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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Think: The Modern-Day Exploitation of the U.S. Military - Part One

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We've all seen the YouTube videos and the TV shows revolving around the ever-present theme of military homecomings.  Spouses cry with happiness, children shriek with joy, and even dogs slobber with pure jubilation when their uniformed loved one comes home.  It strikes a chord in all of us collectively as a nation, and we feel that sharing that moment with those military members and their loved ones offers up a connection we wouldn't otherwise get.  They are feel-good stories, and while it is an incredibly emotional and wonderful experience for those parties involved, I have a bit of a different take on the situation because I actually consider it to be a form of exploitation.

I was recently watching a music video from Carrie Underwood titled “See You Again.”  In the video, Underwood showcases home footage from not just military homecomings, but other kinds as well.  There are countless other music videos just like hers, many with the focus solely on military homecomings.  It’s obvious that this particular video’s intent (I can’t attest to the song itself's actual intent having only heard it once) was to express that wonderful, fuzzy, warm feeling we all get at seeing loved ones reunited.  So why couldn't I help but cringe at each video clip of a military homecoming?
Now, don’t get me wrong.  I think it’s great that these artists are bringing attention to the fact that the military really does still exist (sadly, it’s all too easy to forget we are in the middle of a war and other conflicts around the globe) and that they deserve this nation’s undying support.  But perhaps it’s the cynic in me that can’t help but wonder at the artist’s true intent.  Is it to spread awareness for the plight of the military and their families, or is it just to make a buck?

Now, I have no idea where the profits of Ms. Underwood’s songs go to or the profits of other artists who also put out military-centric music.  Some of them may actually donate the profits of a particular song to military organizations, and if this is the case, I will be the first to stand up and applaud them.  Our military needs all kinds of support, and making music to drum up that support is a fantastic mission that deserves acknowledgment.  But it’s the artists that hold on to their profits that keep me cynical.  Unfortunately, this is how life is in a capitalistic society, which is why I tend to be surprised when I actually hear about those that donate their profits to a worthy cause.

Unfortunately, the media in general is no better when it comes to this situation.  Whether it’s a news station or cable television, military homecoming videos are guaranteed to drum up eyeballs and profits because everyone wants a little slice of that warm, fuzzy feeling these kinds of videos supply them.  But this isn't surprising either since, just like in the music industry, the media industry solely exists to make money as well.  Sadly, even journalistic organizations abide by this these days even though they’re supposed to be the watchdogs of the government.

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You may be asking by now, “But why is this a bad thing?  It just means people are trying to connect with military families and isn't that actually a good thing?”  Any kind of connection we can encourage and foster between the civilian community and the military community is wonderful.  The military community needs the recognition and understanding from its public so the public can be knowledgeable and informed about the experiences of “the 1%.” 

However, there is a distinct problem here because the American public is only receiving an incredibly romanticized view of what military life is like.  The basic understanding is, “Oh, this person was gone for a year serving our country and now they’re back and everything is great!”  It’s too simplistic and absolutely not representative of the effects that real deployments and real military separations have on military members and their families.  In those 30 second clips of a joyous reunion, we miss hours, days, weeks, and months of emotional turmoil, heartbreak, depression, emptiness, loneliness, and insanity.  We miss just how long a day can be when you’re separated from your loved one, and how time can sometimes slow to a crawl just when you need it to fast forward for a little while.

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And we also miss the moments of pride, love, joy, satisfaction, and yes, even happiness felt by spouses left behind who are able to push through on their own and accomplish amazing feats while worrying every single minute about their deployed loved one.  Deployments are complicated, multi-faceted, and above all, emotionally draining.  And the issues don’t necessarily end when your service member comes home, either, even if there was an amazing homecoming and a fantastic video to show for it.  Reintegration can actually be a huge hurdle for many families to overcome, especially if the service member comes home particularly troubled, but even if he or she doesn't.  You try reworking all of your well-laid routines you've had in place for months or a year at the drop of a hat to make room again for your spouse -- it’s hard!

There aren't easy answers or solutions when it comes to trying to solve the problem of the growing disconnect between the civilian world and the military world.  To even begin to understand the scope of the differences is a pretty large task and honestly quite intimidating.  Now, I'm not trying to make you boycott homecoming clips and TV shows or feel guilty for watching them.  Like I stated before, it actually does drum up support for our military, and that can be a really great thing.  But it is important to realize that behind those 30-second clips of love and happiness that we see on television are real life people with real life complications, pains, emotions, and triumphs.  We all must understand that this simplistic view offered to us via our media outlets is never the entire story, and we must also attempt to remember the sacrifices made by these real people and how these sacrifices are truly a gift to this country and its citizens.

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