Culture Trips

Is WandaVision … Pentagon propaganda? | Marvel

WandaVision, which aired it’s series finale last week, has quickly become one of the most popular TV shows in the United States. Its intricate plot and unique spin on the Marvel Universe hooked millions of viewers. The episodes are short compared with most shows of its caliber, so the plot must be tight, with little time to waste in its mostly less than half-hour runtime. So it is intriguing, if not outright suspicious, that the show has chosen to give unnecessary screen time to Jimmy Woo, an FBI agent first introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, in 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp.

The MCU already has two organizations well equipped to deal with supernatural entities: the organization Sword (Sentient World Observation and Response Department) is featured heavily in the show, and the tattered remains of Shield (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) continue to appear in Marvel movies even after the agency’s initial demise in Captain America: Winter Soldier. The character of Jimmy Woo wasn’t even in the original concept of WandaVision, but was suggested as an addition by Marvel executives. There are rumors that Marvel’s favorite FBI agent will get his own show in the near future, but his presence here still makes little sense. While it isn’t yet clear whether the FBI is directly involved with WandaVision, the mere use of the FBI logo requires approval from the agency. And the special thanks to the Department of Defense, often colloquially called the Pentagon, in the show’s end credits seems like clear evidence of some manner of government involvement. Marvel and Disney’s long histories of collaborating with the US government, in particular the FBI and the Pentagon, to create propaganda – in exchange for military equipment, location access and consultation – is reason for concern.

The FBI and the Pentagon have both engaged in decades of direct intervention with television and film. J Edgar Hoover, the FBI’s founding director, served as a de facto co-producer for the 1959 drama film The FBI Story, even going as far as to play himself and force reshoots of scenes that he felt didn’t portray the FBI in an appropriate light. Hoover spent the rest of his life intervening in movies like 1962’s Moon Pilot, in which he pressured Disney to change a bumbling FBI agent into a generic “federal security officer” to avoid besmirching the good name of his agency. Walt Disney even served as an FBI informant, who turned in alleged communists in return for the ability to film inside FBI headquarters. Despite claiming that its formal relationship with Hollywood is over, there is evidence that the FBI continues to review and approve movies – over 700 “requests for assistance” were reviewed by the FBI in 2012 alone. Ed Saxon, a producer of the 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs, complained about the FBI’s role in the movie and attempts by the agency to whitewash its behavior and turn the movie into propaganda for the recruitment of female agents. Much of the information uncovered about the FBI’s modern role was only revealed after a three-year lawsuit for information by BuzzFeed.

The Pentagon has engaged in similar practices over the last century. The first best picture Oscar winner was 1927’s Wings, a war movie created with support from the US armed forces. There are multiple departments within the Department of Defense that exist to coordinate directly with Hollywood. Phil Strub, the Pentagon’s former deputy director of entertainment media – its chief liaison with film-makers – described his role as:

…encouraging entertainment media producers to create or increase positive and reasonably accurate US military portrayals in their projects while remaining mindful of their creative process. Continually seeks out new ways to capitalize on innovations in entertainment media to inform the American public about the military, and/or benefit military recruiting and retention.

Strub was involved with the production of movies and shows such as Transformers, Pearl Harbor, War of the Worlds, Bones and 24. Movies give the Pentagon total script approval rights in trade for the use of large amounts of military equipment. For example, Top Gun, the highest grossing movie of 1986, gave the navy the ability to rewrite parts of the original screenplay in exchange for access to fighter jets and aircraft carriers. As a result of the positive portrayal, the navy saw a 500% increase in enlistments the year of its release. Marvel’s Captain Marvel followed in its footsteps; the studio partnered with the air force to use the movie as a tool to boost recruitment of female pilots. The military succeeded again, last year seeing a modest bump in the percentage of female applicants.

The navy saw a 500% increase in enlistments the year of Top Gun’s release.
The navy saw a 500% increase in enlistments the year of Top Gun’s release. Photograph: Paramount/Allstar/Paramount

Captain Marvel wasn’t the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first dance with our government. Marvel agreed to allow the Pentagon to screen Iron Man before its release in return for access to F-22 Raptor fighter jets. The two sequels got similar treatment. Captain America: The First Avenger easily secured support from the US army, given the movie’s positive depiction of the United States as the hero of the second world war. The Avengers was poised to receive similar support but was rejected due to the unclear nature of the secretive government agency Shield and how it might have been perceived by the public. The military returned for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which earned the Pentagon’s approval because of its positive portrayal of veterans. Again, the studio received free military equipment, and again the Pentagon received the power of final approval on the movie.

The end credits of WandaVision imply that the Pentagon had a final say on the script, and it makes sense that the inclusion of a friendly government agent as a character could offset the show’s otherwise negative portrayal of the country’s agencies. WandaVision’s helicopters and humvees were most likely provided free of charge by the US government. Of course this equipment isn’t actually free. The American public is effectively paying Hollywood to create propaganda that aims to sugarcoat the crimes of its military and intelligence apparatuses. Funding that could be used for disaster relief and healthcare is being used to recruit young people to die and kill in other countries for the sake of corporate interests.

At a time when the FBI is being positioned as a force against far-right extremism – despite its own long history of white supremacy – the placement of an endearing, though otherwise pointless, FBI agent feels insidious. Even if the FBI isn’t directly involved in the production itself, the relationship they’ve built with Hollywood over the last 80 years, and the funding of the US government, has given us another piece of propaganda in an otherwise wonderful show. In the comics, Agent Jimmy Woo left the FBI decades ago; maybe it’s time for the entertainment industry to do the same.

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