war/military


Leigh S. sent in a link to a story at The Week about a new Budweiser ad depicting a soldier returning home from deployment. It has gotten attention because some viewers interpret it as at least potentially presenting a gay soldier. See for yourself:

So…what do you make of it? I certainly don’t think it’s unambiguously a gay couple — it could be a friend or brother just as well. But it does show him calling that guy instead of, say, his parents (or the woman he hugs when he gets home), and that guy being the first to greet him.

For that matter, is the fact that a beer company would make an ad where they didn’t go to great lengths to make it 100% clear that he’s not gay itself a step forward?

Following up on a post I put up last month about World War II internment camps for Japanese Americans, reader Eduardo let us know about a short film distributed by the federal Office of War Information explaining why the camps were necessary and trying to portray them in a positive light. It’s a great example of propaganda. Notice at about 2:45 the narrator explains the change from voluntarily to required relocation of Japanese Americans in terms of their own protection, and at 3:20 mentions that those forced to relocate “cheerfully” took part in the process. It was such a happy, smooth process, with the federal government helping out!

The implication starting at about 4:00 that “loyal” Japanese Americans were happy to relocate as part of their patriotic duty is particularly striking. Presumably, then, if you objected to the violation of your civil rights and treatment as a potential enemy of your country, you proved exactly why you needed to be relocated.

But don’t worry. “We are protecting ourselves without violating the principles of Christian decency.”

Katrin sent us a link to a image at GOOD that illustrates the geopolitics of first-person shooter video games. The image was created by a group at Complex to illustrate the way that the changing actual political landscape can be seen in the nationality of villains in video games. Peter Rubin, of Complex, explains, “Gone are the days of all FPSes being either World War II or sci-fi; in the new milennium, developers are on the hunt for enemies that are speculative but still plausible.”

They looked at 20 FPS games from the past decade (unfortunately, they give no details about how those 20 games were chosen

The selected titles:

Return to Castle Wolfenstein (2001): Germany
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Desert Siege (2002): Ethiopia
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Island Thunder (2003): Cuba
Delta Force: Black Hawk Down (2003): Somalia
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Jungle Storm (2004): Colombia
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon 2 (2004): North Korea
Joint Operations: Typhoon Rising (2004): Indonesia
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon 2: Summit Strike (2005): Afghanistan
Delta Force Xtreme (2005): Chad
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter (2006): Mexico
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007): Russia/Afghanistan
Army of Two (2008): Somalia/Afghanistan/China/Iraq
Frontlines: Fuel of War (2008): Russia/China
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009): Russia/Afghanistan/Brazil
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising (2009): China/Russia
Singularity (2010): Russia
MAG (2010): Russia/China/India
Army of Two: The 40th Day (2010): China
Homefront (2011): Korea (They don’t specify if it’s North or South Korea)
Operation Flashpoint: Red River (2011): China

Anyway, it provides a nice little illustration of the way that global politics seeps into this element of pop culture, as well as a snapshot of nations currently perceived as rivals or even enemies of the U.S. — a mixture of old tensions (Russia, Germany), ongoing anxiety about China, and emerging focal points.

The blog Of Another Fashion, by Minh-Ha T. Pham, serves as “an alternative archive of the not-quite-hidden but too often ignored fashion histories of U.S. women of color.” The collection includes images taken from public sources as well as photos sent in by readers and provides a contrast to fashion exhibits that usually present fashion trends as almost entirely White experiences.

While the collection is fascinating overall and definitely worth a look, I was particularly struck by the photos of life among Japanese Americans forced to live in internment camps during World War II.

A legal notice requiring Japanese Americans on the West Coast to relocate voluntarily to internment camps or face arrest:

Women playing volleyball:

(Library of Congress. Photo by Ansel Adams.)

Walking to school at the Manzanar camp:

(Library of Congress. Photo by Ansel Adams.)

Women in biology and dressmaking classes:

(Both images by Ansel Adams, 1943; Library of Congress.)

