Friday, May 30, 2008

The Droog Demographic

When I joined the Army all those years ago, the recruiting pitch pushed education. If you were a good soldier and put aside some of your monthly pay, Sam would match it and set you up for college upon discharge, assuming you weren't already studying on the government's dime.

Now, this was a few years after the final helicopter ride out of Saigon, so the military brain trust didn't highlight the glories of battle. Films like "The Deer Hunter" and "Coming Home" were popular, with "Apocalypse Now" adding its hallucinogenic vision of the recent war, so American youth, by and large, wasn't biting any gung ho bait. Join the Army and expand your mind, or at least increase your vocabulary rent-free, was the dominant lure. The military would always attract psychos, whatever the era, so there was no need to sweeten their hooks.

Our Drill Sergeants hated this approach, which they were duty-bound to mention now and then. Since most were Vietnam combat vets, still smarting over how the war ended, they were more interested in reclaiming U.S. imperial primacy, and instilling this mindset among we raw recruits. One particular DS ranted about paying the commies back for their "temporary" victory in Southeast Asia, predicting an invasion of Cuba, which would reinvigorate American martial spirit, green-lighting a slew of actions throughout Central America, then facing revolutions and radical challenges to the land-owners' rule.

"They say America is a paper tiger. Bullshit!" he'd yell as we crawled through mud under barbed wire. "In the next war, we're gonna finish what we should've been allowed to finish in 'Nam!"

"YES DRILL SERGEANT!" was our only authorized reply.

Given what arrived under Reagan (begun by Carter, who remains, as I put it in "Savage Mules," America's most underrated and unappreciated imperialist), that DS was somewhat visionary. If he's still around, or even in uniform, I'm sure he's pleased with the ongoing Army shift away from education to kicking Arab ass instead. And now I see that the military has made the inevitable link with the mixed martial arts scene, which they are eager to promote so to snare even more young lunkheads who thrive on the sadistic. Sort of like the police recruiting violent gang members in "A Clockwork Orange," only with far cooler weapons. (My pal Rob Payne explains.)

This makes perfect sense. Not only is MMA perhaps the fastest growing American sport, its popularity reaches deep into the demographic salivated over by military recruiters. I know. As I've sometimes reminisced, I was once part of this demographic, before it had a marketable identity.

There was a time in my life when fighting was everything. That's all I thought about. Had a heavy bag hanging in my basement, on which I whaled daily. Was part of a group of guys who felt the same, and we sparred constantly, wearing little or no protection. Sometimes these minor bouts would turn serious, and we'd have to be pulled off each other. Other times we'd hang in parking lots looking to pick fights with guys who strutted a little too confidently. We were young, stupid, arrogant, suppressing our confusion and fear with a flurry of kicks and punches.

We didn't have MMA back then, not in an official sense, anyway. I'm certain that we would've flocked to it, though. A few of us competed in karate tournaments, but these were rigid, tame affairs. You were only allowed to strike between the waist and the shoulders, and points were erased if you scored with multiple hits. The officials wanted single strikes, after which they yelled "Point!" and you had to step away from your opponent. First one to three points won.

We detested this arrangement, so we conducted our own mini-tournaments, usually in someone's garage or my basement. It was fight club before Fight Club (minus the conscious anti-consumerism), and like I said, we went all out. For us, the pain of getting hit was electrifying and addictive. It was an immediate connection to something real, uncomplicated, clear. As direct an experience as you can have short of killing something.

I understood why there were guys who lived to fight in alleys and bars. That's probably all they had, and have. In these increasingly savage times, it's obvious that this need endures. The military certainly isn't blind to this. Facing recruitment shortages and the need to maintain what morale exists, promoting human dog fighting seems a sure bet, in the short run, anyway. Who knows what it'll take to encourage droogie self-exploitation down the crumbling road . . .