All adverts are lies, almost by definition. Each and every advertisement is a distortion of reality which attempts to convince the viewer to act against their own interests. For most of us, the worst results of being duped by an advertising campaign are that we buy a more expensive brand over an identical generic rival, or we’re on some level convinced, incorrectly, that a new car will make us more popular or a phone will make us happy. But, if we’re unlucky enough to be duped by an advertisement for the armed forces, the worst that can happen is that we are permanently disfigured, psychologically scarred, maimed or even killed in a foreign land.
Of course, adverts for the armed forces aren’t going to dwell on the horrors of war, they need to distort the truth in order to sell military servitude. But no advert for any other product has such a disparity between the shiny lie and the grim reality as one does for the armed forces. To this day I find it staggering that they are able to take war, which is broadly described throughout history as being a living hell of pain, despair and suffering, and rebrand it as an exciting and character-building adventure.
I have been working on a satirical comic book which attempts to draw out the absurdity of advertising something so morally questionable and dangerous. ‘Join The Army’ takes the concept of a shiny army brochure and corrupts it until it starts spewing out something more resembling the truth. Some of it will no doubt be seen as offensive or in bad taste, (it was rejected by three printing companies for those reasons before I was actually able to get it printed), but I think there is a line between attacking the armed forces for manipulating young people into sacrificing their lives for dubious reasons, and attacking soldiers themselves who, as I see it, are also victims of war.
As part of a pull-out section of the comic I made some ‘Action Man Battlefield Casualties’, which take three of the worst potential outcomes for any soldier and cast them in toy form. Our society is so militarised that it’s sometimes difficult to see that propaganda for state violence soaks through almost every pore of consumer culture, which includes promoting war to children. In the UK the military even has it’s own official line of toys, H.M Armed Forces. The focus of all such toys is on technology, uniforms and heroics, rather than the physical and mental toll of warfare. The real Action Man, after all, had eagle-eyes action, not blinded-by-shrapnel action. These toys are just another recruiting tool; like the advertising, it would be counter-productive for them to draw any attention to the negative consequences of military service.
After more than a decade of unnecessary war against two separate nations, the government and military establishment have had to obfuscate the reasons for our aggression, and we have been left with the idea we should support these wars simply because they are being fought by British soldiers. They have deliberately confused the apparent virtue of the troops with the integrity of the invasions. Because of the reverence with which soldiers are now held, questioning militarism and it’s foreign endeavours has almost become a form of blasphemy. It is impossible to say anything in the media critical of the army without first giving a disclaimer about the great work of servicemen and women. My hope is that this book might help puncture the piety that surrounds our military and lead to a more frank and honest discussion about how destructive these institutions are, both to foreign societies and our own.
The launch exhibition is from the 25th -27th October (11am-7pm) and the opening night is on the 24th (7pm till late)
1B Darnley Road
London E9 6QH
My other work can be found on my blog www.spellingmistakescostlives.