One camp’s version of a beauty salon:

Intake processing at the Santa Anita center:

(From the Library of Congress’ Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information Collection (April 1942). Photographer unknown.)

Pham discusses the fact that in many of the photos of the processing centers, the women are smiling and look very happy, despite going through what had to be an upsetting, frightening, and humiliating experience. Japanese Americans were not allowed to bring their own cameras into the camps; the photos were taken by others, including Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams. And they found their subjects didn’t always cooperate with the images they were planning to provide of the camps:

According to Sue Kunitomi Embrey the chair of the Manzanar Committee, Adams hoped to capture the despair of camp life in order to stir some public sympathy for Japanese Americans but was frustrated by all the primping and posing Japanese Americans did when he was photographing.

…I hope that images of smiling and fashion-conscious Japanese American women…adds to and deepens our appreciation of the small acts of feeling, creativity, and resistance that happen everyday in spite of huge limitations. In an act as seemingly trivial and trite as smiling for the camera, these women interrupt and take some control of the historical, political, and visual frames through which they’re being viewed.

Jordan G. sent in a link to work by photographer Mark Laita.   Laita, after long working in advertising, decided that he was tired of producing images that were “nice”:

I felt the need to produce something that was raw and real, as life truly is, not just what we aspire to. The more shocking to our sense of what’s “right,” the better.

He decided to do so through contrast.   In his new photo series, he tries to get us to think by provocatively pairing portraits. They tell us stories about social class, consumption, social sacrifice, and standards of beauty.

Via BoingBoing and Turnstyle.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

If you are alive these days, and not already part of the undead masses yourself, you probably have noticed a staggering increase of zombie references in film, television, pop culture, videogames and the internet.

For instance, the big screen and small screen have both hosted a plethora of zombie films, e.g., 28 Days Later (2002), Shaun of the Dead (2004), and I Am Legend (2007). On television, we have seen the recent success of AMC’s The Walking Dead. And if you are on a college campus, you have probably seen undergraduates playing “Zombies Vs. Humans,” a game of tag in which “human” players must defend against the horde of “zombie” players by “stunning” them with Nerf weapons and tube socks. In videogames, we have seen the success of the Resident Evil franchise, Left 4 Dead, and Dead Rising. Finally, the internet is awash with zombie culture. From viral videos of penitentiary inmates dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” to post-apocalyptic zombie societies, fansites, and blogs.

But what is the zombie and where does it come from?

What makes the zombie unique from other movie monsters is its unique place of origin. Whereas Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolfman all have ties to the Gothic literary tradition, the zombie stands apart in having a relatively recent (and proximal) origin. Theorists of zombie culture (such as Kyle Bishop or Jamie Russell), attribute the origin of the zombie to Haitian folklore and the hybrid religion of voodoo. But the zombie didn’t make its away into American culture until the 1920s and 30s, when sensationalist travel narratives were popular with Western readers. Specifically, W.B. Seabrook’s book The Magic Island, is often credited as the first popular text to describe the Haitian zombie. Additionally, the work of Zora Neale Hurston (specifically her 1937 book Tell My Horse) explores the folklore surrounding the zombie in Haitian mythology.

(Still from I Walked with a Zombie, 1943)

With the development of the motion picture, the zombie became a staple of horror, and a popular movie monster. The zombies of White Zombie (1932), Revolt of the Zombies (1936), King of the Zombies (1941), and I Walked with a Zombie (1943), however, were not the cannibalistic creatures we now know. These zombies were people put under a spell, the spell of voodoo and mystical tradition. In these films, the true terror is not be being killed by zombies, but of becoming a zombie oneself.

Bela Lugosi as ‘Murder’ Legendre, the mad scientist and his zombie slave:

 

What all these films have in common is their depiction of Voodoo and Haitian culture more generally as dangerous, menacing, and superstitious. Those who study colonial history note that the messages contained in these films present stereotyped versions of Haitian culture aimed largely at satisfying a predominantly white audience. Many of these films also contain an all white cast, with several members in blackface serving as comedic relief for the more “serious” scenes.

