Showing posts with label Wartime ideology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wartime ideology. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Deprivation And Chickenshit

Popular music remained, of course, the standard material of radio broadcast during the Second World War. The crucial difference, however, was that the kind of song selected for broadcast was supposed to contribute to “morale,” that is to say, serve a propagandistic function. Outside of those that were explicitly jingoistic, such as “Remember Pearl Harbor March,” the typical song was about the need for personal sacrifice (sexual denial, the need for repression). The point-of-view of some were explicitly female,

They’re Either Too Young Or Too Old
He Wears A Pair of Silver Wings

but in most, not surprisingly, the POV was male:

I’ve Got a Girl in Kalamazoo
Don’t Get Around Much Anymore
You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To

Pleas for fidelity included songs such as

Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)
Paper Doll
Somebody Else Is Taking My Place

Desires for the unattainable (things that must be sacrificed) were expressed in dream (and wish) songs:

Thanks for the Dream
I Had the Craziest Dream
A Soldier Dreams of You Tonight
I Dream Of You
I’ll Buy That Dream
My Dreams Are Gettin’ Better All the Time
(I’m Dreaming Of A) White Christmas
Don’t Believe Everything You Dream (from Around the World, 1943)

Paul Fussell claims (in the chapter, “With One Voice,” in Wartime), “personal deprivation and hope for improvement were the themes that the troops, menaced by chickenshit and fear, responded to” (186). He says the soldiers often wept when they heard “We’ll Meet Again,” recorded in 1942 by Vera Lynn (nicknamed “The Forces’ Sweetheart”):

We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day;
Keep smiling through, just like you always do,
Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds away

Fussell devotes an entire chapter to the wartime semantics of chickenshit (“Chickenshit, An Anatomy”):

Chickenshit refers to behavior that makes military life worse than it need be: petty harassment of the weak by the strong; open scrimmage for power and authority and prestige . . . insistence on the letter rather than the spirit of ordinances. Chickenshit is so called—instead of horse- or bull- or elephant shit—because it is small-minded and ignoble and takes the trivial seriously. Chickenshit can be recognized instantly because it never has anything to do with winning the war.

One wonders whether the wartime films made for purposes of “morale” were considered a form of chickenshit by the common soldier. Trivial and unimaginative, they scrupulously avoided the actual conditions of the war—a “white-wash”—and had all the faux sincerity of the everyday social banality, “Have A Nice Day.”

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Death Without Publicity

During the Second World War, the war publicity machine widely trumpeted the names of Allied military commanders. In its putative morale-building effort, the contemporary equivalent of ad-men glorified, for instance, British General Montgomery and, of course, American General Eisenhower. Even lesser-unit commanders could be celebrated, such as U. S. Army General Anthony McAuliffe, who was commander of the defending 101st Airborne during the Battle of the Bulge. His reply to a German proposal to surrender, “Nuts!,” became one of the legendary moments of American courage and recalcitrance—“guts”—during the war. Among generals, an eagerness for publicity, as Paul Fussell notes in Wartime, led to the development of “publicity hounds,” the most egregious of which were probably Generals Mark Clark, in Italy, and MacArthur (pictured), in the Pacific, the latter having a huge publicity organization. “Of Clark, David Hunt has said that 'his reading of Clausewitz’s famous dictum was that war was the pursuit of publicity by other means'” (161).

At the level of the common soldier (as opposed to that of the war’s “upper tier,” its commanders), credit “became a crucial concept” (Paul Fussell, Wartime 155). “That all-important home-town audience the troops never forgot,” argues Fussell, because for the soldiers, “ultimate value is assigned by the distant, credulous” hometown crowd—what people were saying back home (155). Curious, then, that in the Kay Kyser wartime film, Around the World (released November 1943), the name of the Marcy McGuire character’s father, killed on a transport ship before he ever actually was able to step onto the battlefield, is never given. Obviously, his proper name, unlike a General’s (the General’s name more significant by virtue of his having to shoulder the heavy demands and responsibilities of power), is not important. The proverbial “unknown soldier,” her dead father becomes an emblem of sacrifice, the sacrifice necessary for all Americans during wartime. Informed of her father’s death (perpetrated by cowards, as the ship was torpedoed), she is asked to put on a stiff upper lip, to buck up, in effect, to sublimate the loss. She is told that her father did, in fact, fight in the war, he just wasn’t able to fight for very long. His death was as valuable to the war effort as any other, since war by its very definition demands a sacrifice by everyone. Names are not important.

