Comedy In Peace Times

[REDACTED] and [REDACTED],
I experienced an emotional response to the episode titled [REDACTED]. Accordingly, I would like to vent my grievances. And it is too long for twitter.
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Regarding your examination of the “Vet TV” comedy materials: I do not believe your analysis was fair, or entirely honest in representation.
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I want to open by looking at a few scenes, many of which you alluded to in your conversation, and asking you to consider a more layered analysis. I will find clips where I can. I will then discuss the place of this form of media in a broader cultural context.
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This is certainly black humor, of the gallows variety. But it is not shock for shocking’s sake. There are many jokes that could not be made in any other context. And the PTSD collar sketch is a matter of opinion: I think the bit works. Shaming, instead, and not talking about these things, is not a ‘progressive’ moral high ground. And I also think it is OK if some bits don’t work, isn’t it? But most of them do land. Which is why I am writing. (1A)
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There is an entry where a local born translator is being discussed. The conversion goes along the lines of “I really like him, hes the best. Shame if we he turns out to be Taliban, and gets some of us killed, so we have to kill him. But, you know, it is how it is. whatever“: (~ @ 5:22min). (1)
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A later entry sees the translator does indeed get a lot of them killed (while they are sleeping). There is a scene where a soldier has to keep apologizing to the new translator, for his (racist appearing) anger showing through during a briefing. After which the soldier pulls him aside and apologizes again. (2)
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The primary message of these entries is not a racist “none of them can be trusted“. The message is about the complexity of war, especially when you are an invading force and it is unclear who to trust. But then having to trust your [GOSH DARN] communication lines to locals, to ask them to turn on their relatives, so that you and your people can possibly kill them.
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And the local translator is to do this, all on the promise of them (and their family) being protected from reprisal, by being able to come to the USA. When both the soldiers, and the translator, know that this doesn’t always work out so well. And both knowing, that the other knows, that this is the situation.
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As a discourse on the dynamics of this tension, it is both clever and funny. As is all of the jacking off. This is political analysis and reflection, through performance.
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A similar meta awareness of the absurdity of war dynamics can be seen in the in the relationships displayed between the enlisted and “indoor” officer classes. And in their differing objectives.
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The order to do a damage assessment through a mine field, given by an officer who is not going to be anywhere near it, all to meet an arbitrary government KPI metric, is a prime example:
Order:
1) A
Search Pattern:
2) B
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These are meditations on life at war and life in a bureaucracy. All of the jacking off, is yet another example. I do not think I have laughed at jacking off in any other media form. But this is a critique on all of the “hurry up and wait” time, that is somehow left off the recruitment brochures and adds, clearly by accident, but every campaign.
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The voice over of the CAPT, talking about why he joined the military, highlights similar themes. Recalling something along the lines of “it was when completing my masters degree in ‘business leadership and military science’ at Dartmouth. One day, while captaining the rowing team along a particularly dicey part of the river on campus, I just suddenly KNEW. I was was meant to lead men into combat“. (C)
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That is funny, and clever on so many levels. And is, again, a critique on the longtime outmoded, Lordship-based hang over from the British, two tier service system. Which includes university only command soldiery, and first year graduates out ranking career enlisted staff. And the exploration of intra-military social dynamics continues.

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Along with all of the jacking off, the competition, and comradery, between services and operators is explored: Be an operator: (D)/ Love your work: (E).
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And finally, look at this entry where the “bad ass” LT lead character is trying to explain why he killed a civilian. (F)
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Listen to that direct social commentary? Leaving alone that even civilian rules of engagement allow you to kill a civilian if they stab you (or wear a hoodie and startle you, state dependent); his answer as to the motive for why he was attacked is a Leftest critique on foreign policy.  Minus the comment about his retarded cousin*. (*optional)
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I would just like to posit that, even if the satirical depth is not apparent to the writer while writing a scene, that the content remains. Also, I believe that it very likely is apparent to the writers. Consciously or not, it kind of has to be at some level, in order to write it at all. If that makes sense.
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And, yes, I know there are a lot of other scenes that are, in my mind as well, more…problematic in a modern (especially civilian) context.
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The retarded cousin comment and the Trans entries among them.
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Certainly, in part, these errors are purely from ignorance. And there will be people laughing for the ‘wrong reasons‘ across the board. And I understand that concern. But also, it was a critique of the issues surrounding equal requirements (at a minimum) in qualifying for the same positions, especially in special forces.
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Women are biologically different to men, no matter how they identify – especially regarding gross morphology. Irrespective of hormonal or other treatments, or underlying conditions remedied. This does not ever completely level out.
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The joke, thematically, is that the military “fixed” the problem of not being able to find many females to meet the required standards – by hiring a man. Not that gays are bad, or unwelcome. Not that Trans is bad. Not that women can not do it, or should not be allowed to, per se. And there are scenes where views stating that each of those groups should be supported are expressed. Many of which can be found in the character interview series.
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Even the idea that drag is somehow “automatically funny”, and the mere incongruous nature of a large man in that setting, is not a real hinge of the joke.
