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Reaching for the Easy Button: The Media and Military Wives

Last week, E! Investigates Military Wives aired. After the debut, I combed through the internet to see how military wives responded to the show. Predictably, many wives were disappointed, though the reasons varied from person to person. I recorded the episode and was able to watch it yesterday. I found myself teary-eyed throughout the show. I saw members of my military family who have suffered greatly and sacrificed much. What I saw was the ugly reality that all too many have faced; PTSD, Domestic Violence, Suicide, Death and Homelessness. These are legitimate stories. None of us can deny that all of the above are serious issues worthy of exploration.

It's what I didn't see that appears to be the source of discontentment among most of the complaintants.

From our Facebook Page:

Happy with it. Stories that need to be told. Just wish there had been some stories about the positive.

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I was happy with the fact that they talked about some things that are often swept under the rug. I commend the brave women who shared their lives. It was heartwarming and sad. Military Wives Rock!

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I didn't think it was about military wives at all. The title was very misleading. It should have been "PTSD and the effects it has on the family" that's what it was about. Nothing about the day to day lives of military wives. I felt very misrepresented. Needless to say I was dissapointed in the job that was done given its title. I think that this program had a very strong political (liberal) motive behind it.

***

It focused on the soldiers coming home...not the military wife lifestyle in general...not positive at all...I didn't like...bummer!

And I understand perfectly this sentiment.

As for the show, I thought it was well done. We heard riveting, heart-wrenching stories from incredible women. And they were real. There is nothing wrong with showcasing the hardships of military life. The worst-case scenarios. But what I didn't see is what causes military wives to bang their heads against the wall when they read about their "lives," or watch television shows.

The sin, if you will, is one of omission. All too often, journalists reach for the dark side of military life or focus on the sensational. This is a disservice to their audience, and to military families. Military wives don't respond well to incomplete portrayals. I have seen this time and time again. It's become both predictable, and insulting. If sex sells in most any market, I have to believe that "tragedy" sells when it comes to covering military life. As an astute commenter at ArmyWife101 stated:

Blame the network, blame the reporter. Remember it’s usually all about ratings – drama sells and if it bleeds it leads. Extremes and exaggerations rule the air. But never, ever blame those brave women.
This is not an indictment of E! Investigates. As I said, I thought the stories of these women were told respectfully and were legitimate topics. But the internet chatter emphasized the age-old complaint that comes from military wives - that the media at large tends to focus on tragedy, and gives short shrift to triumph. Judging from the commentary, many wives who tuned in expected to see a more rounded portrayal of their lives based on the show's title and description. That's understandable.  In reality, I doubt there will ever be a version of military wife life that will please everyone. Our experiences, though rooted in the same dirt, are diverse and varied. But after nine years of war, I've seen very few accounts of our lives universally praised by the demographic represented - military spouses.

One thing I've learned about military wives is that they, like their spouses, don't seek or expect praise and adulation. They quietly go about the business of being the super glue which holds their families together. As normal (for lack of a better term) as this has become for many of us, it's no small feat. Neither, it appears, is it something the media are anxious to hear about, or report on. But when our lives are under a microscope, as they so often are these days, it's hard not to reflect on what we've been through and how the reality stacks up against the news stories and television portrayals.

A real war or two couldn't accomplish what Lifetime's Army Wives has accomplished. The show has made the public curious about our lives. How many of you have been asked after an episode if A, B or C really happens, or has happened to you? In one way, it's refreshing. As airforcewife has said, it's often a great jumping off point to begin a dialogue with civilians about our lives. In another way it's a detriment because people with no connection to the military can't possibly separate the drama from the reality, and often walk away with a skewed perception of our lives. Drama aside, at least with Army Wives, we're treated to a more complete picture of this lifestyle - joys and struggles. Minutia is present.

I'm proud, and I'm not embarrassed to say it. I'm proud that for one solid year, I kept the homefront churning. I'm proud that on another occasion, for seven months, I kept the homefront churning. I'm proud that during the most recent deployment, I managed to move an entire house without my husband. I don't sit around patting myself on the back, but as a result of my experiences, I do know the kind of intestinal fortitude that is required to make it through a deployment or separation and come out on the other end. Perhaps a little tattered around the edges, but otherwise intact and in my case, definitely stronger. And so do most of you, and you'd like to see that side more often. The strength. The grit. The determination. The finish line that may have seemed impossible to reach at times, but was eventually crossed.

Each of us play the hand we are dealt. All too often, the military card is seen as the worst card you can draw. And really, who wouldn't think that when the public is subjected to the worst side of military life? But there's another side, one that people rarely see. One that would make the public proud and military wives appreciative if it were to come through more often. But it requires breaking the mold and thinking outside of the box. It requires some imagination and a closer examination of all aspects of military culture.

Which brings us to a chicken and egg type of cycle. I've heard complaints that it's hard to penetrate our culture, but the reasons for that are often valid. Sometimes, military spouses feel they are victims of a bait and switch campaign. Sometimes when they stick their necks out, they are subjected to unfair stereotypes and ugly criticism. It's a difficult dilemma. But somewhere, sometime, somehow - somethings got to give.

When the Easy Button is punched, out come all the emotional buzz words: PTSD, Violence, Suicide, Death, Struggles, Divorce. So here's an idea for the next entity wishing to profile military wives: Don't reach for the Easy Button. It may be tried and true, but it's only part of the story.

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