IRRATIONAL EXUBERANCE

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.

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27 Responses to “IRRATIONAL EXUBERANCE”

  1. Comhradh Says:

    Ahh, the old jingoistic frenzy. I remember being at a Flyers-Devils game at the Meadowlands with 20,000 of my best friends who were whipped into a mindless, mouth-frothing lather by George W. Bush announcing that he was gonna kill us sum A-rabz a week before the "liberation" of Iraq commenced.

  2. You can call me, 'Sir' Says:

    When I was in the military, I used to get uber-uncomfortable around people that made a spectacle of thanking me for doing something that was basically why I joined in the first place. This also explains why so many of the commercials and marketing whatnot currently flying around the country are borderline insulting to a lot of people that I know who are still serving. A common refrain goes that if people want to thank them, they can send them a new iPod to replace the one that the sand ended up destroying or, as you stated, a care package. Some of the best care packages I remember included a lot of books, magazines, and as much food as possible. You spend a lot of the time sitting and waiting, so having decent reading material saves the sanity.

    The bottom line, as you stated, is that all of the big commercials and massive WWE 'tributes' are designed to make others feel good and the majority of those in harm's way understand this.

  3. Kulkuri Says:

    Whenever I see troops at sporting events or on the morning shows, I have mixed feelings. On one hand I'm glad they are being recognized (and I hope they at least got free tickets), but on the other hand I have this sick feeling about how they are being used. It was different when I was in during 'Nam. Never had any active animosity towards me, more like strangers would slowly move away after finding out I was in the military. Now it is like politicians and corporations are going through the motions of thanking the troops, but it is only to further their own self interest.

    Whenever I see a bunch of flags and/or magnetic ribbons, my first thought is the old saying. "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

  4. jazzbumpa Says:

    I had a similar experience at the Lions game Sunday. (Yes, the sorry freaquing Lions. It's what we have.)

    Unlike you, I participated. Certainly not out of guilt, though. I was vocally anti- Bush before he was appointed president, and against his stupid, unjustifiable war.

    There is some deep psychology going on, with that ghastly Walmart (god do I hate fucking Walmart) add, and the rah-rah bullshit as well. But I really don't see guilt as part of the mix. That would require introspection, or at least some self-awareness that strike me as being utterly lacking.

    I think people just respond to cheer-leading. and us 'Merkins do love us some war.
    Just don't make us look at the caskets coming home.

    And we (meaning the lovely wife, who actually thinks about these things) have sent quite a few care packages. Food – send them food. Home made cookies are a guaranteed success.

    Well – happy holidays, anyway.
    JzB

  5. Truly Grateful Says:

    To me, it's a 'do what you feel' thing. There are several vets in history that served proudly and thought they were doing their patriotic best being put into a bad situation that they didn't want to be in, having to do things that would make any sane person crazy…who also thought that they would get thanked for their service when they got home, but instead got spit on, called names, etc. Don't get me wrong. I see your point of view as far as commercialism and using the idea of patriotism as a reason to give my money to this place or that and it makes me sick. But let's not deminish what our service men and women do for us. As for me, I thank all service men and women for standing up for me. I have no guilt for not serving. It's choice, which is what this country is made up of. They choose to stand for me, for whatever reason – it's not important…and I will back them at any moment and praise them for a job well done…even if the Commander in Chief or their superiors are making them do something that I think is ludacris. This country is in a habit of blaming a whole group of people for the bad behavior of a few, then making sarcastic comments about it which diminishes the achievements of the majority of the individuals.

    Thank you to everyone that puts a 100% into whatever they do that makes this country not half bad to live in…even if it isn't perfect.

  6. Pan Sapiens Says:

    Guilt, maybe… but come on, Ed. Where were you when you saw this display? A sporting event? And why were you there? To, I don't know,experience the vicarious thrill of will to power, and some righteous ass-whooping? Never underestimate the power of empathy – especially when it means you get to kick some pretend ass.

  7. Andrew Says:

    Well said, Ed. I have an aversion for patriotic displays of any sort. I am also of the opinion that citizenship and patriotism are not necessarily compatible, a notion that shocks some of my friends, for some reason. I cannot say that a citizen cannot be a patriot, but rather that patriotism seems to short-circuit the reasoning a citizen requires for civil participation.

    (BTW, as an aside to your earlier post about texting, when I post on a site like this, I bring up Dictionary.com to verify my spelling. Specifically, I was not sure I spelled "compatible" correctly. I just find that correct spelling and punctuation is respectful, and a discipline I take some pride in.)

  8. Truly Grateful Says:

    Andrew,

    I'm sure you were referring to my response. I found a few errors in my spelling after I posted. Yes, I did a "DRAT!" and at that moment wished that I hadn't posted in haste and had run a spell check, but I'm not perfect.

