When George W. Bush hitched a ride on a Navy S-3B Viking and landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln to declare an end to major combat operations in Iraq, there was more at work than just slick PR. Bush, who was visibly thrilled by the experience, enabled the American public to vicariously share in the excitement of an aircraft carrier landing. All around the country, viewing audiences reveled in his machismo display of technology.
This worship of militarism has become such an integral part of pop culture that even the occasional peacenik can’t help but ohh and ahh at air shows and flyovers. When those pinnacles of technological prowess zoom past faster than the speed of sound, the victims of their weaponry are instantly forgotten. This shouldn’t surprise us. Ever since recognizing the danger of so-called “Vietnam Syndrome,” the military-industrial complex, with the help of the entertainment industry, has been sanitizing and glorifying weapons of war. And with today’s coalescence of cutting-edge toys, video games, movies, and reality TV, warfare has never been so enthralling.
ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS
The wargasms start young. Many of us have fond memories of those little green army men or afternoons spent playing with G.I. Joes. But with the advent of the “war on terror,” demand for militarized toys reached a fevered pitch that bordered on absurdity. For the first time, playthings were being designed to fit within the backdrop of current conflicts. One of the most notorious examples of this involved the “Forward Command Post.” Released in time for Christmas 2002, the toy was a bombed-out dollhouse transformed into a makeshift base. Consumer outcry soon led to its discontinuance, but the rollout of similar ultra-realistic toys continued undaunted.
These toys completely obliterated the line between make-believe and reality
There was the “Battle Command Post Two-Story Headquarters” – another civilian home turned battle station – and action figures modeled after military units serving in Afghanistan or Iraq. Militarized teddy-bears became popular, including the “Shock and Awe” twin bear set. And to top it off, September 2003 saw the release of “Elite Force Aviator: George W. Bush” – a 12” tall poseable “recreation of the Commander-in-Chief’s appearance during his historic Aircraft Carrier landing” – allowing kids to act out the publicity stunt at home. Not to be outdone, in 2006 the Army released it’s own custom line of “Real Heroes” figurines. These toys completely obliterated the line between make-believe and reality by depicting actual soldiers that had served in the occupation of Iraq.
THE MILITARY-NINTENDO COMPLEX
Action figures are all well and good, but they don’t come close to the thrill of a shoot ‘em up video game. While electronic games based around modern military conflict, such as 2003’s Conflict Desert Storm II: Back to Baghdad, seem inevitable, now a revolutionary online game called Kuma/War allows participants to play out televised war events just days after they air. Highlights include missions that recreated the killing of Saddam Hussein’s sons and the U.S. raid on Fallujah. Before indulging in fantasies of gunning down insurgents in Iraq, players are briefed with news clippings and the advice of real military officers.
“Kuma/War enables consumers to experience actual missions of real soldiers in the war on terror,” said Keith Halper, CEO of Kuma Reality Games. “Players have to devise the tactics and make the hard choices in some of the most important events of our time. For our subscribers, we make the headlines real.”
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