and flubbed it. Maybe the second and third and so on women of the country can still turn things around. How? I read how it was done once. So did you. I’m sure Michele read in at some point in her excellent education. Lysistrata: Aristophanes’ greatest hero. Judging by this week’s prurient headlines and close interest, the US is sufficiently lusted up to be most attentive to this argument. If women withheld their favors until the wars ended, THE WARS WOULD END. No third party needed, no corporate PACs, no nimble organization, no candidates, no more propaganda. Quite simply, no sex, period. Until we dismantle the war machine. Has as good a chance of shaking up the Beltway Mentality and starving The Beast as any other idea blowin’ in the wind.

Kate Madison said...

YIKES! Your blog, Karen, comes at the very moment that I am reading (and preparing to present to my bookclub) Jon Krakauer's "Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman." It is a well written, but dismal book, and I have felt despair while reading it. The one saving grace is that Jon Krakauer "gets it!" I hope everybody who is pro-military, pro-war reads (and absorbs) this book!

About Michelle Obama and Jill Biden. OMG! They seem to have become members of the "WIVES OF" club. Their picture with those Sesame Street puppets turned my upset little stomach inside out. ICK! I do not for one moment believe their views are being represented accurately. But maybe they have become so "Stepford" that they have no true opinions at all. How depressing!

In writing this, I realize there is a downbeat "no hope" quality to what I am saying. But that is how I see it now. Especially since it seems likely that Obama will appoint one of Elizabeth Warren's deputies to head CFPB--all to avoid a fight. Get me out of here, please!

Kate Madison said...

P.S. to my last post:

I forgot to add that two years ago, while my my car was in the long-term parking lot at Portland International Airport, it was smashed from the rear--about $3,500 worth of damage--by whom I do not know. I found it in that condition when I returned from a week long trip. What I do know is this: I had a bumper sticker on the rear end which said-


And this was in Portland, Oregon! Still hard for me to believe this happened. As the airport policeman told me: "Not everybody who parks here is from Oregon!"

VLT said...

Thanks for mentioning that book, Kate. I doubt I can find it here in Australia but I will look for it when I return to the States.

Where did you hear that Obama was going to appoint a deputy of Warren? I went on Google and couldn't turn anything up about it.

Your story about someone crashing into your car because of your bumper sticker was shocking! I had the same one on my car. My only experience was I had a gas station attendant (in Oregon also BTW) refuse me service. I told him we should raise the price of gas at the pump and give the extra money to the VA hospitals. His reply was they were already well-funded. Such a patriot!

jjg08 said...

Who's the target? The message is clear; Uncle Sam wants you! (To die for him.) The target is young men and women of recruiting age. Too bad the corporations that benefit don't divide up the spoils of war with those that do the work. I believe the military's purpose has been perverted. However, Ms. Obama is married to the highest ranking member of the military, so....

Janet Camp said...


She is married to him--so? Is that supposed to mean she can start and stop wars? Perhaps she agrees with him? Perhaps she feels his decisions should be made on the basis of the information he get from experts and advisors?

I'm not saying I agree with the "experts and advisors", but it seems that you feel that it is the First Lady's fault that she doesn't direct policy through her husband. As people were quick to point out when Hillary Clinton held the position, we didn't elect a "team". Of course, the First Lady has the opportunity to share her views with her husband, and to apply whatever pressure she sees fit, but it hardly seems any of our business to presume to know how this all plays out between them, let alone presume to know what her very personal feelings may be on the subject of the wars. Her efforts on behalf of military families may or may not be entirely separate from her views on the wars.

Apologies in advance if I have misread you.



Firstly, there are plenty of rednecks in Portland--sorry to burst your bubble. They may not be the majority, but they are there. And that's to say nothing of the eastern part of the state.

Secondly, try having even an Obama '08 still on your car in Milwaukee. I get crazies signaling me to roll my window down and then they start screaming (and I mean screaming) at me about "that goddamn Muslim Socialist, Kenyan, blah, blah, blah.

Of course, this isn't everyone here no more than it is everyone in Portland. I think the scary thing is that people are able to get into such a lather over things like bumper stickers. In all my 40 years of sporting bumper stickers, I never felt threatened about having them until recently.

Oh yes, I read the book about a year ago and found it compelling even though I had to wade through all the football stuff that I know nothing about. Glad to hear your club is taking it up.

jjg08 said...

Ms.Camp; No,no,no, all I tried to convey in my simple way was that the president's wife is forced by public interest to present a united front with her husband. They might fight like cats and dogs about all kinds of issues, but we're not going to hear about it. I was trying to say that she is being positive about a mostly negative situation. Week after week kids come home in boxes and in pieces and nobody, other than their families, carries the burden. So I wasn't criticizing her, I was saying she's playing the hand dealt to her.

Anonymous said...

The President is sounding more like an "Imperialist" than a "Socialist" by the day, first with his "Short Victorious War" in Libya that is not very short or victorious and now with his "it's not a war" war in Yemen. What will be next Syria? Imperial Presidency anyone? The war powers act could be the next WaterGate, time will tell.