  9. Da Moose Says:

    The jingoistic need to try to relive the glory of WWII and reshape or Vietnam shame by calling everyone in the military heroes is sickening. They are not heroes. They are simply front row witnesses to the spastic end of American empire. This topic is the one political topic that gets me most heated besides our screwed up relationship with Israel. The US military in its current form is perhaps the primary example of the depth of our current pedigree of American hypocrisy. The staunchest right wing supporter of the military, the kind of person who supports the global American empire, is the same person who doesn't want government in their business but is happy to let American forces get involved in other’s business. This contradiction exposes key flaws in many Americans' understanding of basic political practices. And, don't even get me started on how our only industry is war making now. I have no sympathy or gratitude for Sergeant "I can't think for myself" Smith. He's just a monkey who happens to know how to clothe himself and regularly keep his ass clean….somewhat. Man, this topic gets me fucking pissed.

  10. creature Says:

    As a veteran (Vietnam Era), I shudder at the unbridled, often misdirected patriotic hysteria. I recall the scenes from the original '1984' movie- the 30 second (sic) Hate portions. The text of the book is just as compelling. I get uncomfortable when I get 'thanked for my service'. I get the impression that the same sort of 'Team America- Fuck Yeah' mentality is just an evolution of the situations where a bunch of white guys talk about 'them' and 'they…', and the conversation ends up in racist, homophobic and sexist jokes and comments- all offensive and disgusting, and the assumption that I am 'one of the guys'- until I express my displeasure- I point out that I'm a Jew (non-practicing, non-believing, but who cares?), or my youngest child is transgendered, or that I grew up in a racially mixed community and dated women of different races, or that I was a union officer, that I volunteer in community services, or that I speak fluent Spanish, or my mother's parents fled anti-Semitic persecution in the South or my father's parents were First World War refugees to the US from Germany, that I don't drink or smoke weed or drive like a maniac in a big gas-hog vehicle. Yeah, somehow, I feel left out by the jingoist, mindless, 'Patriotism'. I don't need a magnetic sticker to let everyone know I am a wonderful sunuvabitch. I just do quasi-wonderful stuff as a matter of normal functioning. Part of the solution, not contributing to the problem, that's been my approach to life for many years now.

  11. duquesne_pdx Says:

    /delurk

    John Rogers talked about this phenomenon a couple of years ago:

    http://kfmonkey.blogspot.com/2006/05/lions-led-by-donkeys.html

    It's appropriate to the discussion and worth a read. The Cliff's Notes version: Jingoism does not equal patriotism, and criticism of the suits in charge doesn't equal criticism of the troops.

    /relurk

  12. jim Says:

    I hear this "Support the Troups" a lot and every time I remember that we all put about 1/3 of our Federal taxes into supporting them. So no matter what you do or feel you are supporting the troops.

  13. JohnR Says:

    There's also a touch of the "shout out your faith on streetcorners" approach to religion in that stuff; an indication that greater volume and public visibility make your devotion that much more real and more important than your neighbors'. Of course the soldiers are simply props being cynically used for PR benefit. Of course the troops and their welfare are completely unimportant to the people doing the 'using' – it's all about self-interest and self-benefit. I turn it into the moral equivalent of a drinking game, myself – whenever I find myself disgusted by some flag-waving exercise in fake patriotism, I use that as a reminder to send a contribution to the USO, or make up a care package or in some other way try to make a personal effort to assist, no matter how small, and no matter how much I disagree with the foolish ego-driven military adventures were stuck with.

  14. Sarah Says:

    I'm glad to know that Wal-Mart supports the troops. Especially considering that they'll have their customers arrested for having the temerity to shop while gay.

  15. Nan Says:

    I'm with you, Ed. The faux patriotism and mindless cheerleading turns my stomach. To me, slapping a yellow ribbon on a car or cheering someone's image at a hockey game doesn't qualify as supporting the troops in general.

    We don't put 1/3 of our taxes into supporting our troops; we put 1/3 of our taxes into supporting Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, et al. If the tax dollars really went to support the troops they'd be fighting with decent equipment, the base housing (both barracks and family quarters) would be in good condition, and there wouldn't be military families having to apply for Food Stamps or signing up for Christmas baskets from charities. I have no problem with my tax dollars going to pay enlisted personnel a living wage; I do have a major problem with those dollars going to purchase F-22s and other high tech boondoggles.

    Also, keep in mind we've got an economic draft going on. It may be a volunteer military, but a lot of the young people enlisting are doing so because the economy is in the crapper and the Army offers a steady paycheck. Look around — how many people do you see signing up who come from comfortably middle-class or upper income families? I've had colleagues recoil in horror when I've suggested to them that maybe their teenage children should consider doing a stint in the military before college — they support the troops all right, as long as the troops consist of other people's kids.

  16. Comrade PhysioProf Says:

    I love sports, and it makes me fucking sick the way professional sports teams, leagues, and–most vomit-inducing–pampered teevee blitherers tie themselves to the Troops (TM) like a motherfucking string of tin cans clanking along the road behind the car of a newlywed couple. Mike and Mike are the absolute fucking worst with their slavering gun-sniffing.

    It's the same thing with latching on to "disease awareness" crapola. Mike and Mike make a huge fucking dealio every year about Coaches for Cancer and blather on and on endlessly about how important it is for their listeners to support this charity.

