Top PropoGunda 2: Maverick
If you haven’t seen Top Gun 2: Maverick then stop reading now. Not because it’s worth the watch. In my humble opinion, it isn’t but it’s customary to give such warnings when discussing movies. Personally, as far as social “faux pas” go, I consider refusing a non-umbrella holder, walking towards you during a rainy week, the right of “wall-closeness”, a much bigger offense than movie spoilers.
Often, I prefer them. One of the worst feelings in the world, next to being umbrella-less and still refused the right of “wall-closesness” during a rainy week is sitting down to watch a movie where a spoiler would have done the the exact opposite.
With that out of the way, Top Gun 2: Maverick came out a few weeks ago and despite the frankly underwhelming plot; its unrealistic final mission and a female lead we were supposed to magically remember from the 1986 original, the needlessly-long awaited sequel is set to become Tom Cruise’s entry into the billion dollar box office club.
Joining the first Harry Potter film, Zootopia (for some reason), 2010’s Alice in Wonder Land and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. But also, the company of true cinematic masterpieces like Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and The Lion King (1994’s cartoon and 2019’s live action adaptation).
And even despite the promise of a rekindled Iceman/Maverick rivalry that under-delivered worse than that now infamous show with men made of actual ice, dragons and maverick dragon riding queens, the movie is watchable, but not to anyone remotely aware of the subtly of American made propaganda.
These days, according to everyone, it seems Chinese or Russian made propaganda is everywhere and everyone has suddenly attained the Carrrie Mathison’s (from Homeland);
or Jack Ryan’s (from Jack Ryan),
or Stan Smith’s (from American Dad) level of intelligence training to recognize it.
A subtlety, I would soon come to learn, America was not always so good at executing. And yet, still one that I didn’t catch until I outgrew the audience American propaganda is aimed at: children and people who form their opinions from shows like Homeland, Jack Ryan and American Dad. At a certain age, you notice that there are only so many times you can watch the CIA save the world before the pattern becomes too ubiquitous to ignore.
Lately I, and others, often get mislabeled as “boomers” when we’re usually not. Neither is anyone who instantly understands why, with Top Gun2: Maverick, I had to watch it in the full IMAX experience. So me and a friend less interested in anything remotely political decided to do just that. They had never seen the original but I remember wanting to become a nothing but a Naval Aviator after watching it as a child. Still though, the details in my mind of the original movie were sketchy.
I had images of angry, bald-headed US Navy Captains; references to cargo planes full of fake dog poo flown out Hong Kong; cool sequences of dog-fighting; volleyball, legitimately talented singer, Kenny Loggins, producing the entire sound track; and the deus ex-machina of the ending being the power of Iceman’s and Maverick’s “rivals turned friends” cinematic trope.
Excited as I was, a sticky point I couldn’t get past was the 36 year wait for a sequel. Two entire generations had come into adulthood since and and on top of that, the two-year marketing campaign that had this film coming out in at least four different months of two consecutive years, just didn’t feel organic (much like a certain “illness” that seems totally real and not an obvious power grab).
I felt something was off with the film and I couldn’t understand why until the Gen-Xer (not Boomer) in me kicked in and the clouds parted. This film was not so much a “film”, but more so pure American propaganda for the Generation Alpha(10–14 year olds today). A realization soon confirmed by my staunchly apolitical millennial buddy when they suggested we watch the first one so we could follow the new movie better.
We loaded the 1986 film and within 20 minutes, my buddy had an epiphany that almost brought me to tears,
“This is unwatchable! It’s just a commercial for the US NAVY! And just showing how America is so great!”
My jaw dropped. While my friend is generally apathetic towards history or current affairs alike, I am not. That someone, so profoundly naïve (by choice) to politics could, in 20 minutes, see through the veils and shrouds of a catchy tune, some good-looking anti-hero, his straight-edge nemesis, the loss of a precious Goose, and finally our anti-heroes redemption; to see the first Top Gun for what it obviously was, made me feel more than a little proud. I asked my buddy to look up the word “propaganda”.
To the other fact-loving, geo-political historians out there reading this, don’t worry, the 90 minute lecture to my partner on Russo/Sino/Anglo Cold War machinations did come, but the beauty is that they were the result of my buddy’s own critical mind suddenly kicking in and wanting to know more, and not my attempts to answer questions they hadn’t asked. And this was was a massive epiphany for me.
While I would love for my friend and I to grow closer through a shared interest in Geo-politics, the truth about China and history in general, me forcing them to into it is not the best way to achieve this. I learned that the best way was just to be there when the dark and sometimes ugly truth of this world became clear to them.
Boomer Praising alert!
The conventional, authorized view is that America is just so great that it doesn’t need make propaganda. Which stands in direct contradiction to the Smith-Mundt act of 1948.
“…The US Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, popularly referred to as the “Smith-Mundt Act,” specifies the terms in which the U.S. government can engage in public diplomacy. ….”
It is this act, that almost every Western nation has in some form or other, that stipulates how America is to produce and disseminate propaganda though calling “public diplomacy” sounds way better than “Outright Propaganda”.
“…Among the provisions of the 1948 Act was “the creation of an information service to disseminate abroad information about the United States, its people, and policies.” A major vehicle to achieve this objective was the development of the international broadcasting station, Voice of America (VOA)….”
Most folks may not have known such an act even existed. Likely the same folks who claim every video that comes out of China (except ones showing China in a bad light) are obviously propaganda. But that the US has a law specifically allowing them to produce propaganda isn’t the best part. What is even less known is that, in 2012, under President Obama, his administration decided very quietly that this act needed a special upgrade. The Smith-Mundt Modernization act of 2012 took the original and added an interesting new direction; inwards.
“…Authorizes the Secretary and the Board to make available in the United States motion pictures, films, video, audio, and other materials prepared for dissemination abroad or disseminated abroad pursuant to such Act, the United States International Broadcasting Act of 1994, the Radio Broadcasting to Cuba Act, or the Television Broadcasting to Cuba Act.….”
Now why America would decide to turn its own propaganda machine inwards is a question the people calling all Chinese media; propaganda need to ask their leaders. For all the flack that Boomers get these days, they did come up with some deeply insightful sayings like, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.” Which makes make think of what my buddy said as we tried to watchthe first Top Gun.
“This is just a commercial for the US NAVY! Or just showing how America is so great!”
Will forever be etched in my mind. I remember that, at the time, I gently went over and gave my dude a hug, which garnered a strange look. A look asking for an explanation. An explanation that I was more than happy to deliver a power-point presentation about, but thought that particular moment of clarity for them, just wasn’t the time for it. My friend had arrived at a truth so obvious to so few and had gotten there with nothing more than a little critical thinking. That was enough for me.
Twitter: @MonteirMeno, Instagram: @menomonteir