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Call of Duty, Marvel and the Military-Entertainment Complex

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Call of Duty’s catalog of games has just been updated, with Modern Warfare II released on Oct. 28. The game features the trademark narrative of an American militia being sent into a foreign country to fight some terrorists. This time, they’re looking for stolen American missiles in the Middle East. While this may seem like just another game in a long roster of first-person shooters, it’s another instance of the military-entertainment complex and the American government’s efforts to keep it running.

The military-entertainment complex describes the relationship that the United States Department of Defense (DoD) has with many entertainment companies. With the help of taxpayer funding, military consultation and set locations, massive production costs are cut down. The only favor the DoD asks of media companies in return is that they portray the U.S. military in a positive light. It’s a symbiotic relationship that helps each party both monetarily and socially.

Call of Duty (CoD) is an obvious and extremely important example of pro-military entertainment. The entirety of the series features American soldiers as heroes, whether they’re fighting in Russia or the Middle East. Its first-person point of view allows players, including kids, to experience war as if they’re in it themselves.

A large portion of CoD players are minors. Young people of all ages spend much of their free time playing these types of games, whether that be alone or with friends. This audience is more impressionable than most adults, and video games recognize this. CoD in particular exploits their inability to look at media critically and unpack the information that’s being forced upon them.

That’s why CoD’s status as a military-entertainment tool spans beyond merely convincing them to like the government. It’s asking them to enlist too. Military recruitment has been dropping, so they’re doing anything they can to get numbers up. In fact, they’ve even been utilizing Twitch — which has a minimum age limit of 13 — by having an esports team for every branch of the U.S. military. By trivializing war and equating it to a video game, they’re deceiving the children they’re trying to enlist. Once you’re in the military, you can’t go back. Military recruiters don’t care about you after you’ve signed up.

The military-entertainment complex isn’t just found in video games either, as Hollywood has been benefiting from this relationship since its very inception

The DoD may be thanked in an end credit or two, but oftentimes people are unable to recognize that they’re being served a fictional fantasy of the military. Stories of the brave soldier who, with the help of the army, saves countless lives are extremely appealing to people growing up in a nationalistic country like America. Movies like that not only serve to accentuate American nationalism, but they help mask any wrongdoings by the military itself.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t exempt from the military-entertainment complex either. A lot of early Marvel movies feature pro-military themes. With characters like Captain America and Iron Man, two perfect examples of how the military continuously benefits white men in power, it’s kind of hard to miss. In fact, all of the pre-“Avengers” movies, and many more after that, were partially funded by the U.S. government.

What happens when we entangle superheroes with the military? It’s similar to the previous contention about there being an issue with making the protagonists of CoD a pro-government group of soldiers. 

When people admire a fictional character, they tend to associate their adoration for the character with the opinions and views of said character. This is especially true when that character is the ‘good guy’ of their own story. As the person intended to save the day, their morals and who they work with become heroic by default. So if a kid sees a superhero that’s working with the military, or they notice that their favorite video game features soldiers going to war, they’re probably going to make a positive association between their protagonist and the military.

In this way, the military willfully deceives impressionable citizens. They’re presenting an illusion of what life in the military is like, where anyone can become a hero just by writing their name on a recruitment form. The reality is much more taxing and dangerous than the military will ever admit.

If the government wants to make itself look better and get more people to enlist, they should probably increase veteran benefits and support the mass amounts of soldiers they stuff into deployment camps. Instead of doing any of that, they continue to push propaganda on the public and neglect the people putting their lives at risk.

Consuming your media critically is the only way to prevent the military-entertainment complex from doing any real damage. The best thing you can do is be aware of it and not let it influence any opinions you make about the real world.


Layla Asgarian Nahavandi is an Opinion Intern for the fall 2022 quarter. She can be reached at lasgaria@uci.edu.