Diogenes, Dogfaced Soldiers, and Deployment Music Videos

Author: Geoffrey Carter | Saginaw Valley State University | Bill Williamson: Designer

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Between Kings and Mutts

Using the videos considered by Comedy.com as “The 8 Best Videos Made By US Soldiers in Iraq,” I want to highlight the perverse dog-style attitude that was pioneered by Diogenes. Unlike Walt Disney’s cartoon bulldog (Rocky), which was commissioned by the leaders of the Third Infantry Division to reify the loveable sensibility of the “Dogface Soldier,” I submit that the soldiers’ music videos are a bit more unruly and mutt-like. In using YouTube to address their postcards home to no home in particular, these videos expose a mixed pedigree of laughter. But this mixed bag is also one that I must note up front is far from full. Omitted, for example, are two of the more famous videos by the Navy’s VAW-116 Sun Kings (“Hey Ya” and “Pump It”), which reveal an extremely coordinated and polished approach to making deployment videos. Rocky the Bulldog pictureWhether an entire squadron like the Sun Kings are capable of engaging in the kynicism that I am describing and illustrating using smaller platoons is open to question. Indeed, I include links to “Hey Ya” and “Pump It” so that Kairos readers might, among other things, determine for themselves whether the arguments I present below share anything with what I admit are impressive efforts that will no doubt inspire future deployment videos. As it stands, being showcased on such sites as Comedy.com means that the codification of these videos, perhaps by Disney or the military itself, is already underway. For just as Jean Baudrillard (1995) cynically asked “can war still be saved?” when our media threatens to reduce war to mere entertainment, we might ask whether the kynical resistance that I see in the following videos might be preserved in the face of such sleek examples like the Sun Kings (p. 32). I think they can, provided they do not reject their mutt rank (and stank!) in favor of identifying as a sleek Disney Dog purebred.

view video: Hey Ya
view video: Pump It


Without a doubt the most prominent symbol of what stinks about being in the military and being deployed overseas is the ubiquity of outhouses and latrines in almost all of the videos posted. Just as Diogenes employed stratagems that polite society would eschew—displays of urinating, defecating, and masturbating, for example—soldiers in these videos are not shy about filming themselves mimicking these behaviors. More than just teenage soldiers fascinated by “potty humor,” I want to suggest that there is a level of ingenuity to these videos that can be found in the juxtaposition of lyrics and barren living conditions. These tactics are in line with satirical visions of war as we might find in such movies like M*A*S*H (Preminger & Altman, 1970), Stripes (Goldberg & Reitman, 1981), and Good Morning, Vietnam (Brezner & Levinson, 1987). Indeed, even though many of the soldiers’ videos are based around dance sequences akin to Bill Murray’s irreverent drill scene in Stripes, I want to suggest that they offer what Davis and Vitanza (2005) called the “ethico-political alternative” of Diogenes’ bodily actions (p. 135). Adrian Cronauer from Good Morning VietnamAs Davis (2000) explained elsewhere, there is an ethics to setting things loooose (pp. 116, 231). As she noted, “Kynics do not fear fluidity” (p. 54, emphasis Davis). Sometimes we let loooose by using “rude, irreverent, blasphemous energy” (p. 53) as demonstrated by Robin Williams’ character in Good Morning, Vietnam: “The weather out there today is hot and shitty with continued hot and shitty in the afternoon. Tomorrow a chance of continued crappy with a pissy weather front coming down from the north."

view video: Good Morning, Vietnam
[clip remix]

Ever candid about what stinks, these soldiers have found a way to speak of their difficult situations through colorful expressions. As Paul Fussell (1989) described in Wartime, when a soldier is “habitually debased by language”—that is, when he is called “dogfaced” and forced to sleep in “pup-tents”—the “animalism is brought to his attention”; however, Fussell suggested that this language is also reversible, demonstrated when he stresses the idiom that emerges through the “willing degradation” by soldiers themselves (p. 92). All this is the flip side of doing one’s duty. Murray’s Stripes character said, “There’s no animal that’s more faithful, that’s more loyal, more loveable than the mutt.” Murray further emphasized the point when he touched the nose on a fellow soldier’s dogface for proof that it is cold just like a dog’s. He taps into a sentiment that gets to the heart of the not-quite-darkness that defines kynicism. Like Major General Truscott, Murray is using the idea of being “mutts,” of being the underdogs, to foster group cohesiveness. But he goes one step further, saying, we’re all dogfaces; we’re all very, very different, but there is one thing we have in common: ”we were all stupid enough to enlist in the Army....there’s something seriously wrong with us – we’re soldiers. But we’re American soldiers!” While alternately touting individuality, small group cohesiveness, and being part of the larger system, Murray’s character eJohn Winger in Stripesnables his fellow soldiers to complete the duties they are required to undertake despite none of them having a true calling to do so. The point of this scene illustrates the kynical power of one’s willing degradation as a dog.

