Having Your Cake and Eating it Too: Oscar the Grouch and Veteran Branding

Last week it was revealed that the Philadelphia VA compared disgruntled veterans to Oscar the Grouch in an internal training presentation. Some veterans voiced their displeasure at being compared to a fictional, grumpy, homeless green monster by changing their Facebook/Twitter avatars to an image of Oscar the Grouch and using the hashtag #iamoscar. Mostly, it received disinterested yawns from veterans who saw this as par for the course when it comes to their VA experience.

"Has anyone ever compared you to Oscar the Grouch?"  "Nah, nah man, shit man, nah. I do believe.
“Has anyone ever compared you to Oscar the Grouch?” “Nah, nah man, shit man, nah.”

My take: being compared to Oscar the Grouch kind of feels in line with somebody saying they’re having “a case of the Monday’s.” It seems like something a peppy human resources person would say in a training presentation, probably at the VA. It’s not terribly offensive, just lame.

There is a double-standard though, when it comes to veteran indignation. On one hand, we get angry when we’re all called heroes, we’re depicted as crazy, or compared to Oscar the Grouch. On the other hand, we’ll lose our shit if someone says we’re not all heroes, chuckle and blame minor outbursts on latent PTSD, and buy t-shirts that label us a “Dysfunctional Veteran.”

The common denominator, it seems, is that veterans as a whole are okay with making categorical statements about ourselves, when it serves our interests, but don’t like it when others – mostly civilians – chime in and have something to say that we don’t like.

Personally, I’ve never been a fan of giving one group of people exclusive rights to say this or that thing. It’s exclusionary and it shuts down dialogue.

From a PR standpoint, comparing veterans to anything other than golden pillars of freedom is unwise. But the harm done with the Oscar the Grouch thing is minimal, compared to the stream of harm we do to ourselves by “owning” labels that are derogatory or condescending.

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