Hollywood Hits

July 31, 1996

Hollywood Hits

The federal government has come to the aid of Hollywood. Not with tax breaks or tariffs, but with a much more important effort. Uncle Sam is filling the villain void.

Suddenly, it's hard to find a movie or TV drama that doesn't feature bureaucrats as the bad guys. "Between Tom Cruise's mole hunt in Mission: Impossible and Arnold Schwarzenegger's battle against a corrupt federal marshal in Eraser," Entertainment Weekly magazine noted in a recent report, "the message seems to be, We have seen the enemy, and he is a civil servant." The Cruise and Schwarzenegger flicks were just the beginning, the magazine noted. In the August thriller Chain Reaction, Keanu Reeves plays a scientist framed for murder who is pursued by agents of a secret federal agency. And three other movies currently in production, The Shadow Conspiracy, Absolute Power, and Executive Privilege, all hinge on White House conspiracies.

Even this summer's blockbuster hit, Independence Day, which centers around the heroics of a Marine aviator and a fighter-piloting President, features a straight-out-of-the-tabloids subplot involving a decades-long conspiracy to cover up government experiments on alien remains in the Nevada desert.

Notice that it's only the federal government that gets picked on. When was the last time you saw a movie that featured a corrupt city manager or public-works official? Indeed, especially on TV, local government employees, especially police officers, are often the heroes-and they are regularly impeded in their efforts by rude, incompetent and downright corrupt federal law-enforcement officers. In the rare instances when the stars are federal civil servants, such as the alien-hunting FBI agents in The X-Files, they invariably are lone-wolf good guys caught in a web of shadowy intrigue within their own agencies.

The recent spate of anti-government movies is a little surprising, since last year it looked like the tide was turning in the other direction. In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, it seemed Americans were willing to reconsider the notion that civil servants were at best faceless bureaucrats and at worst sinister conspirators. Hollywood obliged, with Apollo 13, a tale of the derring-do not only of NASA's astronauts, but its pencil-pocket-protectored engineers and technicians. "The real heroes of Apollo 13, wrote Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, "are today's villains, namely, federal bureaucrats. The paper-shuffling government geeks who (we're informed daily from the House floor) couldn't handle a three-car funeral not only put men on the moon, they rescued them against all odds."

As the current crop of Hollywood movies attests, though, the pro-bureaucrat trend was brief indeed.

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