January 3, 2007

Your Turn: Man At His Best


It’s great Sgt. Bryan Anderson has such a strong spirit and positive outlook.  One can only hope it keeps up as he goes on dealing with his circumstances.

Still, it’s hard to imagine he’s not being used in just one more media effort to paint a happy face over this miserable war.  As part of a year-end issue in which various personalities respond to the “What I’ve Learned” question, the Esquire teaser for the Sgt. Anderson’s entry reads:

Triple amputee, Iraq-war vet: “You have two options once this happens: Roll over and die or move on. I’m still me. I’m just 75 percent off.”

I’m interested in your reaction to the photo, especially the way the editors, shaping the narrative, place so much emphasis on Anderson’s replacement arm.  I guess, being a publication dedicated to machismo, the utility of that limb (or, reading the article, you might say, the “sport utility” of it) is critical.  Maybe it’s completely accidental, but I see a similar emphasis in the photo.  If you notice the crease of the shirt and the shadow it creates, it shades the “Y” in “ARMY” so that the word “ARM” stands out.  And in fact, isn’t what Anderson uses to hold his purple heart, in fact, a UNITED STATES ARM?

And then, I was wondering about the emotional dynamics of Sgt. Anderson’s injuries, especially to his lower limbs.

In the interview, Anderson expresses bravado about his prosthetic legs, not carrying if anyone sees them.  But we don’t see them.  And, reading between the lines (in the references to getting bumped into, getting knocked down, and having the physically therapy record for falling down), I wonder if Bryan even makes use of those prosthetics, or whether, instead, he’s holding out for those “Terminator limbs” that he envisions being created.

But why do I even raise the issue?  What’s noteworthy about a disabled vet — a former gymnast, in particular — unable to face the fact that prosthetic legs aren’t very functional?

What’s noteworthy is not the tone of the vet, but the tone of the magazine.  What’s “off” is the characterization of Bryan as a model of positive thinking without an appreciation that what is normative at this point — thirteen months after his injuries — is not blanket optimist, but a mixture of hope and an even larger amount of “healthy denial.”

Given the crafting that goes into a cover portrait, there are all kinds of elements here worth a comment, especially in the context of the article.  Here’s the link.

(photo: unattributed.  Esquire Magazine.  Cover.  January 2007)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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