Towards the end of the Vietnam war, and for at least another decade after it ended, there was a trope/cliché which always could be depended on in movies and television; the whacked out, dysfunctional and traumatized veteran; sometimes a victim, often the guilty party, but always and reliably whacked-out. Even news media got into the act, now and again, interviewing theatrically dysfunctional, traumatized veterans, who – on cue – related how they had supped full on the horrors of the war in southeast Asia. This was so pervasive that for-real veterans for years were advised to leave periods of military service off resumes when job-hunting, and to never, never, ever advertise any connection to military service, be it with a ring, a gimme ballcap, a tee shirt, or an OD green field jacket … unless, of course, they were in the war protest movement.

It came out eventually that a lot of it was pure fakery. Most Vietnam veterans were quite well adjusted, thank you very much; they were upright and successful members of their communities, but the whacked-out Vietnam veteran trope didn’t even begin to die until the TV show Magnum, PI made the hero of that series and his buddies all veterans. Lately, I’ve been remembering how pervasive the whacked-out military veteran trope was, and how completely unrelated it was to reality. It was not just false, it was insulting; it socially isolated and stigmatized Vietnam war veterans and likely cost them opportunities both professional and personal. But the trope was out there and perpetuated for years in the entertainment media. I doubt that it was an organized kind of thing – it was just fashion, and a fashion eventually replaced by other tropes when it came to pop culture storytelling.

It seems that lately a lot of our movies and television series are staggering under the load of even more lazy tropes and stock characters – and like the whacked-out Vietnam veteran trope, with even less connection to reality. It is true that there is a Vietnam, and there was a war there which we were involved in… but just as too many viewers then confused reality with what they saw every night on the TV screen, too many now are doing just the same. For example – the proportion of gay men and women in the US is most reliably estimated at 2-3%. Yet a couple of years ago a survey of college and high school students had the kids estimated that gays were more like a quarter to a third of the population. To watch TV, and perhaps social media, one might very well come away with that perception. Looking at TV shows, commercials and print media, you might assume that practically every American marriage or relationship is interracial, that every judge and elected official is wise, kindly and black, and that just about all non-city dwellers are toothless, illiterate rednecks. Deliberate, or just laziness on the part of scriptwriters, show-runners and advertising executives? What will happen when personal experience and/or observations collides with reality, or has that collision happened already, and that is why viewership for mainstream American movies and TV shows is dropping like a stone. I admit to being cynically amused at the corruption and incompetence demonstrated by certain elected or appointed females of color, who apparently had no other qualities to recommend them for high office, other than possession of melanin and a vagina. According to the TV trope, they should have been the next thing to a wise, kindly goddess. Comment as you wish and are amused. Or horrified.

1 Comment

  1. We Vietnam-era vets have aged ourselves out of the ‘villain’ pool.

    I watched Dad, a WW II vet, do it. Now it’s my turn.

    And we watch the new generation of PTSD-addled villains take our place.