Sergeant Dork?

(Soundtrack: Silverchair Frogstomp… “Pure Massacre” on repeat, actually)

I’ve got pretty conflicted feelings about Demo #7. It appeals very strongly to my “suppose they gave a war and no one came” side–this is kind of a reverse Sergeant York, and that’s all to the good, as far as I’m concerned, because I hate Hawks’ film. For those of you who don’t know it–SY stars Gary Cooper as a pacifist sharpshooter who never misses, and tells the story of his conversion, under fire, into a damned war hero. The war in question is World War One–the original senseless conflict. There are no ideological issues involved here–it’s “pacifism vs. patriotism”, pure and simple. Of course, as far as I’m concerned, pacifism is the only patriotism that matters–fidelity to “all creatures”. So, yeah, John Hatfield’s epiphany makes a lot more sense to me than good ol’ Alvin York’s.

However, I just don’t like the “social deprograming”/Adbusters tone of the issue–and I’m really not on board with the new femme fatalism that’s becoming a bit of a pattern in the series. This is the second issue of Demo (#4 was the other one) in which we have encountered a sensitive working-class guy pushed against his better judgement to make concessions to the economic order by a foul-tempered, utterly unloving girlfriend/wife. This is a disturbing throwback to Jack London-style class-consciousness–i.e. women are the agents of a “false capitalist consensus”/gentrification, and a true “revolutionist” is better off goin’ it alone!

Does anyone else get this sense? Or am I totally off base here? I’ll have more to say about this issue, once I’ve got other opinions to work off of!

Good Day Friends!



  1. Dave,

    I don’t have either #4 or #7 right in front of me at the moment, but the sense I got was that the women were also victims of the economic order rather than just enforcers. In #7, I found the phone conversation with the wife harrowing largely because she had a point–what was she going to do if he lost his opportunities and she was stuck with the baby? Because she had a point, I didn’t judge her as a femme fatale, I felt as sorry for her as I did for her husband because they were both caught in the same oppressive structure.

    I put this in the same category of feminist radicalism I associate with Tolstoy and The Kreutzer Sonata (though I’m sure all kinds of people have written this way too): it points out how women become social enforcers of the economic order because the sexual structure of society–become a sex object, lure a man, get married, have a baby, raise the baby–makes them most dependent on men fulfilling their roles in that society. I got the sense that Wood was going for something more like that.


  2. I agree with you John, up to a point–however, I’m sure Jack London would have made a similar case in defense of his position! What it comes down to, I suppose, is that I just flat out don’t believe that, in a liberal-democracy, “the system” is as coercive as all that.

    “It’s up to you not to heed the call-up”, and all that! If John Hatfield can come to this realization, why can’t Kendra? “The system” might give Kendra–or John–(or their apologists) something to blame their behaviour on, but if we accept that excuse, and absolve them of any moral responsibility, then we can just give up on things ever getting better. So far, in Demo, we’ve had two stories that dealt explicitly with the problems confronted by working-class Americans–and both of them have featured a male protagonist who sort of knows better than to accept the paradigmatic either/or, and a female character who doesn’t. I agree with Larry that I might have been premature in calling this a “pattern”–but let’s just say I’m on the watch for it!

    Meanwhile, I wish the series would get back to the awesome subject/object stuff that made #5 so thrilling! But, of course, that’s just me!


  3. i dont think John made “concessions” to anyone or anything other than his own conscience and best judgement. Since in doing that, he robs his family of income and health insurance, i think his wife has a reason to be a little upset when its first explained to her.

    Amy, in #4, was absolutely a selfish bitch, but Kendra is just reacting the way any normal person would in her shoes. John probably comes off worse in this story than she does (if you had to choose. but i think both of them are just caught in the same jam for two different reasons).


  4. Dave,

    How do you connect this to the bride who doesn’t even get to learn about her husband’s pivotal decisions in Demo #6?

    And what happened to you being gender-blind?


  5. Im only gender-blind on existential questions Rose! I’ll have to think about how I think this relates to issue #6…


    I understand what you’re saying–but still, I do think Kendra serves as the voice of “social control” in this issue… She certainly isn’t willing to reexamine the morality of killing in wartime, as John is… I guess my point is that I think even people in economic jams are responsible for their actions… and I don’t like seeing the focus shifted onto “the system”. Demo has been almost Zolaesque in its treatment of social questions, and, while that’s a valid point of view, it’s not one that I share! Unless you are willing to say: “hey redneck! it’s your fault you are the way you are, not society’s/the media’s”, then the objectionable paradigm will never shift! And I’m more interested in seeing real change than in dignifying the lives of people in jams (like the drunken “trailer trash” that raised me!)

    I hope everyone understands that, when I bother to voice a philosophical disagreement with a work, that’s a good thing! It means I’m taking the book seriously–and I’m ready for more Demo right now, believe me! I can’t wait to see how it reads as a complete series.


  6. David, this sounds very much in line with how I read Demo #6, in which Ken continuously tries to pass responsibility for his misery on to others, until his shirking results in horrific zombified death for his entire neighborhood–and even then he just doesn’t get it. I don’t know if that quite answers Rose’s question, but it’s what I noticed in your analysis.

    I haven’t read #7 (or any other issues–I’m looking out especially for #5) yet, because I haven’t been able to find it in any local stores.

