Stanley Kubrick uses his film, Full Metal Jacket to say that people today are brainwashed products of decades of conditioning. Kubrick strongly encourages us to relish individual thought. He expresses that society’s ideology encourages conformity, which can eventually cause fatality. Also the article “You Cant Hack It Little Girl: A Discussion Of The Covert Psychological Agenda of Modern Combat Training” by R Wayne Eisenhart realizes the extreme repression on individuality in the Marines.
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We all like to think of ourselves as individuals. However, in truth, we all live in a mass denial created be ourselves to feel less guilty about instituting severe pressure to, and the consequences if one does not, conform. The way one learns about oneself is often through others’ words and actions. This outside feedback creates a role for a person that he/she accepts as “who he/she is.” Therefore, it is the words and actions of another that forms the self-identity of a person, and ad this relationship develops, positive, reinforcing words and actions become necessary for ones healthy existence. Of course, there are varying degrees of conformity, and in most people there is the struggle to hold on to their individuality. This struggle is apparent in the scene in Full Metal Jacket when Gomer Pyle is beaten with soaps in towels. The other members of the troop become upset at Pyle’s nonconformity, and their negative feelings eventually reached the point of violence. Then Pyle’s struggle was ended and he became like the others, a killing machine. In his article, Eisenhart recognizes that “the training process created intense emotional conflicts generated by the formation of a male role,” and that there was a “continual structured effort to degrade and shape the individuals self-image.” (32)
Because all throughout history conformity was a necessary way of life, one may see society now as completely brainwashed. Kubrick depicts the longstanding tradition of the US Marines as a kind of cult where everyone is uniformly behaved and not one thought is individual. Even Joker, who has an image of originality in the film, eventually gives in to the group. First in the scene where he is cajoled in to hitting Pyle with the soap, and second when he struggles with himself, but ultimately conforms by killing the Vietnamese sniper at the encouragement of his peers. In the beginning of Full Metal Jacket, the head shaving, which has been a part of military orientation for ages, is symbolic of the men leaving behind their personalities and individuality in order to be accepted into a group. The music playing in this scene further emphasizes the loss with the repeated “goodbye,” and the new prefabricated self-image with “hello Vietnam.” Eisenhart further describes this military brainwashing as “a certain ‘blank look’ in his eyes signifying the achievement of psychological control.” (29)
One can easily see the parallel between military uniformity, and everyday civilian life. Even such an accepted institution as education is really an attempt at creating identical model citizens. For example, in high school, a student is rewarded for complying with the rules, joining clubs, participating in class and doing well (according to an appointed figure) academically. However a student is severely punished for failing, or being antisocial and even further excommunicated from the society. Another method society uses to force conformity upon people is the consumerism ideology in America. Money is taught to people from birth to be one of the most important aspects of life, through the media, personal accounts and just about everything. One eventually believes that they must have a lot of money in order to have an enjoyable, successful life. To get money, one conforms to be the person who is awarded a well paying position. If one does not conform to the standard they will not be paid well, will not be able to buy things media tells them they need, and therefore be “different” and unwanted. In both situations, such harsh labels as “excommunicated” or “unwanted,” the individual may become depressed and ultimately suicidal.
Kubrick blatantly makes a connection between nonconformity and death in Full Metal Jacket. Pyle, the most unique of the troop, murders both the Drill Instructor and himself in the second most horrifying and important scene of the film. The first is when Joker, after seeing his mates be effortlessly slaughtered, confronts the Vietnamese sniper and kills her. Kubrick makes the connection by showing Joker’s fight with his own morality in the hesitation over the dying girl, and then finally in compliance with his role as a US Marine, he kills her.
I believe through Full Metal Jacket and “You Cant Hack It Little Girl: A Discussion Of The Covert Psychological Agenda of Modern Combat Training,” one is meant to realize that we should cherish our individuality and be wary of institutions of conformity. Eisenhart discusses throughout the article the effects of Marine bootcamp on the person. Kubrick uses the vehicle of the US Marines to express his opinions about our ideology, which encourages us to become one uniform mass. My optimistic opinion is that as long as there are people like Kubrick and Eisenhart to make the downfalls of society obvious, we can still hold on to a bit of our individuality.
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