Kathy Shaidle

R. Lee Ermey and the hazards of hero worship

Posted on January 5 2011 1:00 pm
Kathy Shaidle blogs at FiveFeetOfFury, now entering its 11th year online. Her latest book is Acoustic Ladylandkathy shaidle, which Mark Steyn calls "a must-read."

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Late last month, one viral video managed to awaken the internet during that comatose No Man’s Land between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day.

The video showed actor R. Lee Ermey — most famous as the real life U.S. Marine drill sergeant turned fictional one in the film Full Metal Jacket (1987) — at a Toys 4 Tots fundraiser. In his inimitable fashion, Ermey loudly denounced President Obama’s “socialism.” The crowd more or less cheered, the rest of the dais blanched — and a viral video was born.

According to liberal blogger John V. Moore of Windy City Watch, who originally uploaded the video to YouTube, it received close to half a million visits. It was emailed to me repeatedly by fellow conservatives and libertarians, and posted with effusive praise at numerous blogs (although, tellingly, not this one).

But I’ve been blogging for more than ten years, so my fairly well-honed sense of what bandwagons not to jump on told me to quietly steer clear of Ermey’s admittedly stirring and entertaining rant.

Sure enough, yesterday Ermey posted this statement on his homepage:

“A Message from the Gunny

‘I recently appeared at a fundraising event designed to collect toys and raise awareness for underprivileged children. While that event succeeded in raising thousands of dollars and hundreds of toys for this cause, I regret that I delivered a monologue that was inappropriately critical of the President. I was trying to be entertaining and simply went too far in this instance. I am mindful that my success as an entertainer relates in part to my experience in the Marine Corps, my devotion to its members, and the deep respect I have for members of all our Armed Forces. My comments should not be seen as reflecting on them or their views. I was just very disappointed in the amount of success that we were having raising toys and money for the underprivileged children this season. The poor economy has greatly hampered our efforts. My comments were misguided, and emotionally based, and for that I am truly sorry.’

Semper Fi”

This isn’t me gloating. I have no emotional or even political investment with Ermey’s rant. Like I said, I thought it was cool. But I also sensed that spreading it around would do Ermey more harm than good. And us.

Here’s what I mean:

I’m an aging punk. In my day, our slogan wasn’t “Give peace a chance!” but “No heroes!” Our cynicism was well earned and pretty forgivable. The previous generation’s idols had a bad habit of dying off or “selling out.”

Now, we didn’t think “our” musicians and writers were either immortal, or immune to the siren call of wealth and fame; however, we did want to preempt our disillusionment by not admiring them too much in the first place. “Better not to have loved at all…” we said bitterly.

So while it’s endearing to witness the Rushmore-level regard with which the likes of President Reagan are held by conservatives young and not-so-young alike, I’m automatically a bit saddened by it, too. We hope, perhaps, that the dead won’t disappoint; after all, they aren’t alive to show up doing a Hasselhoff with a cheeseburger on a hotel floor.

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