Is this a high school all-star football game or a three-hour U.S. Army recruitment blitz of epic proportions?
[Just to be fair, I should say up-front that my concern in this post is with advertising, higher education, nationalism, militaristic rhetoric, and America’s youth… not football or individual players. If you’re looking for details on our top high school athletes, you’ll need to look elsewhere.]
Prior to Saturday’s first NFL Wild Card Game on NBC, the world was treated/subjected to the All-American Bowl, sponsored by the U.S. Army and San Antonio’s tourism industry.
It certainly makes sense that the Army would put up big sponsorship bucks for this game. For one thing, they’ve been falling well short of their needed recruitment numbers ever since the Iraq war began (and maybe much longer). Therefore the somewhat unsophisticated “heartland” teens and families who have a natural interest in watching this game are the heart of the U.S. Army’s target audience.
With the holidays and 2008 officially over, right about now all over America, millions of seniors who may or may not consider themselves college-type material are looking at the life transition coming up in June. They’re looking at their bank accounts, weighing their sale-able skills and job options, and wondering “How the heck am I gonna do this? What will I be, now that I’m supposedly a grown-up?”
So it behooves the Army to try catching the eye and ear of these “ripe”, concerned kids– who might not be panicking yet, but trust me, plenty of them are quietly nervous.
Thus– with big-time federal budget money, let’s not forget– the Army has plastered their Army “brand” and positive spin literally all over this high school all star game. “Army = All Stars= Awesome” is communicated everywhere : in the visuals, graphics and iconography, on and around the field, in boldface print on the kids’ uniforms, in the blatantly propagandist “wounded vet” and “heroic soldier” stories told by the game announcers, in the sideline interviews, in the impressively organized squads lined up for their photo op, in the halftime festivities, in the presentations of awards, and of course during the commercial breaks, the Army’s saturation of the senses and association with all things honorable and mainstream is actually quite impressive. If they could send the sweet scent of apple pie through my tv speakers, they’d do that as well.
We’re talking tens of millions of advertising and promotional dollars being spent here, people. One could say it’s just your tax money going toward building up our national security and feeding the economy (for NBC, San Antonio, and/or any other beneficiaries of all that production value). Or, and this is closer to where I stand, one could say it’s millions of dollars of useless P.R., all to prop up the rationale for an unnessary war and the nation’s overarching, old-school, and wrongheaded dependence upon violence or threat of violence to get things done, both here and abroad. Even if these are good things getting done (defeating despots, giving Islamic girls an equal shot at a decent education, building dams in New Orleans… ha!), it’s still sort of warped, the way that each generation gets suckered into believing that the military is the best or only agency to do them.
But the military-industrial complex and crass poloticians have got great message discipline, and they’re smart about what makes people tick, so they keep selling us these damaged goods, dressed up as patriotic and responsible, playing upon our fears instead of our better angels, and we keep buying
We buy because of our leaders’ severe poverty of imagination up till now (and here’s where I hope Obama will change the national atmosphere in a revolutionary way). Too many people with real money or power lack imagination, or lack trust in the people “on the ground”, the very people who’ve been kept ignorant for generations. So that lack of trust influences their spending on other (non-military) ways we can create jobs and train our young people, and the cycles of poverty continue.
Add in the federal government and Fortune 500’s lack of commitment to better science and engineering for its own sake (not it’s usefulness to keep the Soviets or Third World off our lawn, or to keep America fat and ignorant, …but ergonomically more comfortable). Now add in willful ignorance and a lack of awareness that peaceful problem-solving is actually more biblical, more widely effective in the long run, and cheaper (being preventative instead of crisis-driven).
Starting to see why there’s a need for the kind of rah-rah Army propaganda we saw on tv yesterday?