    A couple years back, this Coaches for Cancer shit was going on right at exactly the same time that the United States Congress was debating the Health and Human Services appropriations bill, and whether to increase NIH funding, which includes the National Cancer Institute. I sent an e-mail to Mike and Mike explaining that the entire research budget of Coaches for Cancer is a pittance compared to the potential NCI increase that was being debated in the Congress, and that if they really cared about cancer research, they should exhort their listeners to call their Congresspeople and tell them that they are in favor of the NIH budget increase.

    Do you think they even for one fucking second considered doing this, or that I even received a reply to my e-mail? Fuck no. Because they don't give a single fucking shit about cancer, or the troops, or anyfuckingthing other than self-righteously aggrandizing themselves about "making a difference".

    The National Cancer Institute doesn't invite teevee douchebags to some rubber chicken dinner event where they can show their greasy ugly mugs on teevee yet again with some sick kid looking up at them worshipfully, and so they don't give a single flying fuck.

    I love professional sports, but I fucking hate the douchebag teevee motherfuckers and the nasty-ass sleazy corporate marketing garbaggio associated with it.

  17. Blakenator Says:

    Well said. As a retired Naval officer, I don't like these types of displays because they are insincere feel good crap for unthinking morons. I think the last sentence in the post reflect my sentiment quite well. My take on "support the troops" is get them out of these useless military adventures. As some of the comments already made, I elected to make it a career because I was having a great time doing a job I really liked. I don't regard myself as any sort of heroic figure.

  18. waldo Says:

    'brought to you by Boeing' …you mean Boeing Military Aircraft & Missile Systems, with military contracts valued at $11,443,929,566 in '08 ~ '09? That Boeing? 'Support the Troops' is their advertising jingle.

    "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron. ~Dwight D. Eisenhower

  19. Cat Assistant Says:

    OH! OH! YOU ARE SO RIGHT! sorry for the caps but I am so in agreement.
    I don't know if I've ever really seen anyone say such things (I do get around, so that's odd) but I've thought them all my life.
    It's embarrassing and a little disgusting and I finally started saying "I don't support the troops." Nobody forced them to join the military. It's a job like mine. (It's true some people it's one of their limited choices, and I do feel for them, but I would like to think that nobody is truly forced by circumstance to join the military and kill or be killed).

  20. comrade x Says:

    No, they are not forced to join the military, but for a lot of young men and women, that is their only way out of a crappy life, now that our patriotic, flag- lapel- pin wearing ruling class has made going to college or getting a decent paying job out of high- school an impossibility. So i don't get down on them for joining up in order to better themselves.
    But still, I am in agreement with the comment " What do i have to thank you for?" I don't buy that shit that our armed forces are fighting terrorists ( though they made plenty). They sure as shit aren't fighting for freedom, ours or anyone else's. And only the most ignorant among them- mostly officers- believe that. Notice that these corporate fucks never interview an African- American or a Latino soldier or Marine. They know the score.
    Also, the term " volunteer" military is misleading. The Continental Army of the Revolution and the armies of the Civil War were composed of volunteers. Our current military is really a 21st century version of the British Army of the Redcoats- an army of professionals, who choose the military as a career, not as a necessary duty. We even have our own Hessians in the form of military contractors.
    Professional armies are the primary coercive instruments of imperialism ( many of the Founders thought so). Our current forays into Iraq and Afghanistan are no more a defense against a threat than those of Britain into Zululand or, well, Afghanistan.
    (

  21. OliverWendelHolmslice Says:

    Thank you for eloquently expressing the frustration I feel at every Yankee game during the 7th inning when we are all subjected to a mandatory 1984 style rendition of "God Bless America" for no reason.

    I came here for baseball.

    When the 7th inning rolls around, I want to sing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame", then run to the bathroom, grab my 2 beer per person limit and race back to my seat.

    No politics at sporting events! Thank you!

  22. Mark Says:

    This is a little off topic, but do you know what is really going through the minds of those Marines in that Walmart commercial? I guarantee it is less child-like wonder and more: "F&#$! This place is going to become a muddy s^%#-hole again! I hate Iraq!"

  23. Aslan Maskhadov Says:

    Hmmm….I wonder how many civilians Sergeant So-and-So killed, or how many sex slaves he fucks when he's on R&R in Korea or Germany.

    The thing is that yes there is a "poverty draft", but in actuality joining the military is a far worse option. I joined the military for economic reasons and wound up nowhere. In the end what got me to where I wanted to be had absolutely nothing to do with my worthless time in the military. Had I been sent to Iraq and killed, I guess I wouldn't understand it, but I would have deserved it.

  24. scribe Says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSLAIKjT7y8
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vfNDkoJuGPU#t=30s

    Most Marines agree.

  25. daisyfae Says:

    professional (hell, even collegiate) sports are our modern day gladiators — what warriors did in between wars. there does seem to be a connection. NASCAR = AMERICAN PRIDE = SOLDIERS… less so with WalMart.

    i have a somewhat mixed reaction to such displays — and i DO think some of this is blowback guilt from the way we treated vietnam vets. the failure of american culture to yet recognize that we can appreciate the efforts of the soldiers while disagreeing with the policies that kicked them into play.

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