G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra Reflects Hollywood’s True Political Leaning

All-American? Multinational? Sure ... whatever sells.


By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

One more thought on conservatives and Hollywood (following this): The conservative fascination with Hollywood, and more specifically the need to perceive ideological messages in cinema is especially surprising given the extent to which the movie industry embraces the free market. While there may be some ideological auteurism at the margins, the bulk of Hollywood's product is market-driven—movies get made with the expectation that they will turn big profits. This is true for children's films, slasher flicks, action adventure blockbusters, scatological comedies ... and so on. The recently-released G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a perfect example:

One might think that if the film has an ideological tilt, it would be neo-con muscular American exceptionalism. G.I. Joe is, as the tagline from my youth used to tout, "a real American hero." No longer, however. Joe's current iteration is of a multinational team headquartered underneath the pyramids in Egypt. The shift from a team of Americans to a multilateral coalition prompted some conservatives to complain that Hollywood was de-Americanizing the real American hero. But the change was market-driven: An all-American team would sell less well with international audiences than does a multinational team.

Indeed, as the L.A. Times reported, in the United States, Joe is being marketed to the red state heartland with the message that while "Critics are likely to roast the film, and fanboys of the original toy line and comic book may be indifferent, but if you're a flag-waving, Nascar-loving American, it's practically your patriotic duty to see this movie." But abroad, marketing "emphasizes that G.I. Joe is an international team of crack operatives and not some Yankee soldier." Director Stephen Sommers told the Times: "This is not a George Bush movie—it's an Obama world."

And what do you know? It was the highest-grossing film in the country at $56.2 million—while pulling in an additional $45 million abroad. So forget looking for Hollywood's ideological tilt. If, as the old McLuhanism goes, the medium is the message, the message is "free markets." Or as President Obama might say, it's not a red state film or a blue state film, but a sellable film.

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