|Military public affairs
professionals are concerned with two types of messages: controlled and
uncontrolled. Controlled messages are images and words that represent the agenda formed by
military. These messages are constructed and produced by military public affairs to
contain the exact message the military wishes to convey. On a large scale, controlled
messages include recruiting commercials and news conferences. On a local level, controlled
messages include such programs as press releases, press conferences, tours, and speaker's
bureaus. Uncontrolled messages are exactly as they seem, the military does not produce or create them. The entertainment industry is a prime example of uncontrolled images because, while the military may offer accurate information, the filmmakers have sole control over what they chose to present.
According to Benson (1967), when referring to military issues, public opinion "always connotes a position on some specific government action or general course of action" (p. 524). This definition gears the opinion holder toward action or behavior. The Uses and Gratifications Theory (Lazarsfeld & Stanton, 1944) states audiences seek information from the media. Levy and Windahl (1984) found after exposure to mediated messages, audiences post-activitly are driven to behavior. This study (Levy & Windahl, 1984) found people sought information and acted on it for personal value. This is an important leap in that audiences are not merely passively watching this information, but that they are acting on the information received.
Gallup (1942), a public opinion pollster, believed the common American and his or her opinion to be much more in tune with the country than the politicians' opinions. Opinion is so important to military public affairs because of its wide-reaching effects. Locally, public opinion effects how military personnel at the base are treated and the community's support of the installation. On a national level, public opinion effects national defense funding, military pay, and important quality of life and operational other issues. Opinions of the American public are expressed through democratic election of officials and policy makers. People elect members of Congress who are then on committees which create policies directly affecting the military. Whether or not voters elect officials based on their military platform or not, the political plans and programs affect the military the same.
Public opinion does not spring from the sky; its construction is aided by
formative agents (Benson, 1967), such as the entertainment industry. This body of research agrees with the literature (Gunther, 1998) that states there are many variables at work in the creation of opinion and perception. Typically, when the public must make complex decisions on topics that they are not knowledgeable about, they turn to "knowledge supermarkets" for quick access to abbreviated information (Gaubatz, 1995). These "supermarkets" include various types of media, such as television, newspapers, magazines, movies, and radio. For this study, the scope is narrowed to investigate films. Hollywood's portrayal of the military helps people gather background information so that when they are faced with issues and situations, the public may make a pseudo-informed decision.
The effects of both movies and perceptions are well researched. The general statement that mediated images can influence perceptions is held to be true on a very basic level (Griffin, 1994). As military public affairs practitioners, this body of research aims to investigate a much more specialized avenue of research. This pilot test lays the groundwork for future research to establish whether or not there is a correlation between non-military affiliated people's exposure to military-themed movies and their perception of the U.S. Armed Forces. Since this distinct topic has not yet been investigated, the current researchers conducted an extensive literature review of perception and public opinion, military-themed movies, and the ability of movies to influence opinion. After synthesizing these areas of research, it was hypothetically deemed feasible that military-themed movies could effect and form the public's perception of the U.S. Armed Forces.
George Gerbner's Cultivation Theory typically deals with the effects of violence in television. Recent applications of Cultivation Theory state images, such as television and movies, can form expectations about reality based on the represented world (Griffin, 1994). Of Gerbner's two views on facilitation of cultivation, the idea of mainstreaming is most relevant for the current communication investigation. In mainstreaming, personal outlook and perceptions merge to remain consistent with mediated images.
The American public does not like to believe that the images Hollywood feed them are used in forming important opinions and perceptions. Implying that the viewer is passive can be quite offensive to a person's self-concept. The third-person effect (Davison, 1983) has some merit in this current line of persuasion research. In an application of this theory, audience members can look at a film as not at all persuasive to them, but see how it would be so to another viewer (Davison, 1983). According to Davison (1983), "the greatest impact will not be on 'me' or 'you,' but on 'them' - the third person" (p. 3). These third-person viewers may depend on images, such as those in movies, to gather information or form impressions when they have little interest on the subject (van Evra, 1990). With this theoretical perspective in mind, it is apparent that not all audience members will be influenced to think a certain way about the military, but the more passive, uninvested viewer can be.
Movies are an important source in forming opinions and perceptions of the unknown. According to Benham (1937), "the motion picture offers perhaps the most effective field yet discovered for the promulgation of ideas" (p. 109). It is obvious that films influenced American public opinion in earlier eras (Benham, 1937), hence it is not difficult to conclude that the advancing medium is still effecting the public, even if it is in different ways. If "it has been proved that the mental processes of audiences are not allergic to the suggestions implied and expressed by the screen" (Behnam, 1937, p. 114), then the possibilities of perceptions formed from movies are unprecedented in the new millennium.
Movies have had an active hand in influencing the common person (Rollins, 1974). According to Lippman (1922), the media has long demonstrated the ability to mold and shape perception because of the apparent realism of film. An application of the Cultivation Theory implies that when a public is not familiar with the military and is exposed to salient images of military life, circumstance, or situations, they are likely to retain and unconsciously accept these images as truth. A film's depiction of life is a major source of reference for information and accepted so subtly that a passive viewer is often unaware of the process (Katz, 1981).
The entertainment industry has long featured the military and its lifestyle as a film genre. During Hollywood's infancy, the industry appeared to work so closely with the military, that films were often seen as propaganda and slanted (Behnam, 1937). Many scholars speculate about the demand and production of military-themed films (Behnam, 1937). Some believe the movies are made because the public shows interest and desire and seeing them, while others argue that the public is interested in them because they are made.
In the past, military services would advertise and market itself to Hollywood by boasting of inexpensive access to real military aircraft, vessels, and even officer's and their (Behnam, 1937). Currently, the services have a scaled down courtship with the entertainment industry (Newman, 1997). Of these programs, the Air Force appears to embrace Hollywood the most by highlighting the "Air Force Over Hollywood" program featured on their public web page. To this day, whether the American audience is explicitly interested or the entertainment industry drives that interest, there are several feature films that contain military themes.
During World War II, the entertainment industry's presentation of the military played a major role in the support of the U.S. Armed Forces (Behnam, 1937). Military-themed movies were prevalent in the theaters across the nation and were well supported by the service departments (Behnam, 1937). The services would work closely with Hollywood and would often create propaganda and recruitment-type films (Behnam, 1937).
The constant stream of patriotic images in the movies aided in public support of earlier international conflicts (Behnam, 1937). In a 1945 poll by the American Institute of Public Opinion (AIPO), Americans rated the importance and competence of the military high on all accounts (AIPO, 1945). Americans regarded the military so positively, polls showed a steady increase each year from 1942 through 1945 in support of compulsory military training for every able-bodied American male (AIPO, 1945). This data shows that not only were Americans supportive of the military, but they were willing to put their sons where their opinions were. According to 1945, Americans also felt that if they would commit their young men to training, then the chances of future wars would be greatly reduced (AIPO, 1945).
Yet, later during the Vietnam War, American society was explicitly unsupportive of the military action (Rollins, 1984). Was the change from World War II to Vietnam one of generational attitude? Were the images on the nightly news of brothers, fathers, and sons dying were too graphic to ignore (Rollins, 1984)? Films from this era portrayed the military as negative, reflecting the current culture at that time (Rollins, 1984). During this time, the effects of Agenda Setting Theory (McCombs & Shaw, 1972) could be seen: the media told the public what to think about, but not what to think. During Vietman, viewers watched the war "live" on the nightly news (Rollins, 1984). This pilot study aims to answer such questions by providing quantitative data addressing the formation of public opinion and perception of the U.S. Armed Forces and the role Hollywood plays in forming these opinions and perceptions.