It’s interesting to see how the zombie has morphed into the cannibalistic creatures we now know. While the original zombie is a powerful metaphor for fears of the non-white Other and reverse colonization, the contemporary zombie largely reflects contemporary fears of loss of individuality, the excesses of consumer capitalism, environmental degradation, the excesses of science and technology, and fears of global terrorism (especially more recent renditions of the zombie post-9/11).

For instance, George A. Romero’s famous Night of the Living Dead (1968), the first film to feature the flesh-eating zombie, is often remarked as a not-so-subtle allegory to the Civil Rights Era and the militant violence perpetuated by Southern states against the Black protestors, as well as a critique of the Vietnam War. Romero himself has stated that he wanted to draw attention to the war through the images of violence contained in the film.

Cannibal zombies in Night of the Living Dead (1968):

Similarly, the Italian zombie horror film Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974) reflects fears of environmental degradation and pollution. In this film, the zombie epidemic is caused by an experimental pest-control machine, which sends radio waves into the ground. Although it solves the local pest problem for farmers, it also reanimates the dead in a nearby cemetery.

Zombie consumers in Romero’s second zombie flick Dawn of the Dead (1978):

Later zombies are used to symbolize the excesses of capitalism and militarism, respectively.  For example, in 28 Weeks Later (2007), we see the decay of social structures across the globe, as institutions that are supposed to protect us inevitably fail to do their job.  In this scene, protagonists attempt to escape the city just before the military firebombs it:

As we can see, the zombie has a unique cultural history and serves as a powerful metaphor for social anxieties. This movie monster might have come out of the Caribbean, but it became a powerful representation of modern fears when it met the silver screen. Perhaps the current failure of global social structures (global terrorism, environmental catastrophes, and the current economic downturn) has prompted the most recent “Zombie Renaissance.” Or maybe we are just gluttons for the “everyman” tales contained in each rendition of the zombie apocalypse, a point made by SocProf several months back. I do not know what the future holds, but one thing is certain: the zombie will continue to haunt us from beyond the grave.

David Paul Strohecker is getting his PhD in Sociology at the University of Maryland. He studies cultural sociology, theory, and intersectionality. He is currently working on a larger project about the cultural history of the zombie in film.

Many of us are familiar with the female blue-collar workers that took jobs in factories during World War II. It turns out, however, that women were also employed as mathematicians and computers (that’s “compute-ers”). In this photo, Jean Jennings Bartik and Frances Bilas Spence get ready to present an early computer to military officials in 1946:

Women operating a “differential analyzer,” often checking the machine’s work by doing the math by hand:

Jean Jennings Bartik in 1946 with an early computer and Arthur Burks:

Their work was top-secret and so they weren’t part of the “Rosie the Riveter”-style propaganda at the time. Post-World War II disinterest in women’s accomplishments allowed their stories to remain untold.

A new documentary, forwarded to us by Jordan G. and Dmitriy T.M., reveals these high-tech Rosies:

Via BoingBoing, photos from CNN.

See also our post on the feminist mythology surrounding the iconic “Rosie the Riveter” image (hint: it was about class, not gender).  And you can buy Jean Jennings Bartik book, Pioneer Programmer, here.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.


This 1942 ad for Lifebuoy soap is a great example of shifts in collective cultural awareness of homosexuality. From a contemporary U.S. perspective, where most of us have heard homophobic jokes about not dropping the soap in the shower, two men showering together (even or especially in a military context) and using language like “hard” and “get yourself in a lather” is undeniably a humorous reference to gay men.

I think, however, that this was not at all the intention in 1942, where the possibility of men’s sexual attraction to other men wasn’t so prominent of a cultural trope.  It simply wasn’t on people’s minds as it is today.  Accordingly, the ad seems to be a simple illustrated recommendation, complete with a nice heterosexual prize at the end.

From Vintage Ads.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.