The grooming standard.

During my final days in the newspaper business, the editor of my tiny (and getting tinier by the quarter) p.m. daily had the idea to send someone to Afghanistan. As our paper was not the sort to keep a foreign bureau, the hook was the time-honored “follow some local troops” angle. The only problem is, our local troops were on, shall we say, a really boring mission. They were an ordnance company. One of my fellow copy editors was a veteran, and when she heard this, said, “I can see the stories now: ‘Today we delivered some bullets here. Then we delivered some bullets there.’” (And you know what? She was right.)

But of course, that was only part of the hook. The rest was a big, newspaper-sponsored support-the-troops hoo-ha, in which the paper raised funds to send “care packages” to the front. I suggested we fill them with Cpl. Person’s suggestions: Some good porn, maybe a flask-bottle of bourbon, you know the drill. They went out with paper and pencils, “fruit-flavored drink mix,” diaper wipes, the usual. Watching the troops read the kids’ letters in Episode 1, I suspect they were received the same way.

But never mind that. As you can see, I’m getting to this game late, having vacationed through episodes one and two and only getting caught up recently via OD. I’ll confess to a little early disappointment; Burns and Simon are far out of their usual territory, at least geographically. It took me an hour or two to see that some things — incompetence up the chain of command, mainly — never change, whether in Nasariya or Baltimore. And these two are about the best chroniclers of that particular problem we’ve got.

Still, I can see Nancy Franklin’s point when she wrote, in the New Yorker, that none of this feels particularly new. It’s not as though the tragedy of this war is a secret. We don’t see the depictions of top-down lack of planning, supply-chain shortfalls, muddled orders and the rest of it as revelations, at least not if we read “Fiasco,” and who hasn’t?

But. I’m enjoying the way “Generation Kill” is taking the clichés of military movies — mainly the way a group of ethnically diverse soldiers work, or don’t work, together — and making them fresh again. I suppose they can be freshened because they’re true; the military has been one of the great American mixing bowls throughout our history, throwing together people who normally wouldn’t encounter one another in a lifetime and requiring them to sleep, eat and shit in close proximity for months on end. The lesson close quarters teach you is how to get along, and it’s entertaining to watch.

I wonder what sort of viewership this is getting. Franklin’s point is, I think, part of the reason Iraq-war movies are tanking all over. This is going to go down as a painful period in our history, maybe even an epochal turning point, and frankly, it’s a big fuckin’ bummer and you can’t blame people for wanting to watch something else. Bummers on screen can be strong black coffee or brussels sprouts, both of which can be a bear going down.* But only one leaves you energized.

I’m looking forward to the next four parts, just the same. These things are important and, besides, hasn’t Blown Deadline shown us they know how to do this?

(This might be the stupidest sentence ever written. I leave it in to remind you you’re reading a blog, and not The New Yorker.)

2 Comments

  1. I have had two friends (one just today) tell me that they just can’t get into the show. Neither had a problem with the issue of Iraq or violence, but both mentioned that it was hard for them to follow the plot and tell the characters apart. In other words, the same issue many viewers had with The Wire: You have to pay attention to it. It’s not entertainment, it’s work. Needless to say, not much of an issue for most of us addicts. I think it is most like the Wire in that respect, it’s meaty and complex and I find that engrossing and worthwhile. Also, like The Wire often did, even after multiple seasons, it sometimes seems more like a documentary than a drama.

    I keep seeing comments (at TWOP) and elsewhere, that the series has been popular with folks who have been in the military. I don’t know how this is being quantified but I’ll take it at face value.

    throwing together people who normally wouldn’t encounter one another
    In the book, we find out that Colbert’s closest friend in the unit is Espera, even though the two of them are worlds apart. I like that, as well as the fact that Colbert tells Wright he wouldn’t be caught dead with most of these people if not for the fact that they work together…

  2. I like that, as well as the fact that Colbert tells Wright he wouldn’t be caught dead with most of these people if not for the fact that they work together…

    Like Nancy, I keep seeing newsroom parallels: Two of the best people to be on a big breaking story with, two guys who would have your back at every step of the way, are two guys I couldn’t STAND in my off-hours and I’m sure they’d say the same about me. Plenty of people who are good at their jobs are assholes. The reverse is true as well.

    I find GK, like John from Cinncinnati before it, gets better during the week after I see it, as I replay things in my head and think about them. Like The Wire, the tiny little moments are the ones that get you during your resting hours, when they just wander across your thoughts.

    A.


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