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Military Recruitment and Hollywood

So, once again this is David Levinson reminding you and anybody else that’s listening: Don’t mess with Earth! The long-awaited sequel to the 1996 mega-blockbuster Independence Day hit theaters this summer. Independence Day: Resurgence is built on the same premise that made the original famous: a potent combination of alien killin’ and patriotic pandering. Shouldn’t we be nervous? Um, yeah. Make them pay. We are going to kick some serious alien— Let’s show ‘em some fireworks. On behalf of the planet Earth,
Happy Fourth of July. Is that all you got?! According to most reviews the movie itself was unremarkable. What was remarkable however, was the marketing for the film. Some of you might remember something a little strange about the trailers. And I mean in addition to Jeff Goldblum doing his whole Jeff Goldblum thing. When the world was brought to its knees, the Army was there to fight back promised us this would never happen again. They have been the driving force in uniting nations around the world to form the most powerful weapon against another attack: The Earth Space Defense. Brave men and women of the ESD are making sure that the war of ’96 will never happen again. Join Earth Space Defense. Next time, we will be prepared. So we see the stars of the film speaking directly to the camera, praising the US Army and then asking fans to join something called Earth Space Defense. Then at the end of the trailer we see a URL: Once fans arrive at that website, they’re asked to enlist in the ESD to help fight off future alien invasions and “defend Earth’s independence at all cost.” By clicking enlist visitors are notified that they are now a soldier with the rank of “private.” Now in order to determine your role in this fantasy-military organization, fans are instructed to complete a series of gamified “missions.” Mini-games include simulations where players learn how to pilot an unmanned military drone or crack secret alien codes. Completing each mission raises your rank and unlocks exclusive Independence Day
movie content. We’ve taken fighter jets that the US military would have been accustomed to and we’ve incorporated alien technology. Now you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is just a clever marketing stunt designed to drum up more interest in the film. But there’s something a little more insidious
going on here. In order to compete to unlock those movie extras fans are instructed to sign-in with Facebook. But by doing so, it allows the US Army access to your Facebook page and
your personal data along with it. That’s because this whole “Earth Space Defense” campaign is actually a surreptitious recruiting tool for the US Army. It’s part of a multi-million dollar joint advertising venture between 20th Century Fox and the United States military. If you look carefully you’ll notice a small unassuming US Army logo in the corner of the page right across from the Independence Day movie logo. If you look even more closely, you’ll notice that when linking over to, you’re quietly redirected to where the site is hosted., for those who don’t know, is the official website for US Army recruitment. Were you surprised when your
daughter enlisted? Not at all. She’s a born leader. I know I’ve been taking orders from her since
she was five years old. -So you don’t worry about her? -Of course I worry about her. I fought in the War of ’96. I know what those things are capable of. But I know what my daughter is capable of. And I know this planet is safer because she’s defending it. Now that trailer is almost indistinguishable from real US Army television commercials, at least up until the point where the kindly father figure in the US Army cap starts reminiscing about the War of 1996. You remember, that’s the fictional one that didn’t actually happen, where the US Military defeated the extraterrestrial invasion with the help of Will Smith. Welcome to Earth. Cross-branded promotions are now ubiquitous in Hollywood. You’ve probably seen commercials for Audi or Doritos or Coke that double as trailers for superhero films. These movie tie-ins are meant to trigger an emotional connection in viewers and increase what’s referred to as “positive-brand association” by connecting a product with something that people already like. The idea is that if you already think that say The Hulk is cool, and you’re already really excited to see The Hulk SMASH stuff in the latest Marvel movie, then seeing The Hulk enjoying a can of Coke will link those pre-existing happy fan-ish feelings in your mind to the product on the screen even if that’s just on an unconscious level. And the uncomfortable truth is that this kind of marketing actually works really, really well. Which is why corporations spend
billions every year doing it. But here’s the thing, convincing people to eat a bag of “Street Taco” flavored Doritos? EW. Convincing people to eat a bag of Doritos and convincing people to sign away 8 years of their lives to the US Army are not exactly comparable. While arguably both might be unhealthy, life in the military presents significantly more risk to your mental, emotional, and physical well-being than having a little junk food now and then. Now if cross-branded advertising sounds manipulative, that’s because it is. Which is why it’s not exactly surprising that the US military is jumping on the bandwagon. The US Army now spends in excess of $200 million per year of taxpayer money
on advertising. The US Army-contracted advertising firm responsible for the Earth Space Defense campaign is upfront about what they are doing, The thing is that “recruitment story” they’re selling is pure fantasy. Now to be clear, many people do initially want to join the military for altruistic reasons. Unfortunately, US Army recruiters are notorious for extremely deceptive tactics. You look like you’re really into this. You guys want a real challenge? As a soldier in the United States Army, you’ll find out what you’re really made of and how far you can go. Explore over 150 careers, help pay for college, and learn if you qualify for an enlistment bonus. Call 1-888-395-ARMY now for a free copy of the America’s Army Game and
this new interactive DVD. Promises of large cash bonuses and money for college are commonly used to entice poor students into enlistment. But the fine print on those contracts makes it so only about 15% of recruits end up getting a college degree out of the deal, and 65% receive no money