These are not idle ruminations, without application to our own time, for as Paul Fussell observes, “The postwar power of 'the media' to determine what shall be embraced as reality is in large part due to the success of the morale culture in wartime. It represents, indeed, its continuation. Today, nothing—neither church, university, library, gallery, philanthropy, foundation, or corporation—no matter how actually worthy and blameless, can thrive unless bolstered by a persuasive professional public-relations operation, supervised by the later avatars of the PR colonels and captains so indispensable to the maintenance of high morale and thus to the conduct of the Second World War” (164).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Wholesome Behavior

In Friedrich A. Kittler’s Gramophone, Film, Typewriter war occupies a central place, serving as a crucial factor in media transformation. Kittler argues that modern storage and transmission technologies were developed primarily for purposes of warfare. Employing a rather witty aphorism, Kittler claims the entertainment industry constitutes “an abuse of army equipment” (111). There’s perhaps no better illustration of his point than the World War II war movie, which recreated war as a series of clichéd or stereotypical actions, for instance, unshaven, grim-faced but keen-eyed soldiers in soiled uniforms creeping stealthily with fixed bayonets through clouds of smoke toward the enemy’s stronghold (that is, Certain Death), the very image of authentic war. (In contrast, in Hemingway’s war fiction, soldiers spend most of their time in the trenches flat on their stomachs.) During the Second World War, Paul Fussell observes in Wartime, Hollywood films such as Bataan and Guadalcanal Diary (both 1943) “established the paradigm of the ideal infantry situation the audience was expected to credit” (190). (“Credit” became one of the oft-used means of maintaining morale among the various branches of the military.) The ideal infantry unit represented America in microcosm, the “melting-pot” metaphor employed as an agent of ideology, representing what Fussell refers to as the “universal platoon” (190). The typical platoon, or America in microcosm, was represented as follows:

·      The Experienced Leader (the Moses figure; doesn’t make it)
·      The Inexperienced Youth (makes it)
·      The Comic (think “Private Joker” of Full Metal Jacket)
·      The Cynic (the Saul of Tarsus/St. Paul paradigm, transformed by the idealistic and selfless sacrifice he witnesses into The True Believer)
·      An African American and/or Hispanic
·      One Private Each From:
1.     Brooklyn
2.     Texas
3.     The Middle West

Although there were various plot permutations in the Hollywood war movie, as indicated above The Leader always died (strictly adhered to even in post-war war films such as 1949’s Sands of Iwo Jima, in which the John Wayne character is, unfairly, killed by a sniper after the battle is over). The Inexperienced Youth always survived (validating youthful idealism as opposed to cynicism), while the various other emblematic characters would survive at the screenwriter’s whim. Fussell observes about Guadalcanal Diary (still above) that there’s so much choral music “it functions as a virtual musical”—songs include “Sweet Genevieve,” “Rock of Ages,” “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” and “Home on the Range.” In addition to the music, the members of the universal platoon are all “crazy about sports,” all having deep loyalties “to various baseball teams” (190-91). The narrative dictates that American stoicism prevails, of course, and the jokes and wisecracks are unremitting. But there’s more, relevant to Kittler’s quip about “the abuse of army equipment”:

Because no film company could be expected to possess its own tanks, bombers, or warships, the services’ had to be used, and the services refused to co-operate without approving the screenplay in advance, insisting on changes to make sure that little remained but the bromides of wholesome behavior and successful courageous action. (191-92)

The trouble is, for propagandistic purposes, these wholesome representatives of the American “melting-pot” had to relish, with obvious sadistic delight, in “the pain and death of others” (192). Good triumphs, which is the Hollywood equivalent of the success story. But as film historians Koppes and Black observe, “Few pictures . . . dared breathe what everyone knew but found hard to voice aloud—that death was random and success only partly related to one’s deserts” (qtd. in Wartime, 191).