view video: Stripes

In turning from Hollywood to our amateur military moviemakers, I want to first consider the work of Capt. Justin Simmons and Capt. Josh Houck, two Air Force Officers who admittedly enjoy shorter and relatively more comfortable deployments than many. Nevertheless, their video points to some of the difficult aspects of their duty, and in the process they reveal their penchant for kynical humor. Their video “This Is Why I’m Hot (Deployed Style)” remixes rap star Shawn Mims’ popular 2007 song about being sexually attractive and references “hotness” in a more literal way, commenting on the extreme temperatures of Iraq. Although there are numerous shots of the soldiers looking “cool” at the pool with their aviator shades, the real humor of this video is all the literal “hot” references. Lyrics like “my head is nice and tan, but my legs are pasty white” and the numerous sequences of water drinking offer a humorous commentary on the desert environment. At the end of the video, Simmons and Houck point to all the people who have gone home from deployment—and therefore are no longer “hot” geographically or “hot” in the sense of being pulled to the front from the rear—but, for me, the humor is the overall sense that these soldiers, too, would prefer to be home. That is, they’d like to be geographically cool, but in lieu of that, they settle for being kynically cool. Like Diogenes, however, these “Hot Dog” pilots have kynically embraced both the “hot” ethos of military characters like Maverick and Goose in Top Gun but are also, paradoxically, playing it “cool” by poking fun at their own situations. Rather than becoming cynical and depressed, they use hip-hop to kynically re-invent their time overseas. As Fussell (1989) argued, the “predominant wartime emotion, boredom” is something that few novels concerning World War II capture (p. 291), but in the age of YouTube videos we are privy both to the hot zone of war—the constant barrage of headlines of soldiers “bringing the heat”—but now, in videos like “This Is Why I’m Hot (Deployed Style),” we recognize the daily weight of days as soldiers shuffle off to the DFAC (77) [Dining Facility] to dine during the long dog days of war.

view video: This is Why I'm Hot (Deployed Style)

In another YouTube video, hip-hop kynicism can be found right on the surface. If we move from the “This Is Why I’m Hot” stylings to the remix of Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” (Van Winkle, 1990), we find an opening shot of Army military police officers mimicking a raid, which quickly morphs into exaggerated versions of once-popular dance moves. The kynical humor of this video can be found in the ice-breaking juxtaposition of the song’s opening line: “All right, stop, collaborate, and listen” with the soldiers stopping, collaborating, listening, and then dancing. These lyrics ape the kind of stilted language NCOs often impose on junior soldiers, and the fact that this group of privates calls itself the “Fantastic 14” only adds to the opening sequence’s humor. Of course, Vanilla Ice’s song is often mocked for its use of over-the-top street scene lyrics like “gunshots rang out like a bell / I grabbed my nine all I heard were shells,” and yet, when soldiers lip sync these words, they take on a different resonance. Consider that soldiers do, in fact, often hear hard casings falling to the ground as real-life violence takes place. In the face of such stark reality, these videos show that the soldiers refuse to take themselves and their conditions too seriously. At one point in the video, for example, all the soldiers are massed inside a port-a-potty. They emerge from what can only be described as a shitty situation dancing the best they know how. Even if the commentary is little more than a nod to the old fraternity trick of putting as many brothers as possible into a phone booth, I want to suggest that the choice of the location where they are collectively crammed speaks in ways Diogenes could well appreciate. As Fussell (1989) wrote, the word “shit” is “indispensable” to a soldier: “It is not just an all-purpose expletive but a device for registering a general knowing disdain” (p. 91). As much as the soldiers ham it up for the camera, I believe that videos like these reveal more than they intend. To be sure, some of this film is likely a tribute to the Fantastic 14’s staff sergeant, who has provided skills that will keep them alive. Still, in a more basic sense, the mock-Vanilla violence offers something different from the more horrifying images that someone like Michael Moore uses in Fahrenheit 9/11 (Czarnecki & Moore, 2004). In that movie’s infamous tank sequence, soldiers blow up buildings and those inside to the thrashing of death metal music. In my view, Moore’s sequence underscores how popular culture lends itself to our cynical understanding of war. Who knew Vanilla Ice’s appropriation of Queen’s catchy bass line would one day offer kynical soldiers a way to cool off in the desert?

view video: Ice Ice Baby

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