for college at all. Recruiters also routinely hide the dangers that go along with life in the military (even outside of combat scenarios). Potential soldiers are not told that the levels of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military are alarmingly high. Recruiters don’t mention that 1 in 4 women and about 1 in 14 men face severe and persistent sexual harassment and discrimination while serving. They don’t mention the fact that suicide rates among veterans are extremely high compared to civilians. And they certainly don’t tell you that a third of all homeless men in the United States are military veterans. For the record, that’s over 200,000 people. Let’s be frank, if you enlist in the army there’s a darn good chance you’re going to have a bad time. And the military knows it. This reality presents something of a PR nightmare, which is why the Military has long turned to Hollywood to help clean up their image and sell
the idea of enlistment. Jonathan: Every branch of the US Military has offices in Los Angeles which are tasked with collaborating on Hollywood movies and video game productions. Now for decades they wouldn’t touch anything involving U.F.O.s. In fact the military famously refused to assist on the original Independence Day because the script referenced Area 51. But that’s no longer the case. The military has recently collaborated on science fiction movies like Battleship, Man of Steel, Iron Man,
and Transformers. We got a film crew aboard for the movie Battleship. Don’t hesitate to show them anything they ask for. Please make them feel as welcomed as humanly possible. We are now embedded with the United States Navy. We’re using all the real crew from this ship right now. And these guys are acting out scenes and fighting their ship. And I think they’re having a lot of fun. Right behind us is the five inch gun… Jonathan: Now in exchange for granting filmmakers assistance and access to both equipment and personnel, the military just demands one little thing in return: final script approval. That’s a very bad idea. Wow. You have to thank her now. She sent the Navy AND the Marines. God bless you, Ellie. Jonathan: This arrangement insures that Hollywood depictions of the military are always positive and uncritical even when the story involves dinosaurs or killer robots or aliens from outer space. This cozy relationship is sometimes referred to as “Militainment” because it produces media that glorifies military institutions, combat, and warfare. So there’s a long history of military involvement in Hollywood. Still, I’d argue that this Independence Day movie collaboration is especially insidious. Now beyond the covert collection of personal data via Facebook, which is bad enough, what’s so unsettling about it is that the US Army is leaning heavily on the fantasy of alien invasions as a way to convince young people to become soldiers in real life. When the soldiers in the movie rise up, when they adapt to a new threat facing the world, when they find a way to win no matter what, remember where Hollywood gets that from. The US Army has been defending American independence for more than 241 years. Go to to learn how you can join their ranks. Independence Day Resurgence in theaters June 24. Problem is, where Hollywood “gets that from” is from fiction, or at least a heavily sanitized version of the US military. Now this cross-branded Earth Space Defense campaign does fit very neatly with the US Army’s PR tagline “Defending America’s independence.” There’s just one small problem with that: it’s not exactly true anymore. The majority of modern US Military operations look a whole lot more like intervention than independence. And those operations are certainly not designed to beat back any invasion of the heartland, either from foreign or extraterrestrial origin. The long and short of it is, the US Government has been in a near constant state of war for over a century. In fact it’s overthrown or invaded over 50 countries just since the end of WWII. In an incredibly strange coincidence most of those military interventions have somehow ended up benefiting or protecting the economic interests of American big business. And under the umbrella of the so-called “war on terror,” the US military is currently raining destruction down on countries all across the Middle East and North Africa. That’s the grim, messy, and often bloody reality of it. And that unpleasant reality is one of the reasons why the US Army is increasingly turning to science fiction stories as a recruiting tool. Heroes. Ordinary people who discover they can do extraordinary things. With unique talents and strengths, they stand together as an elite class. It’s more than a uniform. It’s a chance to be part of something bigger than you ever imagined. Try it on at and see exclusive content for X-Men: First Class. Only in theaters June 3. There’s strong, and then there’s army strong. Science fiction can provide a simple good versus evil narrative, one that appeals to patriotism and a desire to save the world without any association with those real-life military operations and atrocities. Jonathan: In addition to leaning on science fictional conflicts, the US Army is also leveraging science fictional technology and science fictional weaponry as an exciting pop-culture lure to hook young people into enlistment. -Aw, come one. Come on. Aw! Bank left!! Fighting imagined enemies avoids the uncomfortable associations with US foreign policy. So killer robots or zombies or alien invasions, these are all dehumanized conflicts without any messy moral questions attached. There are no real human beings with feelings or families or grievances with US imperialism. -Give me that thing. Jonathan: Invading space aliens are easy to kill. There’s no guilt or remorse or critical thinking that’s required, unlike the real world, where killing other people, no matter how vile they may be, is never something you should feel particularly good about. Independence Day: Resurgence didn’t do so well at the Box Office, so we probably won’t be subjected to another movie in this series. Unfortunately we’ll definitely be seeing the US military using this type of advertising tactic again. That’s because both the US military and the advertising industry understand something that many people still want to deny. And that is that fiction can be a very powerful and very effective way to influence people’s actions and attitudes. The military has a long tradition of intentionally blurring the lines between fiction and reality, but this latest movie tie-in represents a shift to a more insidious form of product placement. And we have a word for when the
government does this kind of thing, and that word is propaganda. I hope you found this video useful. If you’d like to see more long-form video essays that focus on the intersections of entertainment and politics, head over to my Patreon page and help fund the Pop Culture Detective Agency.


