Generation Kill: Not Your Father’s WarriorsPosted: Tuesday, July 15, 2008
There’s a throwaway shot in the opening episode of Generation Kill, which premiered on Sunday night on HBO, that establishes that These Are Not Your Father’s Marines. With the sun setting on their encampment, two silhouetted Marines wearing boxing gloves throw some wild, leaping kicks at each other without ever throwing a punch.
The wide shot lasts for a mere few seconds as we transition from one scene to the next, but it’s a telling few seconds — previous generation’s warriors might climb into the base ring and go at it for a few rounds as a physical way of blowing off steam. Today’s soldiers and Marines (and by extension, today’s civilian 20-somethings) are bred on MMA and video games (and as we see in this episode too, irony and satire) and are more likely to engage in driveway boxing or backyard wrestling as they are a game of baseball on the base. As Mark Kriegel once wrote of this generation (he was talking about civilians), “These are the guys who made 300 a huge hit.”
I don’t know if it is too early to call it a profane version of Band of Brothers or merely the Marines version of The Wire, but after watching that premier episode for the third time, I am ready to be hooked again on another David Simon show, if only for the seven-episode arc of this miniseries adaption of Evan Wright’s book.
But that transitional shot aside, I am hoping that the new HBO miniseries will go beyond the War is Hell and the They’re Different Millennial/Gen X Soldier themes we’ve already seen in Iraq War (I and II)-related movies, like Three Kings (one of my favorites) and Jarhead. Those movies, to varying degrees, covered the nihilism apparently necessary in modern warriors, along with the misogyny, racism and homophobia which is presented at times as a coping mechanism in a World Gone Mad and also as something obviously deadly and seriously wrong (sometimes all in the same scene or in the same line of dialogue, though certainly not always or with all characters).
You never really saw any of this to the same degree in previous war movies about previous wars, with one notable exception that I can think of — Full Metal Jacket.
More to the point, and where I think and hope this new show is going, and as the Newark Star-Ledger’s Alan Sepinwall has observed, Generation Kill’s first episode is already setting up the David Simon theme of the individual vs. the institution which he explored for five seasons of The Wire — the futility of One vs. The Machine, the lack of Voice for the knowing rank-and-file vs. the obliviousness of management (even if this obliviousness is sometimes necessary).
This is all not to say that older warriors never used gallows humor or said things among themselves that they’d never say in public — shhhh, go into any locker room in the country, or for that matter, spend time in an all-male office.
And, as Sepinwall also noted, it’s interesting getting thrown into a new show and being thoroughly confused and not understanding a thing about it for the first 30 minutes, and then still needing repeat viewings of the same episode to gain greater understanding. I used to enjoy mocking those who complained that the Baltimore world of The Wire was too dense and difficult to understand for novices, but I forgot how hard and yet how rewarding it can be discovering a new world on an intelligent TV show.