Monday, February 07, 2005

"Religion is responsibility, or it is nothing at all."

This was supposed to be "a post on the denigration of responsibility in authority." Or that's that the original note said, holding this place for me. But then talk at Eschaton turned to the Budweiser commercial for the soldiers, shown yesterday during the Super Bowl.

Missed that commercial, but heard it described on NPR this morning. One man in an airport starts applauding, then a few more, then everyone, and finally the camera shows why: soldiers disembarking from a plane, returning (obviously) from Iraq.

Even the ad critic on NPR referred to the iconic image of Vietnam veterans being spat on upon their return to America. The only problem there being, that never happened. But it's part of our national mythology now, and apparently we can only express our national sentiments in commercials, so presumably this is a proper forum for thanking our troops.

But since when does a beer commercial substitute for respect for our friends and family in the military?

Respect for persons, whether military soldiers, police officers, or just someone on the street, is an individual matter, isn't it? If Budweiser makes an ad showing people applauding soldiers in an airport, does that mean I don't have to? Does that mean it's "been done" and we can all go back to ignoring the wounded and the maimed and the dead?

I'm assuming that ad didn't show anybody on crutches, with a prosthesis, in a wheelchair, or suffering neurological damage (the worst because it is not visible). We applaud the fact "they" come home "whole." The wounded remind us of the price we asked them to pay, and remind us that we aren't sure why we asked them to pay it. Ads like that cheapen what is done, and cheapen our sense of responsibility for asking others to do it.

I will thank military personnel personally, if I know them. Otherwise, it's treating them like celebrities. And my only relationship to celebrities, is selfish: what have they done for me lately? How have they entertained me, either through their art or through their antics? Soldiers and sailors and pilots and marines are not entertainers. They do not fight from some abstract notion like "our freedom." They fight because they are told to. Showing respect for what they do, is a personal matter; not a corporate one.

Corporations put commercials on during the Super Bowl; not individuals. Budweiser speaks for no one but the corporation. To allow them even to seem to speak for "us," is to abdicate our responsibility to speak, or to be silent; to show respect, or show disdain, or simply keep our feelings to ourselves.

Celebrities make their living from crowds, not from individuals. We like celebrities precisely because they don't remind us of life's realities. Wounded soldiers remind us all to well of the realities of war. If we prefer actors as soldiers in beer ads over the responsibility of individually confronting or upholding or helping a wounded soldier, a broken family, a shattered life, then let the judgment be on us.

Because if beer ads are accepted in any way as a form of national atonement, we have already been weighed and found wanting. Such ads shouldn't be banned from the air; but they shouldn't make anyone feel proud, or like "the right thing" has been done. We are not the beer company. And we are not the consumers of the soldiers' "services".

As a nation, we should at least understand that much.

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