“I left Okinawa in 2007 and the scars of those atrocities still weigh heavily on my mind.” ~Anonymous quote online about the traumatic effects of extended exposure to AFN
I HATE the Armed Forces Network (AFN). I have blogged about this before, and it’s one of my most popular blogs in the Far East Fling: Team American Forces Network, F’Yeah. Notice that I capitalized, italicized, bolded, and underlined that word…. Hate.
And it’s AFN’s fault.
It appears, from the actions of our “leadership,” that since we adult servicemembers, dependents, and government contractors can’t be trusted with actual television commercials, and that we as people who are willing to venture into harm’s way can’t safely ride a bike or we wary of snakes, the military has decided for us what we should see and hear while here in Okinawa. To that end, “they” give you the “Armed Forces Network.” And escape from AFN’s long reach is impossible: “they” super-saturate their programmed propaganda across the spectrum of radio and television dials.
Well, maybe not a spectrum; there is only one AM and one FM radio station in English, and AFN cable is like only 8 channels or so.
The good news? AFN is “commercial-free.”
The bad news? AFN has replaced slightly entertaining and marginally (if only potentially) informative commercials with extremely annoying disinformation.
A random AFN commercial may be charming or stupidly silly on first exposure, but after hearing/seeing it for the 67th time…this month…they become infuriatingly tedious. And over time, this tedium builds, in my case, to a level that I can almost characterize as anger. Ironic when I stop and think about it: I haven’t heard a commercial about anger management…YET.
To emphasize my point, here are a few radio sets that I’ve heard in the past week while in the car riding to, from and around the bases here.
Set 1: Identification Theft (it’s on the rise, you know, and you’re NEXT); “Recipes for Disaster” (don’t marinate your meat on the counter, but in the refrigerator and under 40 degrees F; Smoke Alarms (make sure your alarm is up-to-date and batteries are changed)
Set 2: Military Postal System (sending items in boxes marked toxic, flammable, or radioactive); Smoking Hazards (get this for scare tactics: erectile dysfunction for men, wrinkles for women – can anyone say, “sexist”?); WIC Overseas (oh, and who can forget, “Don’t Shake a Baby”); Family Readiness & Spouses (coping with deployment and some of the more inane rules of living overseas)
Set 3: VA Benefits (set to a “best of” collection of sappy made-up songs); Foster Parenting (can you even do that here in Okinawa???); Bullying (it happens all the time, every day, to apparently each of your children); Strokes (the three C’s, which I can’t remember….)
Set 4: Baby-Sitter Training (they’ll be required to have a personal AED next); Habu Dangers (“very aggressive, extremely dangerous,” and seemingly everywhere waiting for your slightest misstep)
From a quick review of the above NONSENSE, AFN misinformation breaks down into just a few generalized groups:
Supposed Safety: The simple message underlying all of these “safety” related spots are, frankly, that we are just too stupid to live our lives safely, and that to counteract our impending demise from snakes or dust mites, we must therefore be constantly bombarded of the impending consequences of everything that can remotely be considered a danger. Terror on public transportation, really? Maybe if we are on holiday in Gaza….
Public Dis-Service Announcements: So, the military attempts to make up for, say, the overly-restrictive and insulting liberty policy here (read my blog about the Epic Leadership Failure), by providing member services, like spousal support. These are the WORST commercials you can imagine, complete with lame musac-like tunes, and a flat, lifeless announcer that sound so bored that the listener actually would go out of the way to avoid such service.
Self-Serving Advertising: Yes, the 18th Force Support Squadron is awesome, and we know ALL ABOUT the unit golfing opportunity…. The FM radio station, self-labelled as “JACK FM,” likes to talk about how cool they are by “playing…whatever.” Yeah, whatever the military censors allow them to play. C’mon.
Obscure Oddities: Women and Infant Children (WIC) plays way too many times here. Besides the audience being quite low for the airtime, it’s downright criminal that so many servicemen and women qualify for such benefits in the first place. And really, ANF? How many people are sending packages in the same boxes that they received those explosives in at work?
Here are a few more sets to, taking AFN’s lead, to emphasize and re-emphasize my point:
Set 5: Terror on Public Transportation (it’s surely going to happen to you if you’re not on-guard); Fire Safety and Being Electrically Responsible (tell the Japanese to wire their homes better); Habu (again); MPS (again); WIC (again); Pay Your Taxes (it’s YOUR responsibility)!!
Set 6: Asthma (it can kill); Vacuuming the Floor (seriously); Bicycle Helmets (save lives, but somehow we all survived)
Set 7: WIC (yet again); Touring the island by Air (the one thing on the list that is quasi-interesting and informative); Your ID card (don’t lose it!); Reading & Literacy (uhmm…..); News (AP news, which offers a rather random summary of world news in 40 seconds)….
Why is AFN filling our brains with such nonsense? ENOUGH ALREADY.
This conga line of bruising sound-bites blankets us here in Okinawa in what ways that can only be making things worse. Why the leadership can’t see or understand this is one of the basic failures of management overseas. We are not asking for all the bad news and negativity; hell, AFN doesn’t even have to play commercials in the first place.
Jim Lehrer, in analyzing the effect of the media and its constantly negative reinforcement, coined the phrase “learned helplessness”. Some people will accept the America Culture of Fear on face-value, at detriment to and in their lives. At worst, it seems obvious that continual negativity or a negative bias can stimulate depression, even if we all are laughing at the ridiculous paranoia exhibited by AFN. Like it or not, the service members here are hearing these messages…everyday, over and over. And if some chose to really concentrate on all the bad communications, they may find themselves worked-up emotionally, resulting in even more unwise decision-making, much like an adolescent does when resenting the overbearing “advice” of their parents.
In general terms, negative media messages outweigh good news at times by as much as 17:1. The propaganda distributed by AFN is really no different. Studies have shown that we care and focus relentlessly more about the threat of bad things than we do about the prospect of good things. Our negative brain tripwires are far more sensitive than our positive triggers; the more remote the chances and the more horrific the consequences, the better. We tend to get more fearful than happy. And each time we experience fear we our stress hormones get turned on, in a vicious cycle feeding on itself. AFN simply cannot be good for any of us.
Is there any way to avoid AFN’s monopolistic reach into our psyches? Yes, but it requires buying Asian satellite TV and playing your iPod through your car radio (I do both). AFN should realize that they could, instead, focus on the glass being half-full – or at least say the dangerous thunderstorm is filling our collective cup.
What can you do? Encourage AFN to deliverer a more balanced and multi-dimensional point of view. It is, quite probable, a losing battle. Until our leadership wakes up and pays more attention to the critically small details of life overseas, nothing will really change. AFN is a mega, government-corporation with entrenched GS civilians and military officers who believe in their own silly rhetoric. The situation is probably even beyond reach of the III MEF Marine Corps General-island; that shouldn’t serve as a pass to you, General Wissler….
Tell me what you think about AFN. It appears we are not alone: ANF “haters” appear to have their own FB page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/I-Hate-AFN-Commercials/211760985324
BTW, the base exchanges here all sell hordes of smokes, booze, and smokeless tobacco….