Huffpost Business
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

David Isenberg Headshot

Putting the [(P)op Culture] in PMC

Posted: Updated:

For an industry which, ignoring historical antecedents as the British East India company, is only a couple of decades old, the private military and security contracting industry has made a very big impression in popular culture.

Just about every film and tv show in need of a new type of villain has turned to PMCs. Of course, we really should say PSC, as in almost all cases the villain is a firm that is shooting someone or in the employ of someone wishing to do harm.

Don't believe me. Check out the listings at TVtropes. It notes that classic mercenaries sometimes gets sympathetic play:

The traditional mercenary who hires himself out (or himself and a dozen of his best buddies) is seen as somewhat honest, with at least a personal code of honor of some kind (even if it's just "do the job, get paid"); determined to accomplish the mission for which he has been paid and takes his reputation very seriously; and is scrappy yet skilled. This character is usually played moderately sympathetic, or at least as an antihero. They will typically have some attention given to their, quite possibly colorful, personalities.

Yul Brenner in The Magnificent Seven or Robert De Niro in Ronin would be obvious examples of this.

By, contrast the modern PMC is almost always just a corporate mercenary.

The "character" takes the form of the PMC corporation itself. Corporate mercs are usually depicted as being up to no good, or are the hand-puppets of some shadowy organization which is itself up to no good. They are portrayed ... as amoral, ethically-challenged, and professional but hardly ever inclined to argue with Corporate Headquarters. They are almost never the "good guys" in recent years. Their parent company usually has a name based loosely or thematically on "Blackwater" in a thinly-veiled Expy of that real-life PMC -- examples include "Blackriver", "Red River", "Blackthorne", and "Starkwood". A PMC can provide a villainous Evil Army if one doesn't actually want to insult any real country's Armed Forces.

What are the PMC examples of in contemporary entertainment? Let's consider just a few examples. In movies you have:

  • The 2004 movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow in which you had the Flying Legion, which was clearly inspired by WWII's Flying Tigers. (A rare example of a positive spin on a PMC)
  • All the human soldiers and pilots in Avatar, even though they seem to represent the U.S. military, are actually ex-soldiers and Marines now working for the RDA corporation mining Pandora.
  • The Hurt Locker. The protagonists run across a unit of British PMCs who've captured two Iraq insurgents for the bounty.
  • In The A-Team, the bad guys (at first) are from the Blackforest PMC, a thinly disguised expy of the Real Life Blackwater.

In television you have:

  • The Unit featured a company called "Blackthorne," which tried to recruit one of the members.
  • The seventh season of 24 (as well as the TV-movie prequel 24: Redemption) has the Starkwood corporation, who, among other things, give weapons to genocidal African rebels in exchange for permission to use innocent villagers for weapons testing and plan attacks on American soil to get Senate investigations off their backs.
  • During the first season of Jericho, the PMC Ravenwood tries to loot the town of Jericho (and successfully raids the nearby towns of Rogue River and New Bern). In season 2, it is learned that they are a subsidiary of the Big Bad, Jennings & Rall.

Why did this all come about? Well, partly the end of the Cold War meant that using Commies as villains wasn't very credible. One would also have to credit perennial critics like Jeremy Scahill of the Nation Magazine whose hugely one-sided book on Blackwater made it a near universal object of contempt and did much to cast the industry in a prejudicial light. Yet another part would be the dilatory reaction of individual companies and their advocacy organizations in responding to this vilification.

Yet the truth is that in a world where for the general public, assertions based on entertainment is regarded as credible as those based on fact, it was always going to be a losing battle. Still, in the future, with time, and the maturation of industry and their utilization in situations heretofore unimagined PMC may even be regarded as the good guys. Personally I 'm waiting for space based PMC as Gordon Dickinson imagined in his novels. If anyone wants to register the Dorsai corporation, remember, you read it here first.