My friend and fellow author Kristen Tsetsi has put her considerable will and energy behind an intriguing idea: She wants TIME magazine to make the military family its Person of the Year. What’s more, she wants you to want this, too, and you can join her Facebook campaign by going here.
Kristen was good enough to take a few questions about the campaign:
What was the impetus behind this?
I was watching the announcement of the 2010 TIME Person of the Year on either Morning Joe or the Today show, and when they announced who it was, I thought, “They should make it ‘the service member.’ ”
Curious, I looked up the list of TIME’s people of the year, and I discovered the service member has been PoY twice: in 1950 it was “The American Fighting-Man,” and in 2003 it was “The American Soldier.” Naturally, my next thought was, “It should be the military family.”
Person of the Year is given to the person, group, or thing that has most influenced the culture or the news during the past year. The military family has easily had a cultural impact in the last year: every time the war, a soldier, or the military is in the news, so is a military family by extension. When a soldier dies, the media jumps to interview the family members trying to deal with the loss. (Or, they used to. These days, Lindsay Lohan’s rehab seems much more interesting to them. A few days ago, two soldier deaths in Iraq got less than 10 seconds of coverage, but Lohan was given a full feature story for getting out of rehab, or not getting out of rehab, or something to do with her drinking and drug habit or quitting thereof. I’m sure it was important, whatever it was.)
Additionally, the military family has had an incredible impact on pop culture. Army Wives is entering its fifth season this year, E! just aired a special on the military spouse, Oprah has done several episodes that recognize the military family, and in terms of larger cultural impact, how likely do you think it is that we’d have nearly as many volunteer forces as we do if there weren’t extended family members available to take care of soldiers’ children?
What sort of traction have you gotten so far?
New-tire traction. Since Dec. 16, the Facebook page already has 245 fans (note: It’s 281 now). Not enough to get media attention, but it’s a nice number for the length of time the page has been up. Military Avenue, created by a retired Air Force Colonel, Dale Kissinger, has interviewed me, I’ve been invited to write a blog post for a Kentucky NPR station’s website, and others are contacting me to ask how they can help.
Why this year? Is there a particular “hook” upon which to hang this?
Can you think of a time in media history in which a television show about military families has entered its 5th season (or even HAD a season)? That, and it’s already been over a decade since the conflicts we’re involved in began. Why not now?
You’ve had to wait out the deployment of your husband, Ian. What part(s) of that experience can those of us who’ve never done it not imagine?
People who have had family members or others they love in ICU know what it’s like, even if they don’t know it. It’s day after day of not knowing whether the person you love will die, to put it simply. It’s a constant, nagging thought, no matter what you’re doing. And it colors every minute.
How do you define a military family? Are we talking spouses, parents, siblings and children, or does it go wider than that?
Wider. When Ian deployed, we weren’t married, but I considered him my “family” and there would have been nothing worse than losing him. That we’re married now doesn’t mean I’ll suffer the loss any more than if we weren’t married. The military family, as far as I’m concerned, includes anyone who so loves the deployed service member that their death would have a devastating impact.
Okay, you’re sitting here, waiting, and your loved one is overseas, in the line of fire. How do you cope with abstractions as people here at home debate the merits of war or troop levels or whether they’re being given the equipment to do their jobs?
When Ian was in Iraq, I watched Trading Spaces when it was still on. A woman cried after seeing her newly decorated home. I thought, “People are flying and shooting and taking cover in a desert, and you’re crying over paint?” I also watched the embedded reporters sending live broadcasts of the war 24-7 when the Iraq business started, and on one hand I thought, “You think this is a war movie? Do you not know you might catch someone being killed and that person might be someone’s spouse/parent/sibling/child?” On the other hand, it allowed me to feel confident that because I wasn’t hearing about it, nothing had happened to MY person in the Middle East. (Until Asan Akbar of the 101st grenaded his own troops, which was immediately reported and had me in a panic until Ian, in the 101st at the time, called me.)
I listened to the various news-people debates and I rolled my eyes at their opinions because they were coming from a safe place behind a glass desk upon which sat fresh coffee and a stack of notes.
How do you cope? I guess you just get pissed off at the silly things people find “important,” envy those who don’t have anyone in immediate danger, and live on hope and assumptions of a safe return.
I’m going to play cynic for a minute: You have a novel coming out, Pretty Much True …, that chronicles one woman’s life on the homefront. So you’re just ginning up interest in that, right?
No, I’m not. However, in the interest of absolute honesty, if this leads to future sales of Pretty Much True…, I won’t be disappointed. I wrote it to paint an intimate picture of the personal, political, and psychological experience, and I think it’s one most people haven’t been introduced to, but should. That said, when I had the idea for this, Pretty Much True… wasn’t even a thought, and I have no interest in linking to anything having to do with it on the facebook page created for this effort. The most information I give about myself on the page is my e-mail address, and the writing I link to is written by other people.
I’m going to play skeptic for a minute: Person of the Year ought to recognize achievements toward peace, not the making of war. What do you say?
I say, as TIME says, that PoY isn’t an honor, but a recognition. Big difference. (And military families aren’t involved in the making of war. At least, no more than any other voter.)
How can someone who’s on board with this idea help?
By simply clicking “like.” I don’t want anyone’s money, I don’t want anyone to commit to receiving newsletters, and I don’t want anyone to do anything else that would cut into their day. All I want is a “like.” It’s the easiest possible thing to do, and what’s more, if it works, that very small, two-second act could actually have an impact. TIME editor Richard Stengel says of PoY, “The challenge is presenting something people know in a new way.” People think they know the military family, but all they know are yellow ribbons and crying families. There’s much more to know, and this can help spread that awareness.