Hollywood has our number
Published: May 22, 2012
Look out, military world. Hollywood has our number. It’s the latest in lapel-wear for celebs and news anchors. Tom Hanks has one, as do Claire Danes, Brian Williams and Steven Tyler. They and many others are sporting a golden “6” pin, representing “Got Your 6,” a newly launched entertainment industry push to support the U.S. military.
The campaign was officially launched this month, but seeds of the movement were planted last year by the national volunteer organization ServiceNation, aided by the Clinton Global Initiative and the White House.
The “Got Your 6” website says the campaign intends “to reintroduce military veterans and culture to all Americans,” using entertainment industry tools, such as programming, celebrity endorsements and “Got Your 6” T-shirts and pins. They also plan events and service opportunities to bring civilians and veterans together.
As I’ve written before, I’m willing to believe that prominent people want to reach out to U.S. servicemembers. But I admit to some skepticism about this ambitious campaign by an industry better known for narcissism and sensationalism than for military enthusiasm and tenacity.
Actors who may or may not have threatened to leave the country based on election results a few years back are now making earnest support-the-troops PSAs. Cognitive dissonance, anyone? They may rescind their support when an election doesn’t go their way, but the troops will still serve.
As for connecting civilians with military life via television, I’m not encouraged by the news that the same production company responsible for Snooki and her ilk is touting “Military Wives of San Diego.”
The company’s online casting recruitment invites: “If your life as a military wife is worthy of being shared with millions, then you should apply.” Questions on the survey for potential military spouse stars include, “Describe your current romantic life/sex life.” The same company is also trawling for undiscovered stars for potential shows called "Tattoo Nightmares" and "Pregzillas." And they want to tell our stories? Color me ambivalent.
I am glad the “Got Your 6” effort believes military stories are worthy of sharing. The story-telling needs to go beyond reality TV. Offering military spouses a shot at 15 episodes of fame sounds more like exploitation than support. I worry that military characters will become military caricatures. On-screen portrayals too easily become the stereotypes, and there is no single type of military spouse or family.
Oprah Winfrey Network is set to air “Married to the Army: Alaska,” a show about military families currently in production. The questionnaire and recruitment publicity for that show are more circumspect, asking spouses, for example, “If you could change one thing about how the American public sees you, what would it be?”
I would change the media’s myopic focus on stories — real or reality TV — that portray returning troops as combat-damaged; military families as victims; or military life as one long hardship tour. I would like the American public to get to know us in places other than movies or news stories. I would like the good and noble to be told as often as the tragic and the sensational.
Few Americans missed the shocking story of Robert Bales, a soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians in March. The story needed to be reported, but not analyzed for weeks in the absence of new facts. On the other hand, how many news stories were aired or written about Dennis Weichel, a soldier who died saving an Afghan child from being run over by an MRAP just days after Bales’ arrest?
An impressive list of military-focused nonprofits have partnered with “Got Your 6,” including the USO, American Red Cross, Bob Woodruff Foundation, Blue Star Families, Military Child Education Coalition and many others. These organizations can provide the media campaign with a solid footing in military culture.
Here’s hoping “Got Your 6” will bring an awareness of real military life to the civilian sphere. To go deeper into military culture, well-intentioned entertainers have to know that having our “6” means far more than covering our backsides. It means getting to know us from all sides and encouraging America to do the same.
Note: This column has been edited to correct the name of Dennis Weichel, who was incorrectly named in the original version. I am sorry for the error and thankful to the fellow soldier and friend of Weichel's who pointed this out.
Related story about TV versions of Army wives: The Real Thing