Every year my little town holds an event that my kids eagerly await, and I just as avidly dread: Kidfest. It’s all very well meant. Various community groups take over the university’s basketball arena, offering informational materials for the grow-mutts and cheap craft projects and cheaper trinkets for the kids. The groups are mostly in the social service sector; they range from the battered women’s shelter and the sexual assault educators to the local fake pregnancy clinic (aka the anti-abortion storefront) and a few fundie churches. This year, a rather terrifying oversized Dora the Explorer was wandering the exhibits. Outside, there were fire trucks, a wildlife display, and several snakes, including two constrictors that frankly alarmed us less than Dora.
So what’s the problem? Kidfest is crowded and noisy and induces utter claustrophobia. It makes me wish I would accidentally get in the way of a tranquilizer dart. It’s not just me, though I have a very low tolerance for this kind of shuddering, echoing noise. This morning, when I told two of my friends I was taking my boys to Kidfest, they both said, “You’re a very nice parent,” in tones reserved for when a beloved pet dies.
But this year, Kidfest was a little different. The outdoor activity area was dominated by Army recruiters. Representatives from the ROTC, the Reserves, and the Air Force were present. A portable climbing wall, roughly 30 feet tall, loomed above all the other activities. Recruiters were challenging kids to do as many pushups as their age in years. Those who succeeded won a plastic water bottle with an Army logo on it. They’d even set up a bounce house, which (mercifully) was decorated in primary colors, not a trace of camouflage.
I thought this was interesting for two reasons. First, it’s an obvious sign that the armed services are having to branch out broader and deeper in order to find new recruits. Of course they weren’t angling for the five-year-olds (yet!), but lots of the parents are poor. Lots are unemployed. This region offers ripe recruiting grounds. Appearing at an event like Kidfest that draws hundreds of poor, young adults is a pretty clever way to draw recruits with warm and fuzzy P.R.
Less obviously, the recruiters’ presence signals the militarization of everyday life, as Cynthia Enloe has described. She cites such phenomena as military officers judging the Miss American pageant and junior ROTC seeping into high schools. The military presence at Kidfest would seem to be another example. The soldiers there were all good-humored and sweet with the kids, but that’s not the point. The problem is that a strong armed forces presence at a kids’ fair normalizes the presence of the military in the civilian world and thus blurs the two spheres, as Enloe notes. Don’t get me wrong: there’s a place for military culture, and that’s … in the military.
This blurring of spheres also interposes military values into parents’ relationship with their children. No, you don’t have to embrace the military and its values – although I would’ve been a horrible meanie if I’d forbidden my sons from hopping in the bounce house. But the military presence does force you to take a position, because if you don’t, the default message kids receive is that military values are a shared and uncontroversial part of our mainstream civilian culture – just as much a part of the American consensus as Dora the Explorer and shiny red fire trucks.
These tulips strike me as oddly appropriate to this post – not as random as usual – since they’ve got this weird khaki camouflage effect. I honestly don’t remember ordering any bulbs answering this description!