Oh, if only the lives of all Army wives were really like those at the fictional Fort Marshall – the post where no one ever seems to have to leave, you are surrounded by friends and new ones arrive each week, and your spouse’s deployments last as long as a current TV series season, 10 weeks. Now in its 6th season, Lifetime’s ‘Army Wives’ continues to enthrall millions of viewers with its unique portrayal of military life. But just what kind of message is it sending?
Remember the excitement surrounding the premier of the show. Six years into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, military spouses everywhere were thrilled that their struggles through these difficult times would be the focus of a TV show. Forget Hogan’s Heroes, McHale’s Navy, Gomer Pyle, NCIS, JAG and MASH – now the world would see our story. People planned Army Wives viewing parties and wrote down episode ideas.
I watched too, with my daughters. They loved it from the start. Trevor was so cute, Chase so rugged, Roxy so feisty, Jeremy was the boy they wished lived in the quarters next door. I kept waiting to see something that related to my life and just couldn’t connect with these characters. I lasted until the third or fourth episode but had to stop watching when Roxy, in the middle of a heated discussion with her husband said, ‘I can’t talk about this now, I have to go to the PX!’ Really, that’s how the writers thought we talked?
But my daughters kept watching each season. The oldest one even joined an Army Wives watching group at West Point. (I know Old Grads are cringing reading this.) I would tune in each season at their urging, but couldn’t let myself watch for pure entertainment sake. Maybe it’s too hard to watch something that is so close to the life you are leading. You can’t help but find the glaring misrepresentations or exaggerations. I tried again at the start of this current season while my cadet was home, but found that things hadn’t changed much at Fort Marshall.
How do these people get to stay at a post so long, when most of us move every two years? How do these wives get such access to the post commanders to immediately solve every problem? Why aren’t they having to sit in the myriad meetings most of us had to attend through the years, reading regulations, dealing with school counselors, PTAs, coaching youth sports teams or waiting for the Housing maintenance guy to come fix the leaky sink? The normal is too dull for TV.
With all the issues facing our country and military today, it may seem silly to focus on a cable television show. But since it debuted in 2007, the series “Army Wives” has been a window into military life – however glamorized – for its average of more than 4 million viewers, mostly women between the ages 18-49, an episode. A Pew Research Center study reported by the New York Times last year, found that less than one percent of the US population has been on active military service in the last ten years, and though more than three-quarters of Americans over the age of 50 answered that they had an immediate family member who had served in the military, the association drops significantly among younger Americans. Among those ages 18 to 29, the share was only a third and about 6 in 10 of those ages 30 to 49 have a family member who served. The group with the most limited exposure to the actual military is the very group tuning in to see the fictional military deal with war, traumatic injuries, suicide, marriage problems and now, an openly gay and engaged soldier.
The cable channel and show creators have tried to keep the focus on the real stories behind the series. The Army Wives website features links to ‘Heroes on the Homefront,’ and organizations supporting the military. They run contests for and host events for military spouses. Are military spouses still watching the show? What’s your take on the show – harmless entertainment or troublesome portrayal of military life?