Extreme Homecomings

Curator's Note

Clips like this one litter the internet. In fact, this format is so popular that they made an actual television series called "Coming Home," which helps service members surpise their families upon returning home. This clip in particular has it all: football, a perfectly balanced one of each family, and a soldier dad. 

At the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the media made due with simple footage of unscripted military homecomings. We all teared up a little as we watched service members at various generic looking military airfields and seaports fall into the arms of their loved ones. Like most propaganda, it served its purpose, helping those of us at home heal from the shock of 9/11. 

Then the wars lasted a long, long time (let's not forget, one is still going), and the new wore off. Rather than shift the dialogue to various issues affecting service members and their families, the media came up with a bigger, better homecoming. This particular version fits perfectly into the age of internet celebrity and reality television. We get more than a homecoming, we get an unveiling orchestrated with all the theatricality of those extreme makeover shows. It's awesome, and huge, and it's almost always, a white, physically whole, heterosexual man surprising his faithful wife and two kids. Even after the inclusion of women in combat arms specialties and the repeal of DADT--no girls and no gays.

Not only is it a completley unrealistic representation of the men and women who make up our armed forces, it is, like much of the staged reality we see on television, completely lacking in substance. People claim to love shows like this because they are "for the troops." As soon as they put away the marching band and confetti cannon, those same people change the channel.


Hattie, Thanks for the post (and for the week!). Your comments about the role of media encouraging/supporting the war effort are apt--certainly media has long played a role in exposing (or not) the darker parts of war. I'm curious about the role of fantasy for the military themselves. Are there reunion dreams that motivate soldiers away from home? Do the sorts of coming home celebrations portrayed above feed the content of those dreams, and is there positive value there? I'm a "glass is half empty" person, so I find fantasies rarely match reality, but they can be incredibly valuable in helping us define hopes and goals.

Karen, Thanks for putting this week together. I can only speak for myself, but I would say that fantasies about one's homecoming typically do not include reconnecting with your spouse and children in front a packed football stadium. I'm sure everyone has fantasies about what it will be like to come home, or at least has a list of things they want to do, eat, see, etc. And you're right, even those small fantasies don't match up to reality. Coming home after a 6-12 month deployment is a jarring experience. It's like going from 100mph to a full stop in 2 seconds, at least for the service member. So, perpetuating the drama through these theatrics seems unhealthy to me. I find the involvement of children the most disturbing aspect of this. Kids don't ask to be born, and they don't sign enlistment contracts, so subjecting them to this incredibly intense experience seems a little sick to me. I was single and had no kids when I came home, and it was still stressful. I can't even begin to imagine what it's like for an entirely family. So I wonder if, along with the extravaganza, the producers provide the family with anything they can actually use to aid them in the arduous process of becoming a family again. It's not that we don't see other, more inspirational content concerning veterans and their families, it's that this particular content seems to get more air time. It lends itself to the overarching trend in our country to face conflict with more conflict.

Great post Hattie! Like Karen, I would like these videos to be motivating, inspiring, and fulfilling in some way for those who serve in the military and their families. BUT, I was struck by how much this video really does match the aesthetic of make-over shows. It was so familiar, the wife already knew how the story ended!

Thanks for this viewpoint, Hattie. I hadn't seen these shows myself, so your clip was helpful. In moving forward, I think it would be great to see service men and women coming out of the military getting more involved in the media somehow, and start to provide substitutes for this sort of thing that better serve the purpose of 'motivating, inspiring, and fulfilling,' (as Lauren so aptly put it) our fighters in a more realistic fashion. But I suppose that begs a bigger question: will fantasy always win out when it comes to ratings?

I recall shortly after the repeal of DADT a flood of images in the press showing gay and lesbian service members greeting their significant others with a public kiss. While these were representations of homecomings, they seemed to have been presented in the media for their shock factor more than for their value celebrating a family reunion. The reaction in the gay press seemed more to be a sort of, "Aww that's cute. Now move on. Nothing to see here," as if in a call for normalcy rather than voyeurism. As someone who identifies as gay and who spent his time in the military under DADT, I have mixed reactions because on one hand I recognize the importance of representing non-heterosexual service members in the mainstream media but on the other hand I would rather they not be presented as spectacle.

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