  1. DemianLucis Author

    I highly recommend to read "Virtuous War" by Der Derrian, which takes on the MIME (Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment) Complex and how War as an instance gets orchestrated by certain pictures.

  2. Zac Cosner Author

    Fun fact, in the original novel the marines did not show up to cleanly rescue the remaining survivors. Instead, they doused the island with napalm.

  3. Aravindh Chidambaram Author

    I wonder if the US Army was involved in some way with Ender's Game. The movie had moral complexity, something the army would not seem interested in

  4. Warp Drive Fueled by Insomnia Author

    U.S. Army veteran here. I agree with some of the creepiness of the military's newest version of advertising and that it's becoming more and more indistinguishable from our entertainment. I'm not the biggest fan of essentially fooling people into signing up for enlistment.

    If you know what you are getting into ahead of time, then I don't think there is anything wrong with making the choice to join. I was fortunate. I grew up in a rural farming town that had a pretty good number of Korea and Vietnam era veterans who were able to honestly talk to me about what military life would be like. I still compared what I could look forward to by staying in my hometown versus taking a risk with military service to get a chance to go to college and I decided that the Army was worth it. Seeing how my hometown has panned out since 2004 has reinforced my beliefs.

    I won't sugarcoat it. The U.S. government has done some awful things via the military around the world. And, service in the military is still not what it's made out to be in the movies. While I was serving, I occasionally joked that, in terms of long-term career advancement, it was better to be a rapist than overweight. But, I honestly wouldn't be where I am today without their help. For all their faults, I'm grateful for my experience. I know that my experience was also rare, and some people are chewed up and spit out by a pretty uncaring system. Just about everyone I served with that I've kept up with (that didn't retire after 20 years and get the lifetime payments) had a rough time at first when they got out, and a lot of them still haven't fully made it yet.

    I wish it could be different. A lot of these young men and women served honorably and don't deserve to carry around the baggage that they do because some people in positions of power don't have a fundamental understanding of the value of human life. Thank you for bringing this one up. I think some of the younger people who view your content will be helped by being clued in on what you're saying.

  5. Anton Sykes Author

    (gravely voice over man) First his dad fought them and won. Now, his son goes back to finish the job! In theaters from March 20th 2003. Iraq 2. The quest for more oil.

  6. momeraths Author

    I like how they played "Fortunate Son" by Creedence Clearwater Revival on the trailer, a song written to show disdain towards the Vietnam War and war in general.

  7. Pfhorrest Author

    I assumed that those ads were supposed to be parodies of the actual US military advertisements, since the style of them in every aspect looks JUST LIKE actual US military advertisements. Turns out… it's actually because they really are US army advertisements.

