I came across the quote below while doing background for my review of “Jason Bourne” last month. It's a Google Books find: “The CIA in Hollywood: How the Agency Shapes Film and Television” by Tricia Jenkins. It's from her intro, and references an MSNBC article I wrote, “You're Not Reading This: The CIA in Hollywood Movies,” which was tied to the opening of Robert De Niro's “The Good Shepherd”:
Providing an astute summary in 2006, Erik Lundegaard argues that since its inception in 1947, the CIA has rarely been “front and center” in Hollywood films, and when it does appear on-screen, its representatives generally “skulk along the edges and in the shadows.” Yet even in this capacity, the CIA is primarily depicted as keeping tabs on famous citizens (Malcolm X), using innocent people as pawns (Ishtar), hanging its own agents out to dry (Spy Game), assassinating foreign and military leaders (Syriana and Apocalypse Now) and possibly the president of the United States (JFK) (see Table 1.1). “They can be blazingly efficient” or “buffoonishly incompetent,” Lundegaard writes, but either way, “they are always dangerous.”
That was kind of the heyday of my MSNBC time. I think I was allowed 2700 words on that subject. The following year I was cut back to 1500, then 1000. Then I was doing Top 5 pieces. Then they cut freelance altogether. Slow rise, quick death.
I'm glad Ms. Jenkins wrote the book (U Texas). Researching in 2006, I kept thinking, “There needs to be more on this. Someone needs to write a book.” For a time I thought about doing it myself. I still do.
The CIA, which hid from Hollywood for so long, is now doing the J. Edgar Hoover thing. No, not dresses. Since the '90s, they've had marketing people in Hollywood putting a better face on the agency. But it only works so well.
Take this with the usual SPOILER ALERTs, but in the new Netflix series “Stranger Things,” a much recommended amalgamation of the Steven/Stephens (Spielberg/King), a key reveal is that the CIA, or at least a CIA agent who goes off the reservation, 1) kidnaps a girl from her mother; 2) raises her in a lab to spy on the Russians; 3) accidentally contacts an alternate dimension; 4) rips a whole in the fabric of space, creating a portal to this other, decidedly sticky dimension; and, 5) murders civilians willy-nilly to keep all of this secret. So the PR only works so well. Still, the fact that in our entertainment we demonize the agency designed to keep us safe, to me says something pretty positive about our democracy.