If you fill out and send in this form, you can remove you or your ward’s name from a list of prospective American military recruits. Its completion moves a name into a “suppression file” in the Department of Defense’s Joint Advertising and Marketing Research & Studies. This makes it much harder for military recruiters to reach out to a prospective recruit whose contact information they may have acquired in various ways. Federal law actually requires that they have as much access to high school students as any other prospective employer.
Sesame Street has become loved and reviled for its socially-conscious programming; in one famous example from 1983, after an actor on the show died, Sesame Street took the chance to impart to very young children the temporal nature of human existence by marking his character’s death on the show. The forward-thinking episode invited some degree of opposition because even adults themselves continue to find death very uncomfortable or even impossible to psychologically confront.
Premiering tonight on PBS at 8 p.m. EDT is a program, “When Families Grieve,” that features four families, two of which features fathers from the American military. (One of the soldiers killed himself. The other died in a helicopter crash in Iraq.) It’s important to note that the publicly-subsidized program has made a point of representing the suffering of military-serving families under the umbrella of a discussion of, as a whole, grief, a topic universal to the human experience. The program — sponsored by defense contractors BAE Systems, the Lockheed Martin Corporation, Oshkosh Defense — explores the concept of loss from a entirely nationalistic perspective.
Tonight’s special discusses military families’ suffering through the prism of the death of famed puppet character Elmo’s uncle, who was killed in the line of duty. At a press conference at the Pentagon yesterday morning, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Admiral Michael Mullen greeted Rosita, the grieving daughter, along with her cousin Elmo.
Said Deputy Defense Secretary Lynn, “This [episode] deals with the even more difficult challenge [than a previous episode discussing servicemembers coming home injured] of confronting death and loss. It’s an essential part of the human experience, but talking about death is a very difficult thing.”
Said Gary Knell, president and CEO of Sesame Street Workshop, “This project, we hope, will help us to bridge the gaps that might exist between military kids, children within the general public. Regardless of the situation experienced, millions of kids have to endure the most emotionally challenging experience in their lives.”
In front of a studio audience and broadcast on Pentagon Live, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the deputy Defense secretary shared a few tender moments with the two puppets.
Said the young puppet, Rosita, whose father died fighting an unseen enemy, “You know what? We love military families, our friends and we want to show them how much we care about all of you. And you know what? We care a lot. And we want to help in any way we can.”
Explained Elmo precociously, “Well, Elmo and Jesse are cousins. Elmo’s daddy and Jesse’s daddy were brothers.”
“That’s right. But my dad died last year.”
Looking on with utmost affection, Admiral Mullen replies to her, “We know that, Jesse. And we also know that you’re here to share that experience, and we very much appreciate you doing that. That will make a big difference for military children who have experienced that as well, as well as other children in America.”
This nationalization of the death experience to children is truly the next step in military propaganda. If it was groundbreaking to simply feature one prominent character’s death in an episode, this is even more revolutionary. Through the use of beautiful, talented celebrities (such as John Mayer and Queen Latifah), PBS will help prevent military families’ grieving experiences from becoming in any way insulated from the (usually) natural death causes which other parents must face. Encouraging children to understand death as a distinctly American experience from their earliest conscious moments tacitly ensures that later on in life that they imagine that degree of suffering as a construct somehow remote from the foreigner’s perspective. This is absolutely critical to meeting recruitment goals, and further normalizing the military lifestyle.
“When Families Grive” will ensure that sympathy for human beings suffering the loss of a loved one is focused as exclusively as possible on Americans. And Americans only.