Here is my problem: I am promoting a culturist version of Darwinian literary studies and very few political activists see an urgent and vital connection between Darwinian literary studies and their patriotic cause. Fortunately, Stanley Kubrick’s powerful Vietnam War film, Full Metal Jacket, makes the connection clear.
Kubrick’s film follows the career of one recruit ‘Joker’ (Matthew Bodine) go from boot camp to the war, wherein he works as a reporter / propagandist for the military newspaper. In this position, Joker sardonically parodies the war. But, after the Tet offensive, the propaganda chief panics that newsman Walter Cronkite will go say the war is unwinnable. At this point, the chief stops humoring Joker and sends him into combat.
We all know how disagreement over the Vietnam War’s meaning tore up the United States. But, we must also come to see the importance of narrative in current politics. Black Lives Matter, foreign aid, and the resettling of refugees into the West are justified by a narrative that paints the West as having sins for which to atone. These would all come to a halt if the publicly largely believed the West were a unique cultural gem that needed protection.
Famously, Full Metal Jacket portrays raw indoctrination in boot camp. The opening shot shows the recruits getting their heads shaved: their old self is to die, so that they might be reborn. The drill instructor then proceeds to call them ‘gay,’ ‘ladies,’ and ‘fat bodies,’ while mercilessly running them through drills and routines. This continues until the recruit called ‘fat body’ kills the drill instructor and himself.
The brutality of the suicide / killing scene makes us recoil at the indoctrination and, by implication, military culture. But, Full Metal Jacket is just a story. The narrative argues for implementing a sensitive / coed military culture. The same narrative currently dominates our schools: We cannot call our students ‘fat bodies.’ But, rather than just blindly absorb the film’s narrative about the horrors of military culture, we must question it.
Perhaps, gender-segregated schools with public displays of patriotism, corporal punishment and name-calling would make the West stronger. If the Black Lives Matter kids had such schooling, they might be disciplined pro-West contributors to society who would never dream of shooting police.
But, my point is not that one form of indoctrination or a particular view of the Vietnam War is appropriate. My point is that narrative has a profound outcome on the policies we have and even the policies of which we can conceive.
Evolution has geared people to make sense of the world via stories. Literary studies too often fails to comment on the implied morals and values of stories; it fails to recognize that our high school literature books and the assumptions of the arts have a huge political impact.
Culturist literary critics know that, if we are to save the West, we must – as Full Metal Jacket displays – utilize our Darwinian need for public narrative. Furthermore, we must be wary of stories that limit the mechanisms we will consider using to inculcate our glorious western narrative.