Gaga, Beyoncé and Carly Rae: the Cute Performances of American Military Men on YouTube

Curator's Note

My project examines the changing dynamics of American masculinity as expressed in the cute performances of US soldiers that originate within the combat theaters of Iraq and Afghanistan and are disseminated to millions of viewers through YouTube videos. In numerous remix videos, male soldiers re-stage videos by Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Carly Rae Jepsen, Katy Perry,  reshaping American masculinity in the context of the war on terror. Exmining the precise rhetoric of the remix allows us to explicate their complex rhetoric. 

Within the context of geopolitical, ideological and territorial disputes, these videos enact a brand of "authority cuteness" in which "those in positions of power convince those below them that they are not in fact intimidating" (Brian McVeigh 299). Soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan are subject to a rigid chain of command; they are "boots on the ground" in Department of Defense parlance and are not in charge of their fate. On the other hand, they are the foot soldiers enacting and enforcing US military dominance.

One important function of these cute performances is as a response to the radical patriarchal masculnity atttributed to and in some respects claimed by the groups that are the target of US military intervention (Al Qaeda and ISIS). These "kindler and gentler" American soldiers become a double edged weapon in the war on terror, as killers and cuddly cheerleaders, deploying both hard and soft power. They modulate the dangers of male sexuality in an era in which the problem of sexual assault in the military has been recognized and rape is understood as a tool of war. The videos also assert the humanity of the male soldier body--defending it against obsolescence in a war characterized by outsourcing to private contractors and drone warfare.





I follow your argumentation, but find it a bit lacking in experience in reference to this subculture. The homoeroticism I witnessed while in the military serves many purposes. Asserting humanity is one of them, but the other has traditionally been creating a discursive space subversive to an authority that would reject the behavior. For example, if my drill sergeant was announcing that certain privates were "rainbow warriors," over the loud speaker before lights out, it was more than hazing, or even an observation. It was pretty much an announcement that higher command would not be present that night and you really wouldn't know what to expect. Flouting expected norms in units, in my experience is kind of a way of signalling that the individual is free to act as an individual instead of expected to behave as part of a collective--as speech act. Gender is a common norm to behave in this fashion.

Hey, Really interesting post and comment. I am interested in your use of cuteness here. I don't think it is necessarily in contradiction with the comment about actual practices on a base. The cuteness is what modulates public perception of what happens on a base *today* (with the affordances of personal social media and embedded war reporting)? The work of cuteness would then matter precisely because it obfuscates (as you say); social media public discourse is very rarely knowledgeable about "actual" military experiences (which you can sort of see play out in the YouTube comments for these videos which are casually moderated by voices of--presumably--military personal correcting and clarifying the conditions of making these videos). I have an article forthcoming on these videos in Journal of American Studies... would be great to get your thoughts on the work.

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