One of my holiday traditions is gorging on old movies. I’m sure to see White Christmas at least once every December. Through the holidays, I’ll fade in and out of old movies, picking up bits and pieces along the way.
One of the things that I find interesting about those old movies is how prominently the military is portrayed. That is, the Army, or some part of it, is often a major part of the plot – often outside of war and combat. Common themes are new soldiers that have a hard time adjusting to military life and the hilarity that ensues, or guys who are coming out of the military or out of war and trying to make it for themselves in the civilian world. The military is weaved into the normal culture of everyday life. Military innuendos are made with the expectation that the audience is already read in.
More interesting to me, is that it was OK to poke fun at soldiers. It was socially acceptable. There was no false idolizing. Not everyone was blanketed with the term ‘hero.’ Most of the ‘soldiers’ depicted in these films are cynical, clumsy, or generally disinterested in military service.
Gee, I wish I was back in the Army
Army wasn’t really bad at all
Three meals a day
For which you didn’t pay
Uniforms for winter, spring and fall
There’s a lot to be said for the Army
The life without responsibility
A soldier out of luck
Was really never stuck
There’s always someone higher up where you can pass the buck
Oh, gee, I wish I was back in the Army
There was also a very healthy view on what military service might be. An easy ride. A safe space. A place where you could always “pass the buck.” No responsibilities.
And this was the Greatest Generation!
Then, of course, there was M*A*S*H, which was part comedy, part drama. But still part comedy.
Since then, war on television and film has mostly been all about big-budget action. Lots of death, lots of explosions, lots of destruction. Off of the top of my head, the only things in the ‘funny’ category I can think of is Pauly Shore’s In the Army Now and Major Payne. Not much more needs to be said about that.
Our inability to allow others to make fun of us is partly due to the civil-military divide and a decade of hero worship that has left us shyly accepting well-meaning ‘thank you for your services’ as the chief spoil of war.
But now, this week, Fox will premier Enlisted. It is a new sitcom about three Army brothers who are on ‘Rear D.’ I’ve watched the trailer, and it actually looks pretty funny!
Of course, the military community has already responded with incredulity at some of the glaring differences between real military life and what has thus far been depicted in the trailers. Most of the stuff is about uniforms and haircuts.
Which leads me to a quick aside. One thing I’ve noticed, being back in the Army in the age of social media is how any military pictures posted to Facebook or Twitter are scrutinized by other military folk primarily for uniform issues or the like. Content is secondary to pointing out uniform discrepancies or commenting on the current state of military gear. “Back when I was in, we didn’t even have X, Y, or Z!” Meanwhile, I could be standing over the still warm body of Osama bin Laden, which would matter naught if my chinstrap was undone or my index finger hovered lazily near the trigger. The whole thing is exhausting, and it has actually led to me to choose not to share certain photos – which are otherwise good – just because I don’t want to have to deal with the onslaught of military people who can’t help themselves to comment on this or that.
Or, better yet, try watching a military movie with a new soldier or marine. They will be sure to tell you how everything is wrong, or how they would do it differently. A military movie near a base is filled with groans and grumbles as the mostly military audience reacts to what civilians would just watch and enjoy.
To Fox’s credit, when the angry military commenters started thrashing over the errors of Enlisted, they responded by announcing a ‘Spot Our Errors‘ contest which invites people to watch the show (surprise!) and spot all of the errors.
That’s all fine, but I think the actual problem in the first place is that we (as a military community) continue to demand rigid authenticity and militant adherence to things like uniforms in television and film, or we get bummed out. The military community is sensitive and doesn’t take well to outsiders (Hollywood) depicting them unless it is in a good light and there are no uniform errors.
A few years ago when The Hurt Locker came out (a movie I liked), folks in the military community, most prominently Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, criticized the film for not being realistic and depicting soldiers, especially the lead, as undisciplined and not representative of real soldiers. The movie went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards and for good or for ill, actually got some people thinking and talking about Iraq.
I’m trying to imagine how Enlisted might look if it were more ‘realistic.’ Probably pretty boring. And not very funny.
Timely, there is also this story which made the rounds over the weekend concerning comic Natasha Leggero who made a joke at the expense of Pearl Harbor veterans during a New Years Eve program. You can read the whole episode here, but essentially she made a joke, the military community attacked her for it, and she refuses to apologize. Good for her, I say.
Yes, I really hope Enlisted does well. We could all stand to take ourselves a little less seriously.
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