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Indeed, all clothes are just fabric, though I bet neither of you routinely wear a dress to work? And that gets closer to the point. When are we talking about true, base level reality that requires attention. And when are we dealing only with virtue signaling, which at its worst is harmful on all sides. And is there a desirable line in-between.
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In a similar way, it is too simplistic to call the middle eastern character depictions ‘racist’. Though, I’ll admit, that some of the black face is…problematic.
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Now, you can take that statement to your liberal friends, and all have a good laugh at how indefensible it sounds.
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But as a concept:
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Imagine if they plan like we do. Imagine power point presentations, in a cave. Imagine taking inventory, but you’re a unit of suicide bombers, so that means also counting the soldiers. Imagine calculating losses: but you’re suicide bombers, so it always includes the loss of your whole unit after every engagement, or you fail the mission objectives”.
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That is objectively funny. In a largely non political, and non racist, way. Even in black face.
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So, though some character development is clearly needed, for some of the middle eastern characters in the series (in an ideal world – but also these are 10min spots, some of them); the situation may in fact be that some of the black face is not as problematic as the verbal description of it implies.
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We all need to practice getting beneath the surface level of, for example face paint, in our analyses of media. And doing so perhaps before we decry something as simply “offensive”. Or “off limits” for comedy or discussion.
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And especially when they are dealing with things that really happen; or that we really do in war right now; or an organizational culture that really does exist. Discouraging that from being brought into the light seems like EXACTLY the wrong thing to do.
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Further, it is talking about Left wing issues (!), only using right wing semiotics.
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The black face terrorist planning scenes are a comment on asymmetric warfare. As well as American imperialism. Whether that is known or not by the writers, again, does not change that fact. Because it has to be known at some level. And for anyone who sees it, it is a step towards a greater understanding.
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[REDACTED], you talk about how “[the military] does not give a [GOSH DARN] about you” (actually, it might have been [REDACTED]), as a central theme in this episode.
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Well, what do you think the sketch about them putting their lives at risk to do a BDA through an inconsequential mine field, that the CAPT was not going anywhere near, because the mission objective was “pacify ‘x’ areas this month, so the graph shows the province is improving” is saying? It is talking about the same thing! You’re on the same side.
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Again, it is talking about Left wing issues, using right wing coding.
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I ask you to conciser, as a possibility, that some people, especially in their 20’s who may not have lived many places but in the barracks and their parents’ home, are (perhaps) not ready to articulate themes beyond “why is everyone in command, from Washington down to that guy over there, a [GOSH DARN] moron?“.
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But they are saying the same thing.
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Now, I’ve had no formal contact with this group. Or with O’Malley. And I haven’t seen the Vice special. I had included an analysis of some of this material in a pilot study I was working on, which is the only reason I have any opinion at all.
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We can argue that maybe an 8 episode box set, of only the best material, might have been the better approach for wider release. Perhaps. But then we are not talking about the same issues anymore. And the therapeutic benefit may be lessened.
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They are commenting on common experiences encountered. Through the performing arts, no less! And you think the ‘progressive’ position is complaining about that?! ‘Quit your offensive little drama group, and find another way – any other way’, that is good advice?
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I think a lot of these scenes can be read as critiquing these items, not “remember how cool it was when…“.
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There is general in-grouping, absolutely. As there is in anything you enjoy. Neurons only fire in association when trying to reach, or expand to, processing familiar (safe) novel-adjacent experiences.
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A lot of it seems more akin to:
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how many times did you feel like, just, shooting a higher-up in the [GOSH DARN] face, because they ordered a meaningless ‘x’, all in order to meet some arbitrary government whatever ‘y’ – that not even they actually believe in. Or patrol this region to win ‘hearts and minds’ for the same reason. Or even fix your uniform at a logically irrational time – even from an indoctrination stand point – only because they ‘run a tight ship’ “.
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Not advocating shooting officers. Not saying “look at this whole race of people who only know how to plant bombs, like cowards, to kill the west. And we have to deal with it“. It is far, far more than that. All of it is anger at the whole situation. Being dealt with through comedy.
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Now, I might be bringing my own framing. Arguably, I can not do anything about that. We all have our bias. But I do not believe I am adding to the content.
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I do not know how you feel about that reading. But I would like to know.
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I support the need for counter-messaging campaigns, like your own, whole heartedly. A port in the storm for the Left enlisted/commissioned corps. But not everyone is ready to start with ‘Bush is a war criminal and America is an Empire‘. Just maybe.
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I get the call for re-assimilation.
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I understand the feelings behind the statements, that where akin in theme to:
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Get on board, learn the language, because you’re a civilian now, so assimilate to the culture! Or go back where you came from (ie to the military in this case) – because we’re American civilians, dag-namit! And we don’t talk like that around these parts. And we don’t take too kindly to folks that do!“.
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You are concerned that there is a truth in that. Absolutely.
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And concerned about a prejudice against Vets, that comes from perpetuated stereo types. Concerned ghettoizing social contact in Vet circles will inform self- fulfilling prophecies of this nature, extending the culture rather than seeing it extinguish more quickly. Fine.
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But can’t we walk and chew gum at the same time?
