The military has enmeshed itself in American pop culture, infiltrating not only Hollywood, but everything else: from the video-game industry to bigtime sports to the world of online social networking.
In 1961, outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the country about the “unwarranted influence” of the “military industrial complex” and the “large arms industry” already firmly entrenched in the United States. Even then, the military industrial complex consisted of more than just the Pentagon and the “arms industry.” Weapons dealers and mega-corporations, such as Lockheed Martin and General Motors, held sway over the corporate side of the military-industrial complex. Today, these companies still play an extremely powerful role, but they are dwarfed by the sheer number of contractors from all imaginable economic sectors that stretch across the globe.
Even a decade after Eisenhower’s farewell speech, there were only 22,000 “prime contractors” doing business with the U.S. Department of Defense. Today, the number of prime contractors tops 47,000, and the number of subcontractors is well over the 100,000 mark. These war-profiteering businesses include the top computer manufacturer, Dell (the 50th largest DOD contractor in 2006 — the last year for which official figures are available), oil giant ExxonMobil (the 30th) and package-shipping titan FedEx (the 26th).
In fact, the Pentagon payroll is a veritable who’s who of the world’s top companies: IBM; Time-Warner; Microsoft; NBC and its parent company, General Electric; Columbia TriStar Films and its parent company, Sony; Sara Lee; Sodexho; Procter & Gamble; Hershey; Nestlé; Walt Disney; and Johnson & Johnson. But the difference between now and then isn’t only scale. As this list suggests, Pentagon spending is reaching into previously neglected areas of U.S. life, such as entertainment and popular consumer brands. This penetration translates into a remarkable variety of forms of interaction with the public.
As a result, the military-industrial complex has been replaced by something larger and more invasive than anything Eisenhower could have imagined: the military-corporate complex or, in shorthand, the Complex — an entity almost akin to the Matrix of the movies.