By Blair Golson
In the wake of a big traffic spike, we’ve beefed up this report on AOL’s tasteless and tone-deaf ”Babes in Arms” feature, which portrays militarism as a sexy and glamorous sideshow.
Over 40 years after writer Paddy Chayefsky brilliantly eviscerated popular culture’s romanticization of war in the film “The Americanization of Emily,” the mass media remains unbowed in its pursuit of exploiting war as a sexy, romantic profit center.
There is plenty of blame to spread around here, but this Jan. 26 offering from AOL is pretty egregious. Appearing in the top-billed “Entertainment” slot of the site’s hugely-trafficked main page, the “Babes in Arms” feature displays a photo slideshow of Hollywood starlets portraying soldiers whose busts are nearly busting out of the uniforms.
The first slide, picturing Jordana Brewster in a bra-peeking scene from the movie “Annapolis,” has a caption that reads, “As James Franco’s superior at the Naval Academy, the gorgeous Jordan Brewster gets to order him around in basic training and elsewhere, if you know what we mean. And we think you do.”
The next, showing Jessica Biel in a breast-squeezing flight-suit from the 2005 movie “Stealth,” reads, “Sure, she can rock a flight suit, but it’s the scene in which a bikini-clad Jessica cavorts in a Thai waterfall that made some folks want to run off and enlist.”
It’s not the sex that’s so incensing: it’s the subtext—that enlisting in the armed forces is a sexy, glamorous thing to do. Apparently the thousands of real-life women and men coming home from Iraq in body bags or wheelchairs have done nothing to dampen the appetites of behemoths like AOL-Time Warner to exploit bloody strife for its sexual and economic potential.
To be fair, the feature ran under AOL’s “Entertainment” banner, not the “News” tab. And AOL-Time Warner is far from the first media organization to splice sex with war. But calling yourself a peddler of entertainment does not absolve you from the necessity of showing good taste.
This is especially true in the case of AOL-Time Warner (the latter half being a news organization, let’s not forget). Back before the two companies merged in 2000, they couldn’t issue a press release without using the word “synergy” at least 17 times. The whole point of their merging was to do a more effective—and one would hope, responsible—job at serving up content to their audiences.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised then, that the wizards at AOL-TW did about as good a job synergizing “Babes” and “Arms” as they have with the rest of their synergistic endeavors (see: Time Warner drops AOL from its name) Because of course, the larger issue at stake here is the breakdown of walls not only between news and entertainment, but of news-entertainment and advertising. This is the real “synergy” that had the pre-merger folks at Time Warner and AOL salivating: the ability to make the consumption of content, goods and services all one in the same.
You need look no further than the presentation of the “Babes in Arms” feature to see this practice in action.
The most prominent information menu on AOL’s home page is divided up into tabbed menus that read “News,” “Entertainment,” “Lifestyle,” “Marketplace,” and “Science.” But since all of them contain features that are, if not news, at least news-like, the distinctions are basically meaningless.
And so you click on the “Entertainment” tab. The “Babes in Arms” feature pops up. A click on it whisks you away to AOL subsidiary Moviefone. There, the slideshow continues—alongside offers to buy tickets for an assortment of movies—now that you’ve got them on the brain.
In short, AOL has used its news-like portal to piggyback on a deadly conflict in an attempt to sell you movie tickets.
Of course, that’s not the way AOL sees it.
“The ‘Babes in Arms’ editorial feature on Moviefone.com is simply a light-hearted profile of actresses who notably portrayed military roles in Hollywood films,” a Moviefone spokesperson told Truthdig. “It certainly is in no way intended to disrespect the women, and men, currently serving our country.”
Perhaps. But it’s still pretty tone deaf to be saluting fictional female soldiers for their sex appeal when so many of their real-life counterparts are facing quite different realities in Iraq. Especially when you’re only doing so to hawk movie tickets.
If you’d like, you can tell AOL how you feel about this feature. Call the corporate headquarters at (703) 265-1000.
AOL perpetuates the glorification of war—this time via “Babes.”