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For one thing, I am not sure it is reasonable to think one can just ‘flip a switch’ like that. But also, can’t this form of expression be a bridge on the path? Or even a permanent part of reflecting on past chapters in life, but not the only part that informs the next chapters in life?
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I just feel you can not pick and choose which Vets to support.
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That being said, there may well be an element of: “You two take the ones on the Left…O’Malley circle back and get the one’s on the Right – and everyone meet back in the middle at 1600“.
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And that could be some kind of best case scenario.
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Or maybe you’re right, and I am simply re-writing some scenes in my head, in real time, to make them more politically astute with their nuance. But even if that were to be the case; I still maintain, that does not alter their core content. Which is the reason I am able to do any ‘head re-writing’ at all.
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I just think there is a danger in forgetting how young recruitment is. And how powerful that in-group indoctrination has to be (and not by accident).
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I understand the concerns of returning home to a variant, self constructed and maintained, right wing propaganda bubble. And I get “let us perform in black face, or even more Vets will commit suicide” sounds like a manipulative “trolley problem” application.
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But some in-group touchstone upon leaving the service IS better than drinking alone. And performing arts IS, in some cases, better than going back to war.
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Could this type of emotional discharge not be a stepping stone towards integration? Is it possible that this is an example of exactly what you call for, a type of civilian activity, one part of their journey PRECISELY TO re-integrate into civilian life.
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Whether being in charge of logistics for ordering the boot sizes, and getting those shoes deployed, or getting a purple heart for an injury sustained while jacking off in a port-a-pottie; having your core, and often initial, base identity associated with the war machine has psychological consequences. That are different for everyone.
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Some of the overarching ones, like those relating to purpose, you both highlight in this very conversation! Loss of purpose is no small thing.
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And that is without even talking about seeing/doing anything down-range, with regards to actually touching death.
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Things that you really can’t talk about with many other civilians. Maybe 85yr olds have seen more death (still indirectly)? Or 40yr medical practitioners, maybe? It is a short list. There are topics which really are off limits to peoples’ minds.
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I respect your opinions. You are both considered and thoughtful in your presentations.
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But even standup comics talk about knowing when the crowd is ‘laughing at the wrong beat‘, taking the joke the ‘wrong‘ way. Laughing for the ‘wrong‘ reasons. I understand the concerns. But we can not think for other people. We can not be responsible for all of that. And even then – it is still only a joke.
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These characters can be heightened for comedic effect. Hyperbole can be added to exaggerate the situation. Why would this not be allowed, for this one group of creators? Because writing from their life experiences might make certain civilians uncomfortable? I do not believe it is glorifying those elements, in the way you seem to suggest.
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And if in watching, you find yourself thinking things more akin to “Too close to home! We’re trying to get away from that image now we are out. People don’t hire veterans as it is” or “Comedic hyperbole?! I was assuming that they probably cut things out because no one would believe the full truth, even as a joke!“: well then I suggest the problem may not be with the artists and their comic depiction, but with the inspirational source material that we, as a country, have provided them.
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And even then, it is still only a performance. Still only a joke.
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And in this case, the example comes from Vets who, upon leaving the service, went into the [GOSH DARN MOTHER FUNING] performing arts, I mean for [FUN’S] sake.
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I just think this episode was a little harsh. Which is fine. Both views are needed.
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But I suspect, a content analysis of the humor used in your episodes will display the self-same architecture, that you decry in the O’Malley “pheno-type”.
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Moreover, he is creating. It is being done with (largely) other veterans. And I just question if the default reaction to returning soldiers looking to the example of (or joining), what is essentially a local drama club, should be to discourage it.
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Even if they talk about things that make civilians uncomfortable, and “we do not talk like that here“.
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In addition, there are civilian skills on display as being learned here. The audio is clear, the scene is well lit, there are reaction shots (not always showing approving reactions to non-normative humor either). This is, in many respects, part of what you claim to want for returning service members.
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Well, here it is. And there are myriad items, beyond reaction shots and sub- themes, which show a political awareness beyond the scenes. Why should they start with different content? This is what they know. They wanted to make this first.
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Your comments were perhaps a little insensitive, is all. And not entirely accurate in the framing.
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And, as a final point, since I am writing this during the James Gunn controversy: policing off hand comments or having a universal codified standard of what is ‘funny’ or ‘appropriate’, that is then enforced with accepted real world consequences (when no one was physically harmed by the ‘words’), and with no due process or appeal – this is objectively an exceptionally poor standard to set.
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I just don’t think restricting speech, of almost any kind, is ever going to be the way forward.
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Not to anywhere worth living.
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Feel free to print this out, on recycled paper, and burn it. Whatever you’d like.
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I just had a visceral response to that episode, and am now writing this letter.
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Thank you for your time. Keep doing what you are doing.
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JC
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JC is the psychiatry, national security & cognitive science researcher for the Chronicle LS.
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JC (2018). Comedy In Peace Times, JchronLettSc: (5). 0180725-A2.
 

About J.Chron.Ltt.&Sci. [JCR]

~CogSc (Humor); NeuroPsych; Philosophy (Death/Identity); Methods (Research); Intelligence/Investigation (Forensic); Medical Error~
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