A Step Away From Democracy; Marketing The Military
At what point does being respectful of those who volunteer to wear the uniform of our nation become a fetishization of the military are a whole? For me a clear warning sign is when we start to see products like the ones in this Washington Post article.
It seems that there is money to be made by selling all things military, from Tough and Tiny backpacks (holds your child’s treasures in military style, don’t ya know) to Devil Dog the official licensed sent of the USMC.
Let’s be clear, I have a lot of respect for those who serve or have served. My Dad and all his brothers were Army vets, two of my Uncles on the other side served in Vietnam (though it should be said they were both drafted) one being pretty severely wounded there.
For all of that second hand association with the military, I don’t see the need to have military branded products to declare my respect for them or pride in their service. That might be a little different if they were active members serving overseas right now, but it still would not extend to buying cologne to smell like a Marine.
Maybe I am just being a grump about this but I think it is a dangerous thing for a society to over hype pride in the military. There is nothing wrong with giving respect to those who serve but there is something troubling to me about treating that respect as a consumer marketing opportunity.
The issue is that marketing always goes the extra mile. To some wearing a branded product like a Coca Cola tee-shirt might be just a fashion statement. But it is also a not so subtle endorsement of the product itself. When we are talking about a choice of beverage, who cares? But a nation’s military is not a brand to be pushed.
The United States spends more on its military than any other nation in the world. In fact we spend more than the next ten biggest spending countries, combined. For all of that we have been able to resist militarization of our nation as a whole, but that has been changing for a while.
With the continual gearing up of our police forces we are at a point where you might see the occasional assault weapon in the hands of the police, but it is still rare. Why? Because we as a society have tried to keep a line between what is acceptable for the military and what is acceptable for the general population.
By opening the door for large companies to license military branded products we are creating a break in that line. Sure it is fine for kids of soilders to show some solidarity with mom or dad by having some camouflage accessories, but big companies are not going to settle for the relatively small market that presents.
Any large corporation is always going to look to expand market share, to make their products the ‘must have’ item that everyone is wearing, and marketing the military like that is a dangerous thing. There are lots of ways that democracies can start to die, political violence, massive unprosecuted corruption and so on. One of the worst is for the military to be elevated to a position where it is co-equal to civilian authority.
We have seen far too much flirting with this over the decade of our Middle East military adventurism. The cry of “listen to the generals on ground” and the trotting out of Gen. David Petraeus to brow beat Congress in the 2006 and 2007 are prime examples of this.
In a consumption based and marketing driven culture such as ours, to allow the military brand to become a product to be pushed to the limit (as all products always are) is another very dangerous step in the direction of elevating the military. If these products become pervasive the implication is a level of support for the military that can be dangerous.
We already have one of the major political parties that has spent a generation denigrating the idea of government. The slogan “I love my county but fear my government” is still out there and enjoys surprising support. Combine that with a marketing fueled view of the military and we take another step in a direction that leads away from democracy.
Am I being too alarmist about all of this? Perhaps, I can see the other side of this that says it is just a harmless way for people to show their pride in their service men and women.
It is even possible that the marketing will fail and growth from $5 million in Army branded products in 2007 to $50 million in 2011 is just a flash in the pan. But it does not look that way. From the Washington Post article:
The Army “is one of the most unique brands on the market right now,” said Jasen Wright, director of brand management for the Beanstalk Group, a licensing agency that works for the Army (and Paris Hilton). “Consumers have a strong affinity and a great pride for what the U.S. Army stands for. .?.?. Retailers — Wal-Mart, Target — know it is very attractive to consumers, and they want to make sure they have it on the shelf.”
If the worlds largest retailer sees money in these products and is wanting to stock them, you can bet your sweet bippy that they are probably here to stay.
The world is a busy and complex place, the question becomes if we are on a slippery slope to a militarized society and political system, will we even notice it? Or will we just wake up one day, slip on our Air Force branded tennis shoes, pick up our Navy backpack and splash on a little “Devil Dog” cologne while proudly watching the President General in his full military regalia on Army News Network?
I hope that that last is hyperbole of the first water, but if we don’t keep an eye on this kind of thing, it could very easily be our future reality.
The floor is yours.