Veterans in Today’s Popular Culture

There is a certain type of person that is drawn to military service.  Whether it be for the adventure, the challenge, or the sense of duty; military service members ultimately choose to risk their lives for others.  Not all service members see action, but it would seem that almost every generation has its share.  When a person in exposed to the violence of war, it can change them in a negative way.  Our service men and women who have fought in the recent Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts have been exposed to some of the worst violence the world has seen since Vietnam.  Roughly 2.5 million servicemen and women have deployed to either conflict since 2001.  With today’s social media, the struggles we face upon returning have become more and more public.  As time goes on we begin to see more and more portrayals of veterans in popular culture.  Whether it be in movies, Television, or music; the message we most often see is portraying veterans, is a negative one.

I am a Veteran.  I served as an Infantryman in the United States Marine Corps from 2002-2006, deploying twice to Iraq.  I have been diagnosed with PTSD and have definitely had my struggles upon returning to a normal life.  I have found ways to live with my PTSD.  I am almost done with college, am able to keep jobs, and maintain a relationship.  Unfortunately this is not a story we often here in today’s world.  PTSD has a very negative image attached to it due to the few occasions service members were unable to cope with their problems and violence or anger issued.  Unfortunately the bestselling stories are the ones that shock and scare, so the most common image the world sees of a veteran is negative.  I looked at 3 different popular culture artifacts to analyze how veterans are being portrayed.  The first is a music video, the second a television show, and the third, the movie “American Sniper”.

Music can be as influential as television can, reaching the billions of people worldwide.  Finding music that was about veterans was hard to find but through music videos I was able to find some pop culture references of veterans.  The song and music video I found is for a song called “Wrong side of Heaven”, written by Five Finger Death Punch.  Although it can’t be known if the music was specifically written to address veterans and the troubles they face, the video was directed to do so.  Throughout the video you are presented with facts about veterans and the troubles they face.  We are faced with the facts of high rates of veteran homelessness, PTSD, suicide, and relationship stability.  Visually you can see the pain of damaged veterans, and the social distain for the homeless.  But when you listen to the lyrics, there are messages that could easily describe what a veteran may go through.  “Eyes wide open, I stand alone, I’m no hero, and I’m not made of stone…”.  Unlike other wars when many soldiers came home together, todays veterans trickle home at different times, it can feel like they stand alone when they come home.  The next phrase “I’m no hero” is a feeling I can relate to, I did my duty and I survive, other like my friend Jason Dunham, knowingly gave up their lives to protect their brothers.  Men like that are the hero’s, the ones that didn’t make it home.  Finally the last part, “I’m not made of stone”, even though most service members are some of the strongest people on earth, physically and mentally, the violence we are exposed to can take a lasting toll.  With the visual messages and audible ones, an image is being painted that shows veterans struggle even after they leave the battlefield.  I feel that this popular culture artifact left a negative impression of veterans but they don’t always have too.  There are ways to portray veterans and our struggles in a positive light.

Television is one of the largest sources of popular culture the world knows.  With it we can get more detail and views into the media it covers.  I found a TV show called “Dogs of War” which aired on A&E in the winter of 2014.  In this show a Veteran and his wife, Jim and Lindsey Stanek, help veterans battle their PTSD by finding them service dogs.  When a veteran returns to civilian life they can often feel that nobody understands what they went through and feel alone.  With service dogs they regain a brother, someone to watch their 6, someone to live for.  This show did a really good job in showing how veterans feel when they suffer from PTSD.  For many, social life can be hard and being around large groups of people can be stressful, causing anxiety.  While watching the show you can see that these veterans are in pain, often shutting themselves out and withdrawing for social contact.  I was really for people to see this side and see that we are not all violent.  My PTSD affects me in this way.  I do not find amusement in going to bars, attending parties, or being in large crowds.  Through the years I have gotten better at dealing with my PTSD, and like the veterans on this show, animals have helped.  One thing with PTSD though is that it can constantly be retriggered throughout the years.  What matters most is the veterans need help, they need people to be there for them even when we push it away.  As portrayed in the show, companionship, friendship, and love can truly heal.  This show takes great strides to show that veterans are people like everyone else.

