The United States' fixation on war and the military could easily be described as a fetish - an excessive and irrational commitment to or obsession with something. We see it in our news coverage, which applauds war and trumpets the utmost importance of security. We see it in the industry of children's toys and games, where "good" defeats "evil" with guns and tanks and destruction. We see it in the "Support Our Troops!" rhetoric that requires us to prioritize patriotism over intelligent discourse.
In some ways, our fetishization of the military even manifests itself as a literal sexual fetish - a set of images, ideas, and scenarios that provide supreme gratification or fulfillment of our intimate desires.
The phenomenon is easy to find: Just go into any adult video store and take a look. I saw it demonstrated for myself at the Adult Outlet in downtown Ithaca, NY.
In the small box of a store, blindingly florescent lights illuminate three rows of shelves stocked with a number of adult products and videos. I was interested to see how much, if any, of the Adult Outlet video library incorporated a sexual fetishization of the military. The best estimated answer I gathered from an unscientific survey of the selections? "Lots."
Military-themed items inundate the shelves of the Adult Outlet's all-male video library. Titles like A Night in the Army, Deep in the Foxhole, and The Few, The Proud, the Naked caught my eye. Live Ammo and Fuck the Troops made no pretense about their subject matter.
The athletically toned bodies of muscular, mostly white, men were plastered on the covers of the DVD boxes, some in suggestive solo poses, others with their huge arms wrapped around the chest of their fellow service members. These men, the video packaging silently asserted, were masculine. They're strong, they're sexy, and they can successfully balance defending our country, pleasuring themselves, and initiating a new recruit into the fold.
Many military-themed videos clearly rely on the "initiation" story as a selling point. The packaging of many of the DVDs explains how the "sergeant" or "general" is ready to "discipline" or "train" the new recruits, showing them the ropes of the big, bad Army (or Navy, or Marines). The higher-ranking officials are dominant and powerful tops, demonstrating that even though it's sexy to serve in the military, it's even sexier to lead the military.
The military-themed porn is strategically positioned on the shelves. It's next to other pornographic depictions of hyper masculinity, including some videos featuring fire fighters and one police-dominated film called Friendly Force. They also share shelf space with "straight boy" porn, where supposedly heterosexual men are paid to have sex with each other or where burly guys experience man-on-man physical intimacy for the first time.
This positioning, lumping military material with other glorifications of masculinity, is significant. It encourages shoppers to equate war and military service with masculinity. You are a "real man" when you are actually straight and just having sex for money. You are a "real man" when you save lives in the fire department or on the police force. And you are a "real man" if you serve in the United States military.
And if you're not a "real man"? Well, you can check out the next shelf over, where "twink" porn and depictions of more feminine men await you.
The prevalence of gay military-based porn can likely be somewhat attributed as a wink to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Several of the videos alluded to the notion that the military man-on-man was a classified transgression that we dare not speak about. Covert Missions 2, in fact, advertised its contents as "Top Secret" and "Confidential." And A Night in the Army professed to feature actively-serving men who conveniently sneak away from base camp one night to satisfy their clandestine desires.
The secrecy included in these videos implies something happening on a deeper psychological level: We are supposed to want to join the military, to fight, even if the government does not want us to. Our natural, carnal desires, these videos assume, are those based in power, strength, and force - characteristics that the military epitomizes. Obviously, the impulse to desire what we once could not have - same-sex encounters among members of the military - definitely comes into play here, too.
I asked the store clerk what other military-themed merchandise was available in the store, and whether there was anything available for heterosexual men. That is, are there videos of sexy female sailors, female soldiers? And is there a similar fascination with the armed forces in lesbian porn?
The clerk stumbled throughout the store, racking his brain and even asking his co-worker for recommendations. They eventually offered me a number of videos featuring nurses and babysitters, but porn featuring women in the military was nowhere to be found.
He was, however, able to direct me to camouflage costumes and underwear that implemented obvious military language. The outfits, all male, again alluded to the soldier as a sex object. A pair of small green boxer briefs were stamped with an image of a fighter jet, reading "Soldier Boyz Like It Hard." A similar pair of camouflage briefs went for the more subtle route, simply reading, "Boyz Like It Hard." And in the costumes section, a full, lycra "G.I. Guy" Army suit was at the front of the rack. Perhaps the manufacturer was looking to satisfy a niche customer: Why enlist when you can role-play the masculine advantages of the Army at home?
The sex shop's military-themed offerings are an example of how our society is militarized. It is one of the most straightforward, literal examples of an obsession or fixation on the military. The military is clearly not just a force that fights wars abroad and supposedly defends the most red, white, and blue freedoms of the United States. It affects the type of news we watch, the food we eat, the videogames we play, the fashions we wear. And, for some, at least, it affects what we dream about, what we imagine in our most private moments, and what we masturbate to. That psychological link between orgasm or desire and war provokes and moves along the process of militarization. It advances the military as something deserving of the most fervent desire. Something valuable. Something normal.