The television series Army Wives has become a mega-hit for Lifetime. Last week’s episode was a ratings bonanza. Army Wives is a hot topic of conversation among real military wives, and civilians. Several weeks ago, I read an article in Ms. Magazine where the author argued that the show romanticizes military life and that the effects of war aren’t seen as “hellish enough.” Below are a few excerpts, but I encourage you to read the entire article.
At a time when the anti-war activism that was central to Obama’s 2008 victory is largely gone from the public discourse and it’s too easy for those not intimately connected to the military to forget the physical and emotional costs of war. Lifetime’s Army Wives makes that forgetting even easier. The show gives us an emotional roller-coaster of morally perfect men and noble unscarred women, and like a roller coaster the episodes are scary for a short time but the landing is always smooth.
That’s the most dangerous thing about Army Wives: It resolves the costs of war too easily. While the real military refuses to pay for brain injury care that their own experts agree offers veterans the best chance of recovery, the wounded characters on Army Wives get all the medical attention they need. The wives even organize for extensive reconstructive surgery for the daughter of an Iraqi translator. While women in the real military are more likely to be raped than their civilian counterparts, every high-ranking man on the show condemns violence against women.
I have a lot of respect for the real military spouses who post on Lifetime’s discussion boards. For many, seeing themselves reflected on television is much-needed source of validation, even if some find the portrayals of enduring friendship across military rank unrealistic. But for people like me who are sacrificing almost nothing for these wars, Army Wives makes military life romantic, sentimental and way too easy.
I don’t quite understand the validation remark and in what context it was meant, but I dispute the notion that most military spouses are seeking validation, especially from a television show. “Validation,” and appreciating the fact that you can see recognizable pieces of your life on screen are two very different things. To be fair to the author of the piece above, her article was written well before last week’s episode aired. The episode where Jeremy was killed and buried, and the episode which I would argue was the most emotional to date. It’s difficult to get more “hellish” than that. This much-discussed episode prompted another article from another civilian.
I cried so hard Sunday night that I couldn’t finish the laundry or even talk on the phone.
On that night Army Wives and its story was fiction … but the sad truth of the matter is that somewhere in the world there really is a military funeral going on and there really are soldiers, both men and women, who put their lives on the line for this country.
The reality is that there are military spouses who make it possible for soldiers to do what they do. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that it took a TV show called Army Wives to make me think about this situation, but what I am sure of is that it’s a real thing.
Look, Army Wives is a television show. There are shards of reality served with a healthy dose of drama. I take it for what it is, as I think most of us do. Having said that, I’m fully aware that people who previously had no connection to (or interest in) military life are paying attention, and for that reason I want Lifetime to get the big things right. For the most part, I think they do. Viewers get a sense of the deep-rooted customs and traditions of the Army. They see the fear and worry, the strain and stress, but they also see the positive aspects of being married to a soldier; the meaning of sacrifice and the strong bonds of friendships that develop on the homefront and the battlefield.
My civilian friends, my mother-in-law and my sisters-in-law watch Army Wives. Over the years, I’ve been asked a lot of questions about my life based on what people (strangers, even) have seen on the show. As airforcewife has often said, Army Wives contains a lot of drama and some of the things on the show would never happen in real life, but it’s a great jumping-off point for a substantive discussion on what military life is really like. The fastest way for Lifetime to see a dive in the ratings would be to turn Army Wives into a platform for political views and/or to focus only on the negative aspects of military life. Some have tried that, and failed miserably.
What do you think? Do you watch the show? Does Army Wives have a positive, negative or neutral impact on the way military life is perceived? Do they portray a fairly balanced look at military life?
Photo Credit: Lifetime