C Is For Combat Fatigue

Over a year ago, some unknown cleverperson posted a video of Cookie Monster clips — synched perfectly to Tom Waits’ “God’s Away On Business.”   The similarity in voice and the contrast in content was striking, but hilarious.

The same person has finally made another one:

The first one was funny and well-executed.  This one, though… this is quite a few steps beyond.It’s not as funny as the first, in my opinion — possibly because, having seen the first one already, the surface juxtaposition has been defused.  It’s not as weird the second time around, when you know what you’re expecting. Or when you think you do.

I think it’s even more ripe for analysis — and that it quite possibly makes a compelling statement in its own right.

This song, for one, is different.  Unlike “God’s Away On Business,” it’s not just about the rank and seedy underbelly of society, the damaged demimonde that we can almost romanticize for its foreignness, its abandon, its exultance in its own dissolution.  It’s not about a sort of person or lifestyle we probably don’t know and likely can’t relate to.  It’s about a soldier — and, nowadays, everyone knows a soldier.  It’s about war, which we all know about, which many of us support to some degree.  And, though the horrors of war are usually romanticized and draped in ideals of valor and patriotism, this song strips it away to reveal the mangled and all-too-human face under it.

And here it is, juxtaposed with innocuous clips from a children’s show.

There’s Cookie Monster, demonstrating left, right, left just as he normally would.  Singing nursery rhymes, as well.  Only the rhymes are about body bags, and about leaving the security of childhood, of good homes, of one’s mother, for this Hell.

Another viewing and you notice the little things.

The brief clips at 1:15 and 3:00 where you can see a placard behind him, with a bitterly simple list of how to tell if something is alive.

Telling Kermit, the reporter, of how Hell broke Luce, of how he wept at the death of his buddy, how he left his arm in his coat.

The confusion on the first “left, left, right;” the way that even with clear orders, clear “left, right, left,” the four monsters at 1:24 still can’t all follow the command.

The way the “body bag’s full” line is backed by a clip from an uptempo disco song — one that mourned the loss of a cookie with more pathos and personalization than the Waits song gives to a dead man. It’s not described as a person wrapped in a bag, but as the bag itself simply being full.

Then it cuts to a clip originally from a skit about doing one’s duty, about trying to get “through, through, through” adversity — and the temptation to use the disaster as a justification to fulfill yourself at others’ expense. It cuts off right before the shots of the avalanche, which were (at least to my young mind) some of the scariest moments in all of Sesame Street.  (Also noteable: A familiar viewer might remember that the only way Cookie Monster’s Casey McPhee got through the disaster was by eating all the “snow.”)

His looking left, right, left — sitting quietly at home, and searching for the source of gunfire, his puzzlement at an explosion — mimicking the way battles are no longer on vast battlefields but now tend to scythe through residential areas, where people still try to live.  The way the explosion is followed by a scene with debris and animals flying through the air; the way the disco dance scene seems to celebrate the body horror.

The way C is not for Cookie, it’s for a real bad Cough — and he celebrates eating a goat instead.

And, in the end, “what is next?”  Cookie Monster and all his buddies lying down and fading to black.

Watching it, I was struck by the realization that a great number of the soldiers in combat zones right now — and a great number of soldiers over the past couple of decades — grew up watching Cookie Monster.  That each one of them was a child once, perhaps just 15 years ago, and would have watched Sesame Street like almost every other toddler, learning about shapes and directions and letters and numbers, about how to be polite, how to  share.  How to deal with your feelings when you’re scared, or when things change that you can’t control, all without hurting other people.

Now they’ve been wrapped up in a war.  A mandate to hurt other people, to watch as their own people are hurt. No safety, no security, no certainty.

Death is not a strange and sudden diversion from the usual comfort and happiness.  Death happens because it’s the entire point — to cause enough death that the other side gives up.  Death isn’t Mr. Hooper’s heart attack.  It was Big Bird who learned to cope in that scene — but Cookie Monster, of all the characters, knows most about how utterly gone things are after they’ve been destroyed.  Death is not a passive absence that you can try to understand. Death is blown-off heads and entire bodies ripped apart in front of you.   With the death of war, you know they’re gone and never coming back – you know because you watched them go, or maybe made it happen.  You know that the lucky ones just lose their limbs, their hearing, their sight, their minds.

But there’s no circle of adults who can help you make it make sense.  Because it doesn’t make sense.  There’s nothing that can help you cope but gallows humor and a dose of a drug.  There’s nothing you can do but keep destroying things, because that’s what you’re there to do.  It’s your entire purpose.

There’s still not one good reason why it has to be this way.

There’s only “Just because.”

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