Archive for January, 2014

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In observance of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, I want to acknowledge the impact of King’s work through nonviolent means.  King did not drop bombs or fire bullets, nor did he advocate others who did such things.  Instead, he influenced the world through the power of his words that spoke against the inequality in the world.  The actions he took did not include nor require violence, and people indeed learned valuable lessons from these actions that would help to change society.  One of the most essential components to King’s work was his communication through the media.  King knew how to communicate powerful messages that gained attention of the people who needed to hear them.  And the entire world heard what he had to say, and in time these messages would help to change the world.

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Even in the face of great hostility, King learned how to channel the anger and opposition of those who sought to bring him down and transform it into a force of change.  One of the most impressive campaigns that King helped to coordinate as part of the Civil Rights Movement was in Birmingham, Alabama.  Like many other towns in the South during this era, Birmingham was known for its great hostility towards the Civil Rights Movement, notably proclaimed by the city’s public safety commissioner, Bull Connor.  Connor did not fear to make his point of view very vocal and would stop at nothing to ensure the Civil Rights Movement was suppressed by the most violent means.  Rather than attack the raging Bull, King found a way to amplify these comments and actions through local media, capturing every hateful remark from Connor and every incident of violence towards Negros in Birmingham.  The images captured through media made their way to national television and gained the attention of President John F. Kennedy, who then took action to stop such violence in the southern States.

With this, King formed an effective way to take the opposing side’s own words and proclaim then to the world in order to gain support for the Civil Rights Movement.  People became sympathetic towards those protesting for equality, and ironically with his hateful speech Bull Connor essentially sealed his fate.  Bull Connor arguably became just as influential to the civil rights movement as Martin Luther King, Jr. was, something Connor swore his soul against.  King did all of this through effective images and communication through the media, and the same can be done today.  With the tools we have these days, such a phenomenon could be achieved at an even more rapid rate.  It’s all about finding the right target and communicating the right messages. The next revolutions awaits…

I remember in 2009 when I was completely shocked that The Hurt Locker won the Academy Award for Best Picture. From talking to all of my Army friends who saw the movie, you would think that such a movie could have only been so well received on another planet.  Everyone who I talked to said that it was horrible, unrealistic, and “an insult to anyone who has ever served.” I wondered how a movie so badly received by veterans could possibly win so many awards.  The crazy thing was that it won any awards, a stark contrast to the many other Iraq and Afghanistan movies released in the 2000s that received a muted response.  Either this was the nail in the coffin for military films or something strange was going on.

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To this day, I still haven’t seen the Hurt Locker in its unedited entirety – mostly because I’m too cheap to pay money to see it.  However, I have seen several other movies that have attempted to tell the stories of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many of them seem to fall flat on their face.  I can name off a laundry list of critical comments for these movies, from bad acting to lack of a coherent storyline.  However, the number one criticism among veterans who view these movies seems to fall into a common theme: inaccuracy.  If you sit  any vet down in front of a TV show or movie portraying the military, the first thing most of them will do will be to point out how jacked up the setting, the equipment, and of course the uniforms are.  Some have even made it all into a drinking game – drink whenever Col. Troutman walks into a room still wearing his beret, or when Rambo eats an MRE with his knife!  The fun never ends.

Frankly, I’ve become so sick of all the inaccuracies myself that I’ve immediately become skeptical of whether I can even pay for a ticket to see another military movie.  And to add to the mix, this is the week that Fox’s new sitcom, Enlisted, premieres in the primetime slot.  I first heard about this show through the Army Times, and immediately the promo picture of the three brothers and their out-of-regs haircuts caught my eye.  Like many other readers of the Army Times, I was initially furious and had a critical view of the show.  I predicted that it would be destined to fail – and I hadn’t even seen it yet!

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Yes, there was much critical reception way back in September, and in such a situation most Hollywood producers would have thrown in the towel.  However, the producers of Enlisted instead responded in a way that I would have never expected.  First of all, they admitted that they got a lot of things wrong in the pilot, particularly with the wear and appearance of the uniform.  To follow up, Geoff Stults appeared on a Youtube video acknowledging these flubs and then offered viewers the chance to point out every detail that the show gets wrong.  And according to multiple interviews with the creator of the show, Kevin Biegel, he is making it his mission to get the fine details right as the show pays homage to the veterans in his family.  Now is that some fine public relations work or what?

What is most ironic here is that the situation of inaccuracy in Hollywood’s military productions doesn’t seem to be something that would bring veterans together with joy.  Pointing out uniform violations isn’t exactly what most people would consider bonding, but in a way maybe it is.  Perhaps it is productions like these that can enable a young private to test out how much he knows about AR 670-1, or give a good laugh to some veterans reminiscing on the good ole days, even if it’s just picking fun at the way the “SF” guys wear their berets.  I’m sure cops and doctors do it all the time with shows that attempt to portray their professions.

Despite all the hot discussion, the point is not all about bringing people together over things that aren’t quite accurate.  The small little detailed mistakes are only small potatoes.  The bigger, and ironically more emotional point is that there is a lighter side of the service that does exist, and that story needs to be told as well, especially after so many shows and movies have only focused on the intense action and despair.  Sure that is something that many veterans have experienced, but that’s only about 10% of the time.  The other 90% was all about keeping yourself occupied on a hot day, opening packages from family, watching really bad movies in the TOC (you think we actually worked the entire time?), trading MRE goodies, making masks out of propane tanks, singing karaoke in your truck, and just enjoying the company of your buddies.  Hey, why do you think Ice-T made Friday? Because he wanted to show the lighter side of the hood.  And the same exists in the military.  Let’s face it, no show or movie will ever be 100% accurate, but that’s the way storytelling is.  Just like the story of LT Spears, the more people who tell the story the more stretched out the details get.

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M*A*S*H, Stripes, Sergeant Bilko, F Troop, and Major Dad all brought the lighter side of military life to the spotlight, and you can bet your next paycheck that NONE of those productions were 100% correct when it came to grooming standards or wear & appearance of the uniform.  I hope that Enlisted will be a step in the right direction to bring back the fun of being in the military.  It’s just a shame that they won’t be able to say my favorite quote from Vietnam veteran, Jerry Williamson on TV: “I see the mistake: you enlisted! Get in the fucking tank!”