  7. both John and Kendra are totally responsible for their actions. i dont think i suggest otherwise. John may not have expected to have to fight a war when he signed up, but he’s there regardless. he and his buddies dont like it, but they deal. John makes a MASSIVE personal sacrifice in getting out. never once does he say he was duped or conned or screwed.

    and Kendra is concerned primarily with the reality thats right in front of her. she serves as no such “social control”. she isnt in the warzone, so it doesnt have the same impact as it does for John. she just wants to be able to feed her baby and take it to the doctor.

    “Unless you are willing to say: “hey redneck! it’s your fault you are the way you are, not society’s/the media’s””

    see Demo #4


  8. I’m eager to read what you (and everyone else out there!) think of #5, Steven…

    The difference in #7 is that John (unlike Ken) does take responsibility for his own moral conduct…but Kendra certainly does not!

    Just to clarify though: I’m not at all in favour of a system that lays out a choice between miserable poverty and killing people in the middle east as “the way things are”–but I’m not in favour of allowing anyone to use the system as a moral crutch either.


  9. Brian,

    I wrote my reply to Steven before your comment popped up–I agree that both James (in #4) and John (in #7) do choose not to accept the paradigmatic either/or, my only concern is that they are both saddled with women who attempt to force them to make a “sanctioned” choice–and this gets me back to my Jack London comparison–John is thinking about the morality of his actions, Kendra is thinking only about how to deal with what’s in front of her–but if people all thought like Kendra, well, we’d still be doing the “war of all against all” thing. As Larry pointed out, this is not a large enough sample to extrapolate much of anything from, but it’s something I picked up on, that’s all! (and maybe I’m too sensitive to it, having read more than my fair share of masculinist proletarian lit over the past decade!)


  10. Dave,

    Getting back to gendered responses a bit, it seems important to me that Jack London’s position wasn’t some sort of abstract philosophizing but, I assume, had a lot to do with the way he rationalized leaving his own woman and kids. I’ve always assumed he didn’t just meditate on the issue and decide that if a revolutionary has to forsake ball ‘n’ chain, then he’d better do that. It seemed like after-the-fact rationalizing.

    Not having read Demo #7, it seems that Kendra’s created a similar subjective reality. She’s in an awfully tough situation, having to steel herself for her absent husband’s death while still assuming he will return, and so his decision (made without her knowledge or input or consent, I infer) to take a totally different route shocks her into a completely different reality. And getting back to gendered filth, she’s the one there with the baby while he’s got his high-flying morals and beliefs, and she’s just had her fantasies destroyed. Maybe she doesn’t want to reexamine the morality of killing because it’s her husband out there to be killed. And does John really evaluate the morality of the way the army controls the lives and movements of army wives? Does he do detailed economic analyses of how to assure the baby’s needs will be met?

    I don’t know because I haven’t read the story yet, but it seems to me that both of them are playing both London roles, being messy, selfish idealists who want to align themselves with a status quo that gives them what they want.


  11. Rose wrote:

    “I’ve always assumed he [Jack London] didn’t just meditate on the issue and decide that if a revolutionary has to forsake ball ‘n’ chain, then he’d better do that. It seemed like after-the-fact rationalizing.”

    No question Rose–but (in London, in Mike Gold, and in many other prolewtarian writers) it did go hand in hand with a brand of essentialism which assumed that women are “nestbuilders” (and therefore “natural-born agents of the status quo“). It goes without saying that I don’t accept this–and I’m not saying that Brian & Becky do, but it’s certainly one way to interpret what we’ve seen in Demo so far!

    I’m anxious to see what you think of the book once you get a chance to read it!


  12. Yup, Dave, I was just saying it’s a lot easier to believe what London does when it lets you justify your life choices, and that seems to be what both John and Kendra are doing. Well, and the rest of us in various ways are doing it too, I’m sure.


  13. Dave,

    I don’t believe that the system is coercive per se; it doesn’t have to be. This is slightly deviating from the text of Demo, in which John seems like a smart guy, but in general it seems to me that people who start out in life with a low quality of education and parents who have had a low-quality education, then they frankly have fewer critical tools with which to make these kinds of moral/political decisions than people who, by virtue of having more money, have been taught more. So it’s not that the quote-unquote System forces people into these terrible situations that they ought not have gone into, it’s that their position in the social structure is such that they are less able to evaluate their own roles and their own options. You can say that all the soldiers in Iraq who think Saddam had something to do with 9/11 have made poor moral choices for which they are responsible, but it’s hard for me to judge them quite that harshly when they’ve been told all their lives to believe what they’re told by people in authority and have been exposed to almost no other ways of thinking. I totally agree with your anti-essentialist stance, but I think the harsh truth is that the education you receive when young–both in school and out–tends to influence the rest of your life, especially if there are no other forces to counteract it when it’s bad. That’s mainly my way of seeing it, but I totally see where you’re coming from. I think people in economic trouble do bear responsibilty for their choices, but we can’t be blind to how those choices are constructed by the larger culture. If Kendra were just a victim or just a victimizer, the story would be sort of boring; what makes it awful and compelling is that she’s both. On political questions, everyone is to blame, but no individual is wholly to blame.


  14. “both saddled with women who attempt to force them to make a “sanctioned” choice”


    i dont think that’s what Kendra is doing. she’s reacting to John, and trying to get him to not quit for the sake of their family. she isnt actually trying to force him to do anything.


  15. “both saddled with women who attempt to force them to make a “sanctioned” choice”

    I actually thought that was a great word choice, because both meanings of “sanctioned” have to fit, and it seems they do. She’s pushing him to stick with the officially approved version of things, and he’s looking to accept an option that would mean he’d be penalized and stripped of certain rights in order to gain his autonomy.

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