Militainment, Inc.: War, Media, and Popular Culture

July 15, 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.

Militainment, Inc.: War, Media, and Popular Culture

By Roger Stahl Routledge. 214pp, £75.00 and £19.99. ISBN 9780415999779 and 9786. Published 30 November 2009

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