It's Kind Of Odd To See Celebrities Posing With Soldiers Right Now, Right?

White supremacists—many former military—stormed the Capitol like, two weeks ago.

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Stacy Lee Kong

Jan 22 2021

7 mins read

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You might not be surprised to hear that I spend a lot of time thinking about celebrities (😬). And I often find myself trying to balance two contradictory perspectives: one, I like this famous person and I would like to be friends with them and two, wtf is wrong with this famous person; don’t they remember literally anything that’s been on the news over the past three to five years? Even though I know—and have written extensively—about the fact that there are no unproblematic faves, it can still make for some cognitive dissonance, especially when thinking about the same celebrity in different contexts.

 

And wouldn’t you know, this week has delivered me three perfect examples of this phenomenon...

When I saw these posts from Jennifer Lopez and Chrissy Teigen—and news coverage featuring Lady Gaga—on my timeline this week, I was actually a little stunned. Do they not remember two weeks ago, when a crowd of white supremacists, many of them former members of the American military, violently stormed the Capitol? Because I definitely do, so Teigen calling the rifle-toting soldiers she posed with “actual fucking heroes” literally made me stop scrolling and make this face:

 

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It’s the white supremacy for me

 

These posts are good examples of something I've noticed over the past week or so. There’s been a noticeable change in the way everyone from celebrities to Twitter users to news outlets are talking about policing since the Jan. 6 attack. As Gloria Oladipo pointed out in Wear Your Voice this week, “white women on Tinder are using their profiles to match with Capitol Hill participants and turn them into the police. People on social media are calling for others to turn in rioters to law enforcement, sharing the FBI’s ‘Wanted’ posters and calling for others to help out. Others have been praising [police], calling them ‘heroes’ for trying to contain January 6th’s violence.”

 

I actually don’t 100% agree with Oladipo’s conclusion here—I understand why we need abolition, but I still think that while we have this system, we should be using it to punish white supremacy instead of perpetuating it. But I do take her point that this is a discursive shift away from defunding the police, which was so trendy for the last half of 2020. I mean, we literally spent months unpacking the problems within policing as an institution, including the fact that, in America, it evolved from slave patrols and therefore was literally established to disenfranchise Black people. Or, the billions of dollars cities spend on unnecessary military equipment and frivolous expenses instead of social services like housing, transportation, economic development or emergency management. The ease with which people defaulted to trusting the cops makes me wonder if this is a sign that, for some progressives, the fight is over. Is it that easy to backslide into the convenient fantasy that all cops are heroes?

 

And the military also benefits from that amelioration, even though there are serious problems within that institution, too. We’ve always known that racism runs rampant throughout the American armed forces—I mean, there’s such a long history of racism against Black American soldiers that there’s a Wikipedia page devoted to it. But journalists have also covered the rise in white supremacy among soldiers for years, including the military’s own decision to recruit and train neo-Nazis as a way to counteract falling enrolment. As political strategist and military veteran Pam Campos-Palma wrote in the Daily Beast earlier this week, “the problem is not only that white nationalists are present within the military and law enforcement. The problem is that their presence, particularly in more male-exclusive units, is tolerated and normalized.” We saw the natural conclusion of that tolerance earlier this month; according to NPR, “nearly 1 in 5 people charged over their alleged involvement in the attack on the U.S. Capitol appear to have a military history.”

 

Posting these photos sends an undeniable message

To be clear, the problem isn’t that Lopez, Teigen or Gaga took these photos. It’s the posting that I’m annoyed about, because it perpetuates the soldier-as-hero narrative. (And that goes for media, too. Lady Gaga didn't post a photo of herself with soldiers on her own feeds, but it became a newsworthy post for NBC.) But like... We just spent all this time talking and thinking about white supremacy in our institutions. I guess now that the president is not a wannabe fascist, we forgot?

 

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That’s why it doesn’t really matter that individual soldiers (or cops) do good things. Of course they do! But even when the people within the institution do good work—like protect a president and vice president who we think are decent—we have to remember that these small positives don’t outweigh the net negative of the military, which advances American imperialism, contributes to the subjugation of Black and brown people around the world (not to mention at home), targets poor, disenfranchised youth looking for a path to education or citizenship and completely neglects its veterans, in addition to functioning as a “training and recruitment ground for hate groups” and minimizing the impact of white supremacy within its ranks.

 

Campos-Palma wrote later in her op-ed that “Americans must wake up to the critical reality that possessing veteran status does not necessarily mean a person also possesses valor.” I think we actually all need to do that—and that’s the problem with these smiley selfies. Posting them reinforces the notion that all cops and all soldiers do have valor and unintentionally contributes to a wider societal distaste for critiquing these “heroes” and the institutions they belong to.

 

The entire thing feels quite regressive

 

It’s not actually surprising to see stars greeting or mingling with soldiers. The two have been intertwined since the 1940s thanks to the United Service Organizations (USO), a non-profit that was founded during World War Two to provide live entertainment to the members of the military and their families. The USO organized Marilyn Monroe’s famous 1953 visit to U.S. troops stationed in Korea. During the Vietnam War, it presented more than 5,000 performances from stars like John Wayne, Nancy Sinatra and Bob Hope, who worked with the organization for almost 50 years. And this wasn’t a historical effort; during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it arranged for celebrities including Stephen Colbert, Jessica Simpson, Bruce Willis, Carrie Underwood to visit troops at bases around the world.

 

In fact, Lopez’, Teigen’s and Gaga’s photos felt like a continuation of that practice, or at least a throwback to the way stars have traditionally interacted with the military—one that’s devoid of politics and characterized instead of performing acts of service for servicepeople. But that feels quite weird in 2021, especially for these three, who have outspokenly thrown their support behind progressive causes like anti-racism, defunding the police, electoral reform and criminal justice reform. The military should be on our radar in much the same way that policing, voting and the legal system are. So while these photos aren’t exactly jingoistic pro-war propaganda, the act of posting them does feel like these celebs are co-signing an incredibly problematic institution.

 

Of course, the solution is (as always) so simple: they could have just used the close friends feature on IG—or posted to their finstas—and I wouldn’t have even known this went down!


And Did You Hear About...


NYT fashion director and chief fashion critic Vanessa Friedman’s column on fashion at U.S. President Joe Biden’s inauguration, and the way fashion helped communicate the administration’s values—and signify its intent.

 

Vox’s brilliant exploration of what it means to be multi-racial in America, including Jessica Machado’s essay on being ethnically ambiguous.

 

Guillotines, a hot new trend.

 

The problem with JLo’s actual inauguration performance. (Aside from “let’s get loud.” I mean, really.)

 

L.A. Timesthoughtful commentary on the news cycle around Phil Spector’s death—and why so many outlets prioritized his musical genius, instead of the part where he murdered Lana Clarkson in 2003.

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Jennifer Lopez
Chrissy Teigen
politics