If battleships could blush, the USS Missouri would be bright red. This proud World War II vessel that hosted the 1945 surrender of Japan in Tokyo Bay has become the center of a battle over taste. Should the Navy have allowed Cher to film a video in which she pranced around the deck of the Missouri wearing a fishnet G-string?
The video, "If I Could Turn Back Time," was so risque that MTV -- that arbiter of bad taste -- doesn't show it until after 9 p.m. Now a few Navy officials are wishing they could turn back time.
The military services get plenty of requests from Hollywood asking for their equipment, bases and people. Most of the projects are turned down. If they are approved, the producers must generally agree to accept suggestions from military critics.
The conversion of bases, ships and planes to movie sets amounts to nothing more than taxpayer-subsidized giveaways. If the producers are charged a fee, it rarely covers the costs. The Pentagon justifies it by saying that the films are good recruiting tools.
That was the thinking when Cher applied to use the Missouri, but now the Navy brass wonders if the recruiting benefit outweighs the criticism from veterans' groups.
The Navy was at first thrilled with the publicity value of a Cher video. The video "was an opportunity for us to get national exposure and reach the lucrative recruitable youth audience that watch MTV," one Navy official told us. The viewers would be subjected to the "subliminal advertisement of the Navy seeing Cher aboard a battleship with sailors."
The Navy was right about the "exposure" and "subliminal" parts.
Cher's producers initially approached the Navy with a modest little video about a sailor who gets a "Dear John" letter aboard ship. But when Cher saw the massive -- dare we say, phallic -- guns on the Missouri, all modesty was thrown to the wind.
Cher donned her mesh and leather strap outfit, and the controversy was on. Navy officials told us the costume was "an unanticipated change during final stages of production. And it produced an unintended result, in retrospect."
One can only imagine how retrospective the Navy brass was to see Cher riding the guns like Debra Winger on a mechanical horse and undulating in front of a sea of 150 real sailors.
The filming ate up three days of the Missouri's time last July, and the production company didn't pay a penny to the Navy.
The video will have to go a long way to beat the best recruitment film the Navy ever got: "Top Gun." In that case, the Navy cooperated for a price -- $7,600 an hour for the use of airplanes.
When it comes to taste, the Pentagon's standards are spotty. Clint Eastwood was not allowed to use military facilities to film "Heartbreak Ridge" because his character used profanity. The Army turned down "Platoon," according to a 1984 confidential memo, because "the script presents an unfair and inaccurate view of the Army."
The first Rambo movie, "First Blood," was rejected because it implied that the Army trained people to kill, unlike the Navy, which apparently trains people to dance.