Enough Already with Veteran “Reunion” Videos
This weekend, while watching ESPN, I saw a video that sickened me to my core but was portrayed as a personal, heartwarming showcase of love. No, I am not talking about Michael Sam, the first openly gay NFL player, kissing his boyfriend after receiving the news that he’d been drafted by the St. Louis Rams, although that did cause quite a bit of Twitter outrage. No, I am talking about a segment done for Mother’s Day which showcased the public reunions of children and their mothers who’d been deployed by the military.
In fact, my disgust is with all of these sorts of reunion videos because they are exploitative and not at all representative of what it’s really like to return home from war. Like the heartwarming pabulum that it is, these videos are not a “spoonful of sugar” helping any “medicine go down,” but are instead akin to eating artificial sweetener straight from the packet.
There are two reasons why I believe these videos are harmful. The first is that they are presented as the “end of a story,” a kind of dramatic film-climax one-shot that makes people clasp their hands to their chest and fight back tears. The reaction of the children—usually tears—is cathartic for all, because now that they are together again everything is going to be fine.
Of course, this is not the case. Typically after the emotional high of the reunion, it is all downhill from there. Families have to learn how to “be” around each other again. Even for those not lost in the system suffering from mental injuries, readjusting to the civilian world after more than a year deployed can take a very long time. Where people see these moments as a “happy ending,” for many vets it’s actually a “happy beginning” from which the story only gets worse and worse.
The second reason this trend is troubling is because of how exploitative it can be. Whether the outlet is ESPN, the local news, or one of the few reality shows actually dedicated to these sorts of stories. It’s an emotional voyeurism of a sort that seeks to allow its viewers to (vicariously) feel the joy of reunion, with none of the pain and heartache that came before.
Photo by the California National Guard via Flickr Creative Commons