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The "Segregated Musical"

By 1940, both America and the rest of the world recognized swing music as America’s “most distinctive contribution” to world musical culture (David W. Stowe, Swing Changes: Big-Band Jazz in New Deal America 142). After Pearl Harbor, or around the beginning of 1942, perhaps not surprisingly, Stowe observes, “swing found itself transformed into a galvanizing symbol of national purpose” (142). In the years preceding the war, beginning around 1935, swing had accrued a distinctive and highly functional ideology, representing the values of “American exceptionalism . . . ethnic pluralism and democratic equality,” and therefore was seen as an ideal weapon with which to fight fascism (Swing Changes 143). Hence, like jazz, swing functioned as an agent of ideology. “It repeated,” as Michael Jarrett has observed, “on an aesthetic level, myths of identity-through-integration. It naturalized and helped shape a social regime, state apparatus, or, more kindly, values we hold dear.” (Drifting on a Read: Jazz As a Model For Writing 31). In short, swing embodied the utopian impulses of pluralism, ethnic inclusiveness, and racial tolerance.

Strange, then, that a wartime film such as Cabin in the Sky (completed late October 1942, released April 1943), would be, as Thomas Cripps observes in Slow Fade to Black, a “segregated musical.” It is true, as Krin Gabbard observes, that as part of the war effort “Hollywood was trying to pay more attention to African Americans, largely because they were fighting and dying in World War II” (Jammin’ at the Margins 178), but as an “all-black film,” despite its rather obvious purpose—to call attention to the lives of African Americans and to fight long-established attitudes toward the participation of blacks in the work force—it nonetheless was evidence of the state apparatus supporting segregation, as was, at the time, the Jim Crow military. Therefore, the fact that the musical was made, but made with an all-black cast, reveals one of the ideological stresses of the war, the great divide between the symbolic content of swing and the actual social realities of the time: it was made, but rather than having been made with an integrated cast, it was made with an all-black cast—Cripps’ “segregated musical.” Hence Cabin in the Sky duplicated, but within the culture industry and therefore on an aesthetic level, the ideology that supported a segregated military. For instance: Kenneth Spencer, who plays the Reverend Greene character in Cabin in the Sky, also plays in the film the role of the heavenly emissary addressed as “The General.” He would also play the role of the token black soldier in Bataan, also released in 1943, appearing just a couple of months after Cabin in the Sky. While Krin Gabbard argues that the sequence in Cabin in the Sky featuring Duke Ellington and His Orchestra performing “Goin’ Up” serves “to gently sabotage the film industry’s racial stereotyping” (184)—hence revealing the existence of an ideological crack or fissure—the film nevertheless suggests the way that war, and wartime behavior, serves to naturalize other cultural behaviors and practices.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hill of Beans

In my blog entry yesterday, I wrote about the effect of World War II on jazz music, and how it rendered the modernist values jazz had come to represent in the 1920s and 30s—“individualism”—unfashionable. As a consequence of the need for personal sacrifice during the war (personal sacrifice was required to win the war), individualism was no longer as highly valued as group cohesion and communal harmony. I referred to Paul Fussell’s observation, in his book Wartime, that the most popular songs during the war were about sexual depravation or pleas for fidelity—think of the Glenn Miller Band's “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me).” Fussell also noted that if the songs were not about sexual abstinence and the virtues of self-denial, they were about nothing at all (“Little Brown Jug”).

The opposed values of individual expression and group cohesion were often enacted, dramatically, as duty vs. desire. A classic wartime film in which the tension between duty and desire is dramatically enacted is, of course, Casablanca (1942). In the film’s climactic scene, Rick is faced with a choice that also happened to correspond to the need to resolve an ideological contradiction: should he allow Ilsa to go with her legal husband, Victor Laszlo, or keep her with him in Casablanca? The film demands the audience choose between love and romance (desire) or duty to a higher cause (getting Laszlo to Lisbon).

RICK: Inside of us, we both know you belong with Victor. You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.
ILSA: But what about us?
RICK: We’ll always have Paris. We didn't have. We lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.
ILSA: When I said I would never leave you—
RICK: And you never will. But I’ve got a job to do, too. Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that.

It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world—in other words, the woman must be sent away. Rick’s “hill of beans” line is a virtual restatement of the quotation by Eileen M. Sullivan that Fussell cites in Wartime: “There was no room in this war-culture for individual opinions or personalities, no freedom of dissent or approval . . . .” (195). Interestingly enough, the ideological need to value social duty over individual desire corresponds to the wartime need for sexual abstinence and deprivation, yet another form of personal sacrifice that was needed to win the war.