War Porn: Welcome to the Suck

By John Calendo

Four jarheads

The Suck, as you surely know by now, is what Marines called Iraq during the Desert Storm campaign of 1990. What sucked in Gulf War I was not any ass-backward strategy of the Pentagon but the monotonous absence of bloodshed — at least from the point of view of the Marines.

The war was being carried out from the air with surgical bomb strikes, and the grunts on the ground complained that their balls-afire sniper training was being wasted. All they did was hang around and play touch football. “Welcome to the Suck,” the hero of Jarhead is told upon his arrival in-country by a wry, bored veteran. The film, based on Anthony Swofford‘s profane USMC memoir, works that greeting in at every turn, as a sort of defining mantra.

Jake GyllenhallAs a result, the Suck is now creeping into reports about our current adventure in desert democracy (though for different reasons: what sucks about this war is that it is ass backwards). Provocatively, the film stars Jake Gyllenhall, who is the latest model in gay heartthrob — conjuring up yet a third, more delightful, meaning of the term.

The homoerotic vibe that hovers around the Suck — as with many military catchphrases — is not even close to innocent. It is both a projection and a promotion of an exclusive all-male culture. Women in the military may change that, after a couple of hundred years, but so far warrior combat is bound up with glory and testosterone. And so the homosex appeals are no accident. No more than the current ad campaign for Jarhead which features a lot of Gyllenhall’s lovely bare chest as he roams about the marine camp in an ironic Santa cap.

It is young Jake’s face, however, that really sets off the gaydar. With his permanently wounded eyes and dark aura, Gyllenhall telegraphs a familiar existential discomfort to many young men, particularly those just coming out — as is evidenced by the frequency in which his sexuality is speculated upon on the gay message board Datalounge.

Recently everybody’s gaydar went off the scale, thanks in part to the Jarhead skin shots being circulated on the web, but mostly in anticipation of Brokeback Mountain, a gay cowboy romance set to open in early December with Gyllenhall and Heath Ledger. (Can we make a terrible confession? We tend to refer to this mega-hyped film as Bareback Mountain — soon, surely, to be the title of some mock- Hollywood porn release.)

But though the gay net has gone wild over the cowboy picture, we here at Nightcharm suspect it will be Jarhead, with its homo-hot shower scenes and shaved heads, that will establish Gyllenhall’s more enduring homo creds.

Jarhead uh-rah

Jarhead, after all, is a war movie. It plugs into almost 100 years of hidden but explicitly homosexual war -movie traditions — movies whose shoot-’em-up pornographic impact on young males is not lost on military recruiters — as the film shows:

To get the Marines in Jarhead reved up for war, right before they’re flown to the Gulf, they are shown Apocalypse Now — but only one scene: The spectacular moment where Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries is pumped out of the helicopters and a village is bombed in time to the music.

Anyone who has ever seen this scene in a theater — with its psychedelic explosions of napalm bursting into bright orange flames and boiling black smoke, with the women and children scrambling out of the huts in their straw hats while the sharpshooters take aim and Wagner’s harpies scream in rising crescendos — will never forget how powerful it is. The Marines in Jarhead are no exception. Watching in a darkened theater, they whoop and high-five as the strikes are nailed.

And yet Apocalypse Now, when seen in its entirety — when such scenes are allowed to mount like fatiguing hallucinations in a bad acid trip — was clearly intended to show the madness, the fantastical extreme of such warfare. When shown out of context, writes critic Lawrence Weschler in an article this month in Harpers Magazine, the Valkyries scene constitutes “war porn.”

Burning oil fields

Focusing primarily on Jarhead and Apocalypse Now, Weschler contends that war movies– even supposedly anti-war ones — end up glamorizing battle and turning it into a sort of porn that the military can co-opt when needed. He regards the showing of the Valkyries scene to Jarhead‘s marines as an act of preliminary masturbation. “It’s basically a way of getting your rocks off,” Weschler said in an interview with NPR, ” getting excited, getting ready for your first real screw.”

