George Lucas is supposed to have conceived the original Star Wars (1977) to be a post-Vietnam allegory about American superpower imperialism. The allegory failed, due to the general American necessity (the imperative, if you will) of identifying with the good guys at all times, and probably specifically the grade-school imagery of the plucky ragtag Continental Army hiding behind trees and picking off the grim ranks of advancing Redcoats. It seemed to be an unchanging rule of national iconography—even at war the U.S.A. had to see itself as individual and humane.
Well, here are the uniforms the United States Military Academy plans to wear onto the football field against the Naval Academy this weekend.
This, for comparison, is an Imperial Death Trooper.
Apparently the country has gotten over our national unwillingness to present ourselves as an evil killing machine. West Point and Nike have a fussy explanation of how the various elements of the uniform are a tribute to aspects of the long and honored history of the Big Red One, the 1st Infantry Division, but everybody knows what gleaming black-on-black with red highlights and a little dull bronze really symbolizes: the Bad Guys.
“ARMY’S FOOTBALL UNIFORMS FOR THE NAVY GAME ARE SICK,” the Daily Caller exulted. They meant “sick” in the grade-school slang sense, as an expression of enthusiasm, but the uniforms are legitimately sick, a mark of something diseased in the culture, a violence fetish colliding with unrestrained corporate corniness. Here are some scenes from the promotional video for the uniform.
Once upon a time, not at all long ago, the message of the uniforms in the Army-Navy game was that the participants had better things to care about than their uniforms. They both wore gold helmets, and whoever wasn’t wearing a white jersey with gold pants was wearing a black or dark blue jersey with gold pants. Army had some more striping but at a glance, it was hard to tell them apart.
Now the uniforms are treated like variant comic book covers, as a brand-exhibition opportunity for sports-gear companies. Nowhere do the promotional materials acknowledge or discuss that the most powerful and defining visual element of the uniform is the blood-red swooshes. “That’s a Nike ad, right?” my seven-year-old asked, looking over my shoulder at the promotional images. The important thing, in wartime, is to know what it is you’re fighting for.