  8. ChrisFarmer Author

    Wow very insightful. Even in the context of this video, watching those clips made me kind of want to join the US Army. And I am a Navy veteran so I've already been there, done that. My experience was positive but I don't think for one second that the US military or its goals / missions around the world should be free from criticism. The whole point of the military is to serve the people, not to be worshipped by the people as a perfect force for good.

    And you mentioned science fiction with no moral conflicts, but there are even movies out there like American Sniper that glorify killing real people as an uncomplicated decision which nobody should question. (and that movie did quite better at the box office than Independence Day 2016!)

  9. Madeline Van Dongen Author

    I had no idea there were so many ads like that (I live in Australia, mind). The ADF haven't done any sneaky cross-promotional ads like that here, to my knowledge. Not that their recruiting is perfect, mind you.

  10. Iwontgiveyou Myinformation Author

    Thanks for this amazing video! You don't often hear americans speak that clearly and openly about these issues and i am really impressed that you do!

  11. joshuaoha Author

    Plus, 20th Century Fox cleverly got the US tax payer to help pay for advertising for their shitty movie. Mother fuckers. All of them.

  12. Anthony Eaton Author

    Thank you for conducting a careful, deliberate, almost surgical criticism on the matter. It is alarming to what degree certain recruiters and ad campaigns will deceive would-be enlisters. Throwing sequins and rose-colored glasses on a serious commitment and a change in lifestyle is beyond disingenuous. One can only hope that prospective recruits take a long, hard look at themselves and life in the service before enlisting.

    Again, thank you for such a thoughtful analysis.

  13. ThatFighterGuy Author

    I personally believe that the primary purpose of the army should be parades. Keep the army small, underfunded, and ill-equipped. In this day and age, we really shouldn't even need an army beyond maybe a small, elite expeditionary force.

  14. Pusher Love Man Author

    I actually opened the Honest Trailer for Independence Day: Resurgence while watching this, and got an ad for the Marines before it!

  15. Melissa H Author

    I feel creeped out being bombarded with ads from the Air Force Academy geared toward women. The school has a serious sexual harassment, assault, and retaliation problem that is being ignored. Luring more young women before correcting this culture is dangerous.

  16. that person Author

    Full offence, America's relationship with their army/navy is so fucked up. Like how can they glorify the troops and war so much on one hand and then take so horrible care of them on the other?
    Also, the thing said in the video, that it is always a point that the army fights for America's freedom, is something that has personally ticked me off for so long. Like, do people actually believe that? That the wars in the Middle East are somehow preserving the "freedom" in America? It is absolutely ludicrous and dare I say not done anywhere else in the western world.
    I've lived in Germany the past 10 years and while there of course are ads for the Bundeswehr they in no way glorify the act of war as much as the shown American ones. One could argue that that is a byproduct of Germany's history but I've lived in the Netherlands before and there the ads also are not at all focused on war.

  17. Amanda Snider Author

    The ad of the college kids playing videogames is highly disturbing. It's so dehumanized. It makes us forget that you are killing other humans or, they are often helping victimized people. I don't know why they don't try to advertise humanitarian efforts if they want to clean up their image

  18. cheesedemon88 Author

    Man the x-men one is especially tasteless. They literally use a story about how a certain group is oppressed by the system to recruit people into the system….

  19. LiquoriceLover Author

    So this is why all Americans love the military? I've always found that very strange, the way nobody want's to talk bad things about the American military in American media.

  20. Izar Schärf Author

    Thx Europe we dont get that bullshit here, although ive long noticed the military indoctrination present in soo many american movies, and not to mention TV series, the military is always the good guy…

  21. Nelson Smith Author

    If the Independence Day collaboration with the military is "especially insidious", does that mean all Hollywood collaborations with the military are less insidious?

    Personally I'd say the media is more insidious because they're the one's whose job is supposed to be informing the public of all the real statistics you gave in this video, but the fact is America is a very militaristic nation and it doesn't take much prodding to get citizens conditioned to go fight "the other". The success of entertainment that plays on that seems to make the case.

  22. Playfulpanthress Author

    They’ve been recruiting like this since I was a kid. The first generation GI Joe cartoon was for selling toys and recruiting. They even subtly told us that middle Eastern people were the bad guys. The (only good) GI Joe movie where the Joes faced off with Cobra La, an unknown place made for the movie where their ululations were near identical with stereotypical middle Eastern yells.

    Tragedies like 9/11 must get their boners going overtime because their recruitment gets such a boost. I’m super glad my dad stopped me from joining.

