MTV wants you!

In times of war, the counterculture halts at the water's edge!

Published January 3, 2002 6:59PM (EST)

Hey, kids! Ever wonder what it would be like to join the Air Force? You can travel to exotic locations, ride a mechanical bull and jam with Kid Rock in your dorm room!

On New Year's Day, MTV aired a special called "For the Troops: An MTV/USO Special," featuring Jennifer Lopez, Kid Rock, Ja Rule and "Total Request Live" host Carson Daly. Filmed over four days at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, the special interspersed outdoor concert footage with the stars' deep thoughts on the all-around awesomeness of the war in general and the U.S. armed forces in particular, plus enthusiastic testimonials by young Air Force personnel, who never imagined that joining the Air Force could lead to a tête-à-tête with J.Lo herself.

"I thought maybe I'd meet Bob Hope," one overwhelmed soldier raves, "at best."

That's right, young soldier! This is not your grandpa's USO! The volunteer organization, which was founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941 to "deliver America" to the troops abroad, is now delivering the troops abroad to America. And who wants to see a huddled mass of battle-fatigued baby soldiers in hostile enemy lands craning for a glimpse of Marilyn Monroe before traipsing back out onto the minefield?

That's just sad. This time, the Air Force is the star.

And look how much fun it is. Ramstein Air Base, which gung-ho gun-enthusiast Kid Rock notes is like "a small American city in the middle of Germany," is a regular club land. Officers and enlisted personnel can party at a variety of hangouts, including a country bar and a hip-hop club -- not to mention throwing dorm keg parties whenever the mood strikes. Who knew the Air Force could be just like college without the tedious educational demands, plus incredible toys?

Clamoring into an F-16, J.Lo asks, "Is this like the 'Top Gun' plane?"

Then to the camera upon boarding a very large aircraft, "This is like a soundstage! I could shoot my next video in here!"

Cut to J.Lo in fatigues against a black background, describing the "amazing sense of power at your fingertips."

In another scene, Kid Rock and Carson Daly try on some gas masks and run around a parking lot.

"I can't imagine going outside with that thing on," Kid Rock says, "and thanks to the U.S. military -- the strongest in the world -- I'll probably never have to. That's why I don't bitch about paying my taxes."

Last month, a White House contingent (including President Bush's political advisor Karl Rove) met with executives from AOL Time Warner, Universal Studios, the Recording Industry Association of America, Viacom (which owns CBS and MTV) and other entertainment industry types, during which Washington and Hollywood threw around some ideas on how to boost interest in the War on Terrorism.

Several of the entertainment companies involved will have their fortunes tied to government decisions on multibillion-dollar mergers, expanding markets and issues like what tactics may be used to market music to children. These were not on the meeting's agenda, according to administration spokesman Ken Lisaius, but then, they didn't have to be. MTV is already clearly asking not what its government can do for it, but what it can do for government propaganda.

The Republican Party has been courting the entertainment industry, traditionally a Democratic bastion in which the bad guys are usually portrayed as Republicans. But all that may be a-changing, as the kids used to say. MTV's Gideon Yago, who covered the 2000 election, was a-quiver with patriotic fervor during a humanitarian air drop to Afghanistan. Wouldn't you be, after flying 18 hours over enemy skies to dump boxloads of fig bars, pasta and tomato sauce and Pop Tarts over hell? I know I would.

By Carina Chocano

Carina Chocano writes about TV for Salon. She is the author of "Do You Love Me or Am I Just Paranoid?" (Villard).

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