Saturday, June 23, 2012


It’s a little hard to explain why an old lady who reads too much would get so interested in exceptional men like those portrayed in “Generation Kill.”  True enough, both my brothers were Marines in the period just before Vietnam.  (They never saw combat and benefited from the GI Bill.)  But probably the real crux of the matter is that I was taught (or learned without being taught) that the point of a woman was to devote herself to a man and, therefore, the idea was to find someone worthy.  If one was a high-performance female (ahem) which was not necessarily defined by appearance but more by character and intelligence, then it became a problem to find someone really worth a lifetime of devotion.
Then I discovered that I only had the chops for about ten years of it.  And I also had big questions about how to define worthiness.  This is what Rudy Reyes also wrestles with, only first-hand.  Is HE worthy?
There’s another factor involved.  At some point in all my reading and writing, even though I was on an Indian reservation where life was tough and often desperate -- or maybe because of it -- it occurred to me that the pursuits I’d had earlier (mostly academic or maybe writing, which was not defined really) were all fantasy, imagined.  For a while in Portland I worked on a clinical psychology degree at night (no one challenged the narcissistic grandiosity of this aim) while working the streets as an animal control officer in the daytime.  Gradually it dawned on me that reality and “living it” had a lot more “juice” than just inventing the story.
In short, being Rudy Reyes “for reals” should be more exciting than any movie about him.  But then, like Rudy, I discovered that no matter how strong and skillful one’s “chops” are, life can exceed it all.  Only Conan the Barbarian can get away with never coming “down,” never aging, never having post-traumatic stress, never getting into debt -- which is, of course, Conan’s charm.  Jason Momoa, who acts Conan in movies, is another splendid physical specimen.  These men look like every male idea of power, competence, status, and grace under pressure.  But they are movie actors.  It’s fantasy.  
Conan, Rudy and Jason are terrific and admirable because their environment, at least the imaginary one and maybe the real one, fits them.  But we haven’t understood that in war the “movie” is for reals.  Rudy said that he was entirely fine with his role in the military until he was replicating it in the movie and saw through the eyes of the actors (those liberal, sissy, left wing guys) what he had felt vaguely all along.  Then he realized what was really happening and the back story that the writers were working from.  It was as though the camera pulled back for a wide shot.  The tragedy of Conan is not that he as a character wasn’t wonderful, but that his writer/creator didn’t have a good enough script.  He was not able to lift himself up to see that taking care of his mother was also a heroism.  He worked in closeups.
Back to “Generation Kill,” here’s the real “Iceman,” a soldier named Colbert.  (The actor’s next role was as a vampire!  The real Colbert is still a soldier.)  He’s clearly Swedish, an old Viking genetic template, but he can adapt to civilization by giving a nice buttoned-down, extra-starch talk about adrenaline, to which he's addicted.   He tells you that he gets his jolt by speeding and that he gets caught.  He advises against it.   
Reyes, who lives on both sides, was breaking people up in bar fights, but gradually his empathy for the victims kicked in and, besides, if you can break a guy’s arm as though it were a chicken bone, there’s not really much adrenaline in it.  I suspect that Reyes in his boyish gentleness is quite a bit Native American, from south of the Border but not the kind who cuts your heart out with an obsidian knife.  Not that he couldn’t.  But he is not icy -- he is New Age California Warm.
So part of the fascination of this series is the right-brain/left-brain dynamic played out in two exceptional men.  They respect each other very much.  I loved the moment when the frustrated Iceman was under his humvee, displacing his frustration by pounding on some nasty and stubborn part, when Rudy came along and asked,  “Hey, you need a buddy?”  Not waiting for an answer, he slides in alongside on his back.  Just peaceful.  This is a man who is not afraid of bodies.  He hardly wears clothes.  His tattooes are black and emphatic.  The Iceman’s are strange, pastel, unintelligible across his lower back, almost like partly healed wounds.
What we do shapes us and our shape chooses what we do.  One little problem with war is that after the wars are over, the frontiers are closed, order is restored, where do these guys go?  Reyes runs an exercise biz -- I think he’ll be fine.  The new Jack Lalane.  Coleman is smart enough that he can probably find something -- maybe an engineer on an arctic oil rig.  In the 19th century he would have been an explorer or the captain of a sailing ship.
There’s an old WWII joke about how German soldiers were so obedient that they were suicidal -- they would do really stupid things because it was an order.  American soldiers were so argumentative that they’d still we quarreling with each other after the attack began.  But English soldiers were just right.  Guess who told that joke!  This series is saturated with the rawest kind of insults about class, race, education, sex, etc. etc.  Most of the time no one even reacts.  Yet the truth about incompetence can NOT be assimilated by the two specimens who fall short.  One has plainly come unhinged; the other is just not up to the task.  There’s no course they can take, no therapy that would help -- their shortfall is part of their being.  The jokes at that point become bitter.  The consequences followed those men after the series.  Many accusations of lying and framing and all that.  But that wasn’t really the point.
There were some new concepts here.  One of the most powerful was the idea of “asymmetrical warfare.”  Soldiers like characters out of "Star Wars" against people small because they didn't get enough to eat, dark because of adapting to desert, tough because those who weren't died already.  Asymmetry is all around us now that we’ve learned to see it.  The 1% vs the 99%.  The internal third world.  The Group of Seven or Twenty or Three.  Today's snipers are quants who kill by budgeting.  The surveys, the thumbs up and down, the cookies, the url lists, the algorithms.  The value of this filmed portrayal of war is that it’s all made specific, colorful, and even understandable.  Sort of.  I’ll come back to it.  I need more than a thousand words.

No comments: