Shows like TLC's upcoming "Homecoming" fetishize the military family experience without providing any real insight or help. Military families don't need TV shows like this, they need real help from the American public.
Recently casting calls from TLC went out at Army posts that have large numbers of deployed soldiers looking for spouses who want to have surprise reunions with their soldiers taped and shown on a new reality show: Homecoming, hosted by Billy Ray Cyrus. Not surprisingly, the brain trust behind this show is the same that created Army Wives on Lifetime, which is also a vicarious drama fest for those without enough drama in their own lives.
Stories talking about the show talk about the "raw emotion" of reuniting a spouse and children with a soldier who has been deployed and how moving it will be for the American public to see. Just like Extreme Makeover Home Edition and other shows of that ilk this show promises lots of happy tears and a tidal wave of emotion for the viewers at home as they rejoice in an American family made whole once again.
American altruism porn at its finest. Feeling someone else's pain and subsequent joy in satisfying one hour bites from the safety of your cozy living room on your big screen tv once a week. Getting to feel like a better person and reveling in the fact that your small but comfortable life does not require from you any deep or "raw" emotion.
I think that if you want to ride along for the joy of seeing your spouse after a deployment you should be there for the rest of it too, but that's not nearly as enjoyable for you is it? Perhaps the cameras should come along for:
The "raw " emotion of leaving your spouse at brigade to deploy, trying desperately not to cry so that he doesn't carry the image of your sadness into battle with him, but knowing that might well be the last time you ever see him outside of a pine box.
The deafening silence of an empty house which cannot be filled no matter how busy you keep yourself or how many friends and relatives stop by because there will be a moment, usually around 3 AM, when you sit there, sleepless, knowing that everything is off because your partner and your best friend isn't there, and you don't even know if he's alive.
The stress of going about your day, sleeping in hour -long increments, and frantically checking your phone to see if he's called. Since those calls can come at any hour of any day having a cell phone permanently attached to your body is a fixture of deployment.
The frustration of trying to live your standing still, managing all the household bills and finances and trying to stay busy without changing your life, yourself, or your home so much that your soldier will have trouble adjusting to the changes when he or she comes home.
The even worse stress of getting a 30 second phone call before the phone cuts off and you end up in agony for days wondering if something happened, if he's alive, or if someone else got killed and he can't contact you until their loved ones are notified.
The stress of being both a mother and father, but reassuring your children that daddy is coming home. And the futility of trying to explain to a child why their daddy isn't there, and why he needs to go fight for everyone instead of staying home, knowing they won't understand until they are older. And the added stress of dealing with those kids acting out, taking advantage of your fatigue and run down state, all alone.
But none of that makes for a altruism porn TV show does it? That kind of pain, and struggle, and sacrifice is just to real, and it's boring. Hey everyone has problems right? And we signed up for this life right? But if what we go through during deployment isn't good entertainment maybe the cameras should follow us after the joyous homecoming celebration. After the hugs and the tears and the dirty, weary soldiers surprising their overjoyed spouses with their presence and some flowers. Perhaps the cameras should come along for the "raw" emotion of:
The awkwardness of having someone who is a virtual stranger in your home. The tension as the soldier gets used to changes that spouse has made while the soldiers has been gone, and the silent battles for control as a spouse who has learned to totally independent clashes with a soldier who wants to resume his or her previous place in the home.
The sorrow of watching the changes wrought by loss, and struggle, and hardship, and war come to light and the anxiety that comes with wondering how those changes will affect your relationship. The tears that you hide as you watch him pace the floor all night instead of sleep, or sit with a loaded gun at the door or window waiting for an outside threat to vanquish when the real threat is within.
The fear that comes from moving too fast, or leaning over to hug your soldier in the middle of the night and setting off an immediate combat response in your soldier. The terror of waking up in the middle of the night with your soldier choking you because you moved unconsciously to their side of the bed and they reacted like they were still in combat.
The increasing worry of watching someone you love drink more, do drugs, or turn to other self-destructive behavior when they are unable to process their emotions from deployment. The growing sense of danger as you realize that the person you loved and trusted is now a dangerous threat who could hit you, terrorize you, or even kill you or your children. The worry of coming home from the grocery store or a shopping trip and finding your house trashed, your soldier dead from suicide, or not there at all. Being afraid for your life, is that enough "raw" emotion for you America?
This fetishizing of the military experience is something I really detest. If you want to really support military families and soldiers turn off the TV and do something. Demand that the government enact legislation to provide the help and support that soldiers and their families need. Volunteer for organizations that provide free counseling for soldiers and their families that won't get reported to the soldier's command.
Demand accountability from the military for the record high number of suicides that have occurred as a result of multiple deployments back to back. Demand that your representatives support legislation that will give more money to the soldiers and their families and less to the defense contractors so that there are no more military families on food stamps or going to food pantries and worrying about how to feed their children while they are worrying about whether or not their spouse is still alive.
Sorry America, my "raw" emotion is not for you to see unless you see all of it. You don't get to come along for the joy and relief and tears of happiness that come with my spouse coming home when you don't care about the sacrifice, and struggle, and fear, and anxiety, and panic and all the other emotions that went into getting there. You haven't earned those tears of joy like I have, and I'm not sharing them.