The Free State
"Man, in a word, has no nature. What he has is - history."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Army Recruitment Vids

Inspired by a crackin' post on Army recruitment commercials from around the world from Starbuck including retro 1980s American ads and some quality British ads. I decided to make my own.

First, an understated and sober French ad celebrating the national mystique. While the spot may give the soldier's career a certain abstract glory, I think it fails. The battles cited include Gergovia (!), where the Gauls succeeded in pushing back Caesar's legions. The relevance of the thing is somewhat undermined by the following battle at Alesia which the Gauls lost, paving the way for Roman administration, Latinization and the birth of the French language. Rather than Gergovia, it is Alesia which marks the starting point of French history, a military defeat (with a similar place for the Battle of Hastings in English history). They also list Austerlitz, a battle not for "peace" or "French security," but the moment France subjugated Europe... and another step in Napoleon's imperial excesses that would lead him to national disasters in wars with England, Spain and Russia. The concluding passage with "Afghanistan," instead of giving French participation in that war a noble air, seems rather to emphasize how very irrelevant that will seem in the long run.

A similar but much more effective ad calling for U.S. Army officers. It is quite amazing how much glory they pack into 1 minute: Washington crossing the Hudson, MacArthur in the Pacific, Teddy Roosevelt's charge, the liberation of Europe, the conquest of space... The whole thing linking these legends with contemporary issues through General Petraeus and his "good war" in Iraq, the advancement of women and minorities, and of course self-improvement and leadership (be the best you can be, etc).

"Citizen Soldiers," a National Guard ad that also taps into the national mystique. This time, however, with a hard rock band and lavish reenactments of the War of Independence and the Second World War. A reflection of different budgets? And, as if the nobility of past glorious wars seems too distant, the ad is spliced with contemporary soldiers saving American civilians in the aftermath of a (natural?) disaster. (Cue Haiti.) But more than more than just being humanitarians, the Army is libertarian: "We are free... because of the brave." A statement that may be true at certain specific points in history but is rather misleading given the role armies usually play.

The persistent glorification of war and the existence of a military-industrial complex are relatively recent phenomena in American history. Armies are by necessity as bureaucratic, hierarchical, and indeed despotic organizations as exist in the world. They are at odds with many American values including anti-State prejudice, "negative" liberty, individualism and so forth. A military has no use for these values. I find this ad ("At This Moment") a fascinating mesh combining the sublime, collectivist aesthetic of Soviet socialist realism with some values of American society (self-improvement, saving American families post-disaster). In the Soviet Union, military-bureaucratic values imbued the whole society, for understandable reasons.

Recruiters attempt to keep up with the times. Over the decades, changes have included a greater emphasis on minorities and women, use of pop culture (notably music), and a shift towards individualism (mottos tending to change from some variant of "Protect the Nation" to "You Be the Best"). This legendary, infamous and criminally bad "Marine Defeats Fire Monster" ad captures more of the Spirit of Age than anything I can imagine... Are kids who are going to sign up through appeals to World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings really going to be good with their rifles and tanks in some sand swept Iraqi city or the "tribal" villages of Afghanistan?

Of course, if slaying a poorly-rendered CGI Balrog wasn't enough to make you eyes bleed be sure to check these Japanese navy ads (one and two). An accurate reflection of a society?! Someone needs to do a Ph.D. thesis on this stuff.


Blogger Wyatt said...

I truly did not see those Japanese ads coming. *Hilarious*

Good post btw (so is the one before)

8:20 AM  

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