“There’s a great line of Sam Fuller‘s” continued Weschler, referring to the cult director of Fixed Bayonets and The Steel Helmet. “He said that the only way you could ever really give a sense of what war is like in film is if bullets were raining out from the screen and taking out people in the audience at random in massive carnage.

bubble gum“Now, short of that, the experience of war in film is going to be the joy, the adrenaline pump of it, and you’re not going to have the complete chaos. So, oddly enough, it’s not that surprising, perhaps, that these scenes can be used to rev people up, since it really doesn’t present them with the full drama and the full implication of what’s going on”

Nightcharm wonders, though, if such use will ever be made of Jarhead. In a striking departure from the usual noise-and-light war movie, Jarhead shows a war where nothing much happens, a reverse limbo-land where the sand is black with oil and the footprints left there are white, where a deadening ennui settles over boys itching for their first kill.

It shows, in short, the Suck and we doubt that the military will ever want to confront the pernicious banality, the dead time of so many Operations To Save the World.

Add to this the claim that Jarhead, may be “the gayest war movie of all time,” according to one viewer who persuasively deconstructs the film in a bravura show of queer theory, over on movie critic Donald Poland‘s blog site. The viewer explains:

Here is the Recipe for the Gayest War Film of All Time:

  1. Combine the macho homophobic comments of soldiers with a lot of showering together and loads of slapping of asses
  2. Mix in tight bonding of often topless, hard-bodied troops — note the pairing-off of two-men sniper teams … and yes, even the nerdy recruit in glasses is ripped!
  3. Juxtapose all these half-naked men with a sub theme of faraway girlfriends and wives who cheat on them — including one woman who is said to have a military boyfriend solely so she can wear his uniform because she has a soldier fetish
  4. Equate shooting of gun with masturbation (x10!)
  5. Add General who keeps saying he’s getting a hardon while speaking to the assembled male troops
  6. Simulate a gay group orgy to embarrass the sergeant
  7. Climax film with scene about as close as you can get to a literal circle jerk — the firing of guns into the air until all their rounds are spent

Marine firing off victory roundsJarhead , concludes the writer, “compares war with busting your gay cherry” — something, he notes in amazement, none of the reviews have pointed out.

“The soldiers are all waiting to fire a shot, to do something — anything! And everything they do while waiting is highly sexualized. But then nothing happens! Jarhead is like the biggest cock-tease in history!”

Before closing, he makes one last telling observation. “Remember how Desert Shield was billed as the first war fought with a large number of women troops? Not one to be seen in this film! The only women here are in photos, most posted on the ‘Wall of Shame.’”

To which we can only add:

Uh-rah, baby. Uh-rah.


Jarhead in fatiguesCan’t get enough of those Girenes?
Check out these Nightcharm features:

Interview with Rich Merrit on his memoir:
Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star

Picking up Sailors in San Diego

 

©2005 Nightcharm



  • http://gaydar.co.uk/sitis Manfred

    Ich bin ein Jeansboy, trage sehr gern enge Jeans, weil ich sie immer sehr bequem und praktisch bei der Arbeit und geil und sexy in der Öffentlichkeit finde.

  • Tristan

    I saw Jarhead and I have a slightly different take on it. It was directed by Sam Mendez who I believe is gay and probably anti-war, so you do have to watch it in that context. I doubt if he would make a movie that glorified war.

    I think Donal Poland is over reaching what was there. Was there a lot of showering. Maybe 15 secs. Is shooting a rifle in the air a sexual act.
    What about those elves in the Lord of the Rings. They must really be horny.

    Contrary to popular belief, being gay is very close to being straight and it seems to be the norm that when you put a bunch of men together with out women, they will develope very intimate relations.

    Check out the photo book “At Ease” of Navy men in WWII. They are sunning them selves on the decks of their battle ships in their underwear with their heads in each others laps and no one thinks a thing of it.

    Homoerotica is actually the norm, but in our sarcastic, put down culture, it may have lost its innocence.

    Back to the movie. I think it is to be seen through the eyes of Jake’s character
    as a sort of Candide figure. During the Valkerie scene he is liking the initial part, but when the villagers start getting blown up, there is a close up of his face, that questions the killing.

    Anyway, I thought the movie had a lot of promise but in the end it didn’t make much of a statement. But in the realm of behavior, I thought it showed the bondings between the men, and the conflict of the initial gung ho attitude towards war versus the reality of it.

    I like your articles with substance – let’s have more of them.

  • Rich

    UH-RAH

  • http://ars59charter.net alan

    I heard Jake is in a thong in this movie…is that true?

  • jon

    heh ya and its pretty hot

  • Dan Owens

    Love it

 
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