A Military and Hollywood Urban Legend Debunked
By Kelly Crigger
Urban legends have staying power no matter how ridiculous they are (how many of you have eaten Pop Rocks with Coke to see if you would explode?), so we at the Rhino Den have taken it upon ourselves to thoroughly investigate one urban legend that persists in the military – The popular notion that Hollywood is not allowed to portray a military uniform correctly on film. We will now confirm or deny this myth once and for all by using our highly trained investigative skills….which means Google.
A quick search followed by a phone call to the Department of the Army’s Public Affairs Office led us to this little gem from U.S. Code Title 10, Subtitle A, Part II, Chapter 45, S772:
“While portraying a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps, an actor in a theatrical or motion-picture production may wear the uniform of that armed force if the portrayal does not tend to discredit that armed force.”
We also learned that the Department of Defense actually encourages filmmakers to get the uniform right and even has an office in Los Angeles called the Director of Entertainment Media. If that doesn’t blow this myth out of the water then the Supreme Court ruling on this very matter does.
Well that seemed easy. Too easy. There has to be more to this story, right? Where did this urban legend come from and why do people believe it? Why is it whenever we see a jacked up uniform on an actor some douche in the theater leans over to the chick he’s trying to impress and whispers, “That uniform is jacked up because they’re not allowed to wear it correctly. It’s illegal. I know these things, baby.”
“I think that’s because of 2 things,” says Enlisted creator and Rhino Den BFF Kevin Biegel. “One, sometimes Hollywood is lazy and doesn’t realize how important the uniform is. They figure, ‘Hey, just throw on some camo and some patches and most people will recognize the person on camera as a soldier and that’s all we care about.’ They don’t realize how incredibly powerful the image of a uniform can be for so many people. They don’t stop to think that people live and die in these uniforms.
I think the second reason is that uniforms are, frankly, hard for those of us who aren’t in the service. They are very detailed, there is a lot to get right, and if you’re not in the culture every day dealing with the reality of how you’re supposed to look then the importance of the smaller details can be lost on you. It can be intimidating.”
When writing Enlisted, Biegel did the right thing and hired two veterans to tighten up his shot group, Greg Bishop and Brian Chung at MUSA Consulting.
“The funny thing is once Enlisted got into series and we got as squared away as we could be, with a hardcore military consulting firm (MUSA) making sure we were doing it right, and having Veterans on set making sure it was right, and having extra wardrobe consultants making sure it was right — we STILL had people say, ‘Well that one little thing looks wrong to me.’ And then I’d see two Veterans talk about how they wore something slightly different. There will always be specifics that make one person go, ‘They got it!’ and make another go, ‘That’s horse crap.’ But I think by and large if you put in the time and effort to get it right from the get go, you’ll be okay. It’s not that hard and I wish more military productions would take the extra time to make that stuff look as good as it should.”
So maybe when you see a jacked up uniform on film it could be either lazy filmmakers or consultants who don’t know what they’re consulting about. Maybe they’re actually the perpetrators here or are getting asked questions they don’t have answers to and make it up. I served 24 years in the Army, but if someone asked me about Signal Retrans Operations I’d be a soup sandwich. That wasn’t my field. Biegel seems to agree.
“I also have seen people who are uniform ‘experts’ out here (in Hollywood) who consult on shows who get stuff very wrong,” he says. “If you don’t know up from down and you hire someone who purports to know the right way to do something, you trust that person knows their stuff. And when they don’t, it’s not that person who looks crazy – it’s you, the guy or girl who made the show. There are people who lie about their abilities in Hollywood – I know, it’s shocking! Some people in Hollywood lie!”
In the movie Blackhawk Down several of the main characters had their last name written in HUGE letters on the front of their Kevlar helmets, a clear violation of uniform policy and certainly not the reality of the Rangers in Mogadishu. The producers knew was inaccurate, but did it so the viewers could tell the characters apart during combat scenes and remember their names.
The bottom line is it’s absolutely not illegal to portray the uniform correctly. There is no law that says it has to be altered to protect the innocent or national secrets and any film that features a jacked up uniform is just lazy filmmaking and probably doesn’t deserve your dollars.
Oh, and if you were wondering… this isn’t the first time I have written about this subject.