Men and women in the military are like adorable little puppies to the media and corporate America. They are the imagery of last resort for deflecting criticism or of first resort for shameless pandering. "I know our corporate practices border on sociopathy, but just look at this picture of our brave soldiers!" is the unspoken message in a lot of advertising. Especially Wal-Mart advertising.
That commercial has nothing to do with Wal-Mart. It tells you nothing about its products, services, prices, or policies. It's just sentimental pap, a cheap effort to bypass logic and score points on an emotional level. After all, you Support the Troopstm, right? So does Wal-Mart!
At an NHL game with my dad on Tuesday evening (Blackhawks-Sharks; holy crap is Joe Thornton impressive in person) the action was interrupted with a Jumbo-tron shot of Sergeant So-and-So of the United States Army, today's "Salute to the Armed Forces Featured Guest, brought to you by Boeing" (seriously). Responding like dogs to meat, the crowd applauded. Then they cheered a little as the camera zoomed in. By the time his face filled the screen the crowd of 21,000 was on its feet cheering wildly. The enthusiastic standing ovation lasted a full 30 seconds. I sat, chin in hand, slightly disgusted by the spectacle. Yes, I understand the concepts of jingoism, Pavlovian response, and Supporting the Troopstm. But I couldn't help but wonder what exactly these people were cheering.
Were they thanking him for making us all safer, for a job well done? Given the dubious success of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and our continued vulnerability to terrorist attacks I'm skeptical. Do people think he is deserving of a round of applause for joining the military? Perhaps, although many people make that decision – or have it made for them – with less than noble intentions. No, I think I witnessed a lot of guilt and a very predictable social desirability effect.
Isn't that what over-the-top Supporting the Troopstm is really all about – guilt? The guiltier one feels for swallowing the pre-Iraq bullshit without an iota of critical thinking, the more likely one is to plaster the SUV with yellow ribbons and talk loudly and frequently about one's undying respect for Our Brave Men and Women Overseas (patent pending). Once one person stands up in a crowd and lets loose an enthusiastic show of Supporttm, others are bound to follow. Who will risk remaining in his or her seat and being easily identified as someone who fails to Support the Troopstm with sufficient vigor?
Like people who make a very public show of praying, donating to charity, or helping friends and neighbors, people who go overboard with their troops-supporting are a toxic cocktail of guilt, shame, vanity, and attention-seeking. What offers more Supporttm, jumping to one's feet and madly applauding an image on a Jumbo-tron or doing something tangible to help a member of the armed forces? I bet the 21,000 people in that stadium are more generous with their applause than they are with care packages, USO donations, letters to lonely enlisted people, and engagement with political issues like the treatment afforded to veterans when active duty comes to an end. Which is more Supportivetm, having an "America, Fuck Yeah!" moment in an effort to one-up the Patriot seated next to you at a hockey game or working toward a political means of bringing the armed forces home and out of harm's way?
I did not participate, which is sad because I honestly believe that Sgt. So-and-So deserves a thank you and a pat on the back. I just get nauseous at the idea of playing along with a crowd of people whose knee-jerk psychological response to images of the military is to explode into cheers or tears to fulfill social expectations or assuage guilt – the intense, persistent guilt of knowing that one is responsible for putting soldiers in danger and is in fact doing nothing to actually support them.