Thursday, August 26, 2021

"Soldier Snapshots"

New from the University Press of Kansas: Soldier Snapshots: Masculinity, Play, and Friendship in the Everyday Photographs of Men in the American Military by Jay Mechling.

About the book, from the publisher:
In Soldier Snapshots Jay Mechling explores how American men socially construct their performance of masculinity in everyday life in all-male friendship groups during their service in the military. The evidence Mechling analyzes is a collection of vernacular photographs, “snapshots,” of and by American soldiers, sailors, Marines, and aviators. Since almost all of the snapshots are photographs taken of men by other men, this book offers a unique view into the social construction, performance, and repair of American masculinity. Mechling guides the reader from the snapshots to ideas about the everyday lives of male soldiers to ideas about the lives of men in groups to ideas about American culture.

In his introduction Mechling offers his thoughts about how to undertake the interdisciplinary study of American culture; he draws from history, folklore, anthropology, sociology, rhetoric, psychology, gender and sexuality studies, ethnic studies, popular culture studies, and visual studies to reveal the intricacies of how men use their folk practices in an all-male group to manage the paradoxes of their friendship and comradeship under sometimes stressful conditions. Soldier Snapshots begins with a brief history of war photography and establishes the nature of vernacular photography: the snapshot. This is followed by a jargon-free discussion of the key ideas about masculinity and the vernacular practices of men in groups, exploring male friendship, the important role of play in men’s relationships, and the ways “animal buddies” adopted by male friendship groups actually tell us even more about male friendship and issues of trust.

In the final section Mechling’s careful analysis reveals how the men employ different folk practices—including rough-and-tumble playfighting, building human pyramids, bathing naked in public, cross-dressing, hazing, and gallows humor—in order to manage their relationships. Regardless of the man’s sexual orientation and sexual identity, the strong heterosexual norm in the military means that the men must find ways to understand and even enact or perform their feelings of bonding while still defining those feelings and acts as heterosexual.
--Marshal Zeringue