  23. Colleywoodstudios Author

    My friend… okay well FRIEND is a strong word but i digress, my friend joined the military out of high school because of the "LOOK HOW BAD ASS WE ARE!" nonsense, even joined rotc in high school. He was always a little psycho but the military just turned it loose. When he came back he was all kinds of fucked up. He now self medicates with illegally obtained pills booze and regularly gets into fist fights with total strangers. The military broke him more than he already was.

  24. Matthew Clay Author

    These ads are just a ripoff of Halo 3 ads anyways. Halo 3's were done much better though and had no ties to any real world organizations.

  25. Dearyvette TN Author

    Military recruiters are salesmen, more like used car salesmen. Most don’t really care about you personally. In my college days I try to sign up for the Air National Guard. I did the recruitment paperwork, got all way up to the enlistment processing and the physical, but before I started the process I watched a video that encouraged those signing up to be truthful about the questions they were going to be asked. I literally saw a film about “your life going up in flames” if you lied to the military. I went through the process told the truth and was excused from service for medical reasons. When I return to my recruiter with my paperwork he was very disappointed and he asked me why did I tell them about my medical history? Seriously 😳….? Because they asked and I wasn’t going to lie about it, that’s why. Considering what I’ve learned about military life for women through the years, and after talking to my Vietnam veteran father, maybe the military was not for me and I dodged a bullet that day. Sometimes the truth CAN set you free.

  26. Triparna kar Author

    God Bless You! I'm sure you have a lot more truth to give to the public….. so….. I hope you're hiding yourself well… from the right people.

  27. That One Meme Author

    Can't believe I haven't seen your videos sooner. Just finished watching your video on male sexual assault in media and came to your channel. Just subscribed, you've got some great content on here

  28. Deanna Jackson Author

    When I was in high school, the army had us take one of their aptitude tests. They made it seem like it was as big a deal as the SAT. I scored a 96 and got bombarded with army recruitment mail. I never signed up and always threw it away.

  29. Alex Cat Author

    When I was living in Ireland, I kept getting ads for the British military (Spotify is terrible at making the difference between the ROI and the UK). They also avoided talking about what exactly does the army need you for, only focused on the salary and the 'sense of belonging' complemented by the pleasant sound of a pint being poured. I think no army on this planet would have a single recruit if they were actually upfront about what they do and what your life will be as a soldier.

  30. Caleb Hart Author

    Usmc vet here. Learned this the hard way. This is completely true. Remember the number one job of military is to kill the “other”…. so yeah, just let that sink in. Would you sign up to a group called “people killers”? Just sayn

  31. John Author

    This video blew me away. It's crazy more people in this country don't care about this. So much for land of the free. Watching Captain Marvel was like watching a 3 hour army recruiting video. The jingoism in this country is disgraceful.

  32. Zahid Magaña Author

    At some point that army propaganda felt a bit like those information bits from Starship troopers, scary as hell if you ask me

  33. Justin S Author

    This is like when the maga chuds were mad about Captain Marvel because the protagonist was a woman and not because it was a 2 hour Air Force recruitment ad.

  34. Sidd Sen Author

    Ironically, a lot of science fiction predicted the (mis)use of mass media in a technologically advanced society for nationalist militaristic propaganda.

    We also have a word for that : Orwellian.

  35. Thommy2n Author

    Xmen first class? Seriously?
    They cross promoted a movie where two cold war millitary enemies nearly rain down death and destruction on the misunderstood outsider group who single handed prevent WW3? And are nearly repaid with their own death from Magneto, narrowly averted by some Xavier ex machina.

    They did not look at that script at all, did they?

  36. Alisstor Author

    I've been extremely defiant of institutions since a teen, I've been an anarchist for years, and still, still I was shocked when I learnt that a 1/3 of American homeless people are veterans.
    It's like each time I imagine there's a boundary to where governments or other big organisations are prepared to go, I learn that they crossed it years ago.

  37. Josh Mitchell Author

    Game dude: You look like you really like pretending to be shot at by terrorists. Do you want to really get shot at?
    Me: umm no thanks, I like living

  38. Leo King Author

    This is an incredible video, and I'm honestly surprised that 1) It doesn't have more views/comments and 2) That the comments here are so civil…

  39. Donny Palumbo Author

    That was maybe the best video essay I have ever heard. Truly close to the pinnacle of what this medium can do for societal and intellectual good. Ultimately in way that can unlock the modern sphere for casual observers, and lead us to a better world. Of course, there’s a lot more hard work to be done, but I am glad you’re here making these. Thank you sincerely for it.


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