I’ve gone on too long already. Whether you agree or not, I’m sure you get the point. But for those who want nuts-and-bolts evidence for my interpretation above, I’ll include my edited notes below, written as I watched the game:
Gary Sinise -“trustworthy” voiceover talent for the current “Army Strong” campaign, which suggests, among other things, they’re an elite “corporation”// his Lt Dan Band & charitable work for vets is admirable, yet deflects attention from the military’s poor track record in cleaning up its own messes and staying faithful to those who’ve served. Ask a vet who has to deal with a VA hospital; most will admit it’s a pretty shoddy system.
ROTC scholarship given out on sideline, (“big check”) & other awards – all with the backdrop of seated soldiers (are they really “guests” if they’re ordered to be there?), dressed in those cool-looking camouflage uni’s and black berets
Sideline breakaway: $100K ROTC scholarship given –player’s going to college in Colorado, home of Air Force Academy and one of the strongholds of the conservative/military mindset. Would they give it to a Vermont kid? If so, would they do it on national tv, put him ahead of the Colorado-bound kid, and make him a kid who didn’t have family in the military?
Scholarship kid’s dad is also in service, now in Korea (what, not Afghanistan?… too unpopular…) –Implication: good enuf for Dad, good enuf for jr to follow in his footsteps… Kid: “see you soon, Dad” (not “Watch your six, Dad.”… too much reminder of the actual danger in militarized zones would hurt recruiting.)
Most commercial breaks also start w an Army or Army Reserves commercial.
Army rhetorical elements in : football uni’s , NBC specially designed grafx, announcers’ storytelling about meeting current soldiers, sideline segments, the San Antonio game location (Remember the Alamo!), painted on-field emblems, fronts of sideline stands, preferred colors everywhere (brownie-green & gold), “seeing stars” (primary logo for Army, stars’ presence alongside NBC logo, ‘all-star’ kids on field), big 5″ U.S. flags on player unis
Sideline interview: NBA Hall of Fame shoo-in Karl Malone (father of a senior soon to play college football… and also a well-known conservative) waxes romantic about Army “heroes” – the schmooze fest continues
Not pictured: reality of drug abuse, mental health and other probs being as high or higher in military (or in vets) as in gen pop
“Army Strong” tag line seen/heard over and over, and the bold font of “goarmy.com” plastered on the field — this motto plays to stereotypical attitudes that cooperation, creativity and sensitivity (feminine traits?) aren’t as virtuous as “strength”. –Implied message: “Wanna be strong, and conquer your problems or fears or enemies? Well then, Go Army!”
Sideline interview w/ NY Giant punter Jeff Feagles, and ESPN’s Mike Golic, former Notre-Damer/ Philly Eagle and co-king of morning sportsradio drivetime = more legitimization of Army as a brand… no diff than the Nutri-System diet food that Golic endorses, or the NFL, or ESPN, or big-time colleges (the cute Golic and Feagles kids –soon off to play college football themselves– were pictured in a golf cart together at age six or seven… say it with me now: “Awwww. Adorable!”).
Announcers regularly discussing college recruitment of these athletes, with the implication (nothing direct) being that the military is just another equally viable alternative to college for an 18-year-old deciding what to do next. Is this true demographically? Economically?… that real success or earning power are equally served by either active service or four-year college? Then why ain’t more rich kids enlisting?
Addendum: The Cardinals/Falcons wildcard game afterward on NBC featured a segment on former Arizona Cardinal Pat Tillman, who left the NFL to “fight terrorism” in Afghanistan. Game announcer Chris Collinsworth suggested he should be automatic for election to the NFL Hall of Fame when he comes eligible soon, despite a short career, and with no consideration for his stats. No mention was made of the fact that Tillman was killed by “friendly fire”– in other words, killed by some dumb-ass, gung-ho representative of the very nation Tillman intended to serve, the U.S.A. Here’s an idea: Let’s ask Pat which he’d prefer: to be voted into the Hall of Fame, or to be alive and have the Army shape up it’s clumsy, lying, exploitive ways (with its own people, not even counting the damage it does to the U.S. reputation and diplomatic goals in other nations).