My final artifact is one that is the most likely to have reach the largest amount of people.  The movie “American sniper” portrays Chris Kyle, a skilled and dedicated Navy Seal who struggles with the mental trapping of war and life as a civilian.  Throughout the movie we see examples of the struggle Chris Kyle faces when he is at home, raised vigilance, disassociation, and abrasive personality.  How I feel that this movies portrays veterans in a positive way is that they show what we go through.  There is a scene in the movie where Chris struggles with the fact that he might have to shoot a child that had picked up weapon.  He begs to himself for the kid to drop the rifle and cries with relief when he finally does and runs away.  We see how he feels responsible for the protection of others and feel that’s where he is needed the most.  The movie does show that he eventually starts to readjust to a normal civilian life.  We are able to see that veterans can heal from their wounds, mental or physical.  Chris Kyle eventually begins to help fellow veterans deal with their issues.  Unfortunately after we see such a positive portrayal of veterans we are once again exposed to the ugliness of PTSD.  Chris Kyle ends up being murdered by one of the very veterans he was trying to help.  American sniper does a good job of depicting US service members and veterans, giving the public insight into our lives.

After taking a look at multiple example of portrayals of veterans in popular culture, a bleak picture emerges.  We all know that mass media clings to negative news because of its shock appeal.  And when a veteran is involved in negative news, it always has to be pointed out that he is a veteran, and his psyche is dissected.  On the bright side, the struggles that veterans face are being brought to the public’s attention and more research is being devoted to helping them.  I definitely suffer from many of the issues a veteran with PTSD is exposed too.  Unfortunately my story is one that wouldn’t most likely be heard.  I have had my ups and downs, but overall I have made succeeded with my reintegration into a civilian life.  Many parts of who I am were born in war, blood, and sadness, these parts of me will be with me for life.  The key is having support, be it from loved ones, animals, or the general public.  In the end we all need each other.  As the world sees more and more portrayals of veterans the world can begin to understand us more.

Works Sited

American Sniper. Dir. Clint Eastwood. Perf. Bradley Cooper. Warner Bros, 2014. Digital Movie.

“Dogs of War – Episodes, Video & Schedule – A&E.” Aetv. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 May 2015. <http://www.aetv.com/dogs-of-war&gt;.

Punch, Five Finger Death. The Wrong Side of Heaven. Five Finger Death Punch. Prospect Park (Universal), 2013. MP3.

Thomas, Taylor. “Veterans and the Media.” Nationalsecurityzone.org. N.p., n.d. Web. <http:/nationalsecurityzone.org/site>.

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3 thoughts on “Veterans in Today’s Popular Culture

  1. Hi Chris,
    First of all thank you for your service to our country. Second I enjoyed reading your essay and seeing your point of view on this subject. I found the entire thing very interesting and I felt the sources that you used were great examples of veterans portrayals in the media. I think this is a great essay, have a fun and safe summer!

  2. Hi Chris,

    I really enjoy reading your paper. I think that it is really valuable talk about this, because it is something that is prevalent in our society, as there are large numbers of young men entering the military after high school. Having this negative image of PTSD does affect how people view veterans, and as this story is true for many vets, it’s not true for all vets. Thank you for writing about this.

  3. Hi Chris
    I really liked reading your essay and think this is a very important issue today. I do feel that PTSD still isn’t as understood as it should be and I feel many just assume that it is something else that can’t be helped. I felt American Sniper did a really good job on showing how a veterans struggle can be. With that movie and others, I do see the media really working to help those in need. I do wish more could be done but the media is making it progress and really helping the public understand. I really thing your essay was great and your examples really backed it up as well

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