Copaganda Theater: “End of Watch”

Occupy LA Anti-Social Media (OLAASM) has published an excellent piece on the historical role of the Los Angeles police department, called “The LAPD: Not Your Model Police Department – But Definitely Theirs.” OLAASM writes that:

Los Angeles has long served as a proving ground where the counterinsurgency tactics later adopted by police throughout the United States were first domestically deployed. Ever since the nation’s very first no-knock SWAT raid on the Black Panther Party headquarters at 41st & Central and the CIA-facilitated, “crack cocaine explosion” that was first unleashed on South Central to more recent, repressive innovations like so-called “Community Policing” and today’s “Predpol,” (Minority Report-style pre-crime tactics –ed) the City of Angels has repeatedly been lauded as a “model” for “modern” policing.

OLAASM’s piece about how the LAPD is a “model” police department got me thinking about a film I just watched, which struck me as one of the cop-iest piece of copaganda ever dressed up as “found” footage. David Ayer’s 2012 End of Watch is both a critically acclaimed cop thriller and a text that broadcasts police forces’ most deeply embedded myths.

The LAPD is a model police department, but a model for how the state can more effectively and invisibly defuse challenges to its power. For instance, when a militarized police response to the Ferguson protests failed to quell the resistance, the cops sent out a lovable Captain in his dress blues to hug and hold hands with community members. OLAASM calls this part of the “LA Model,” and discusses the tactic’s roots in counterinsurgency strategy (COIN). One of the central planks of COIN is “perception management,” a.k.a. propaganda and related psychological operations. In the case of the America’s police forces, OLAASM calls the carefully cultivated media relations model copaganda.

coin fergusonHollywood usually engages in “perception management” in a pretty direct way—with a cop, spy, or soldier telling screenwriters “add more of this” or “take that part out.” This may sound like a conspiracy theory, but it is well-established conspiracy fact. Just last month during the bizarre spectacle surrounding The Interview, it was reported both that CIA contractors were consulting Seth Rogen during the production, and State Department officials and RAND corporation employees were pushing the screenwriter and the studio to target North Korea ever more belligerently.

Similarly, when David Ayer set about writing End of Watch, he consulted cops (“I’m a good researcher”), to ensure that viewers are sutured into the LAPD’s perspective. The result is a film that mirrors the most successful relationship Hollywood has ever cultivated: the one with the US military. According to Peter Debruge at Variety, “End of Watch affords the LAPD the respectful portrayal the U.S. military seeks when partnering with Hollywood: Instead of glorifying the individual, the film depicts an honorable and efficient organization of people working together.”

One of the most consistent aspects of film reception is that “realism” in form is taken as indicative of realism in content—a film shot with steadicam-immediacy is discussed critically as though its narrative must similarly reflect “real” life. End of Watch is shot in found-footage style, with the conceit that the film is recorded from the officers’ body-cams and Taylor’s handheld digital video camera (Presumably, if all cops were outfitted with body-cams, the footage would show what a bunch of chill guys they are). Continue reading

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“Terminator: Genisys” will be a blistering satire of the modern blockbuster

The new trailer for Terminator: Genisys (the fourth sequel of the series) has dropped, and it promises several things. It promises that Arnold is back in the role that made him an institution. It promises fan-service in the form of familiar catchphrases, now in their fifth iterations. It promises big, loud action.

Most importantly, it promises to be a blistering satire of the modern blockbuster, a subversive meta-commentary on the endless cycles of sequels plaguing multiplexes.

An IMDB list of sequels, prequels, remakes, and spinoffs currently in development numbers over 330 entries. An infographic on Short of the Week breaks down how much non-original works have come to dominate the box office. The Terminator franchise is a perfect example of the culture industry’s relentless mining of the same vein to diminishing creative returns.

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 9.37.19 PMJames Cameron’s 1984 tech-noir sci-fi thriller The Terminator was an independent film. A film that was, according to Cameron’s self-mythologizing, born from a fever-dream of a metal skeleton rising from a fire gave birth to a whole constellation of action figures, comics, video games, and ancillary products. It spawned one widely beloved sequel in 1992, at which point anyone who didn’t own the rights to the franchise considered the story told. There followed, to diminishing results and box office, two sequels and a TV show that were widely considered to be retreads of the first two films.

The trailer for Terminator: Genisys (alternately 5 from here on out, for brevity and sanity’s sake) reboots the series chronology. Future-soldier Kyle Reese goes back in time to protect Sarah Connor, but this time everything is different. This could be read as merely another cynical attempt to wring more money out of a franchise that’s running dry, albeit with a J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek-esque “continuity no longer matters!” twist. However, the idea of revisiting the first film from the perspective of a cynical blockbuster cash-grab makes ample space for Terminator 5’s blistering commentary on Hollywood. Continue reading