When “Top Gun” came out in 1986, it helped drive a surge of interest in flying for the U.S. military, including a 10 percent spike in service academy applications. Its sequel, “Top Gun: Maverick,” which came out just ahead of Memorial Day weekend, is chock-full of the same feel-good heroics, guts, and patriotism that made a generation of boys (and a few girls) dream of becoming fighter pilots nearly 40 years ago.
The Pentagon collaborated with producers on the movie, as it has with myriad other military flicks. Now, from ads lined up to accompany the movie to recruitment tables set up outside theaters, the Navy and Air Force are making no secret of using “Top Gun: Maverick” as a recruiting tool, as well they should. It’s a far better promotion for the U.S. military than the embarrassing, woke garbage that equity consultants have been churning out.
A year ago, the U.S. Army released a 2-minute cartoon narrated by Cpl. Emma Malonelord and ostensibly depicting her childhood.
“It begins in California with a little girl raised by two moms,” she says. “Although I had a fairly typical childhood, took ballet, played violin, I also marched for equality. I like to think I’ve been defending freedom from an early age,” she adds, before detailing the day her moms were married (complete with a colorfully animated wedding).
She then talks about being a sorority girl surrounded by “other strong women,” before realizing she had so much privilege that she finally decided to have her “own adventures” like her friend that was studying abroad in Italy. So, Emma joined the Army.
The ad makes our military — the members of which I deeply respect — appear instead like a bunch of kindergarteners. Emma’s reason for joining up is selfish; it’s not because she wants to sacrifice for a cause she believes in, it’s because her friends are studying abroad in Italy or climbing Mount Everest and she wants to do something exciting too.
It’s painfully obvious that the point of the ad was to check boxes in the Army’s department of showing how much the Pentagon loves lesbian weddings. The animation is reminiscent of a B-list kids TV show, and so is the sugary tone of the voiceover.
There is zero in the video to inspire any kind of bravery, sacrifice, duty, honor, integrity, excellence, teamwork, or respect. Like the short-lived “Army of One” slogan of 20 years ago, this ad is all about being your best self and fulfilling your personal needs and desires. It’s more evocative of a cheesy Instagram caption than a profession that is aptly described as service.
Unlike that dumpster fire of an ad campaign — which was only one video in a series of five — “Top Gun” (both movies) gave viewers something to be inspired by besides themselves. There are strong themes of sacrifice, bravery, and overcoming personal challenges for the good of the mission and your team. While Maverick and Iceman might be a smidge too cocky, they have the exploits to back it up; they’re not talking about their sororities or “shattering some stereotypes.”
Besides that, there’s the fact that “Top Gun” actually makes the military look cool. Who sees the epic dogfights, the sharp uniforms, the shiny aviator glasses, the daring flybys, or the dramatic takeoffs without wanting to be that legendary? I doubt anyone who watched the Army’s cartoon walked away with the same impression.
It turns out, Tom Cruise and company are far better at making a compelling promo for the U.S. military than “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion”-crazed bureaucrats at the Pentagon are. (The ad is no one-off; Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley told Congress he wanted to “understand white rage,” while Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday defended the Navy’s inclusion of Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist” as recommended reading for sailors.)
The military isn’t going to fix its alarming recruiting lull with kitschy “be yourself” cartoons. Nor are movies like “Top Gun” enough to combat our cultural war of attrition on concepts like duty, responsibility, and sacrifice. But at least the latter is speaking the right language.