Monday, January 26, 2009

The Joy of Objectification

"Don't knock masturbation. It's sex with someone I love." -Woody Allen

I was twenty-nine when I began my military service, and turned thirty during Navy basic training in Orlando, Florida. Eight years and two enlistments later I got out of the Navy, only to join the Army after a short break. Because I was older than the other servicemen of equal rank, and because sharing the experience of hardship with them forever defined for me the word comrade, even now that I am out of the service and for the rest of my life, I will always feel somehow proprietary of them.

The U.S. Army's Second Infantry Division (1) used to boast - before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq commenced - that it was the "most forward deployed" of any other unit in the American military. Occupying what is known as Area One, the region of South Korea from the DMZ to just north of Seoul, Division leadership determined that it was potentially too dangerous a place for soldiers to have their dependents with them. So the married men and women stationed there had to leave their spouses and children behind in the States. (2) Consequently the length of a tour in Area One was limited to one interminable year. On arrival in country, the date was recorded and one's DEROS (Date Eligible for Return from Overseas) determined. I was stationed there, on Camp Casey (3), from November 1997 to November 1998. Regardless of marital status, married and single soldiers occupied the same barracks. Though I was married at the time, I was appointed my unit's BOSS (Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers) representative because, I was quickly informed, "every soldier is single in Area One." That single status was reinforced by the prohibition of female soldiers in combat arms units such as mine.

Of course, there was a thriving trade in prostitution off post, which was affectionately called down range by us artillerymen, where, for just twenty dollars a soldier could temporarily assuage his isolation from the opposite sex. I speak from personal experience only because the men I caroused with in Tongduchon, the Korean town adjacent to Camp Casey, were all single, not to mention half my age. Since I made a little more money than they did, once or twice I found myself loaning them the requisite twenty bucks and wait outside the nookie factory while they conducted their transactions.

The only other outlet for a soldier's pent-up sexual energy could be found in the PX, where all manner of printed pornography was for sale, in rank and file on shelves ten deep and twenty wide, a veritable onanist's paradise, catering to almost every fetish. When soldiers conducted a field exercise, these magazines would always surface a certain number of days in the field, as if responding to some signal. (4) Some time, about halfway through my tour in Korea, every single magazine, except for the sexually tame Playboy, was removed from the shelves of every PX in the world, thanks to the efforts of a group of politicians' wives who managed to convince Congress that such magazines objectified women and were responsible for acts of violence directed at them. Perhaps to drive the message home to hapless servicemen, the magazine racks on Camp Casey stood empty for several weeks before they were tentatively filled in with less offensive reading material devoted to monster trucks and tattoos.

Whatever clinical evidence those women may have produced in support of their ridiculous and puritanical argument, they had effectively deprived thousands of soldiers of one of the few products available for them to expend their sexual energies. And as for that barbarism objectify, it is nothing but a clumsy attempt to turn the noun object - as in sex object - into a verb. But sex object is itself derived from the fancier term object of desire, which refers, generally, to the other person whom one desires. Since sex is pointless, not to mention heartless, without desire, such a thing as objectification (ugh) is unavoidable and even necessary. Every time two people (or three or thirty) have sex, there had better be plenty - the more the better - of objectifying going on. Only if those politicians' wives managed to go without sex entirely, which was probably the real source of the issue in the first place, will they be spared the indignity - and the glory - of being a sex object.

(1) Their motto is Second to None. In my irreverent manner, sometimes I could not resist effacing that big N from signposts when nobody was watching.
(2) They could bring their spouses over and put them up in off-post housing, but the Army would not compensate them for it.
(3) Named for a Korean War pilot who was shot down on a hill that overlooked my unit's motor pool.
(4) When I was in the Navy, the degree of raunchiness of these magazines seemed to correspond to the length of a ship's deployment at sea.

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