Masquerades of Massacre: Gender, Genre, and the Gulf War TV Star System

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 1997


This essay documents Gerald McRaney's movement through the discursive continuum of the Gulf War, arguing that the protofascistic ethos of U.S. wartime culture imploded his image throughout the televisual palimpsest and gave him superstar status during the slick and clean warshow titled "Operation Desert Storm." While a good deal of recent work in film studies has focused on masculinity and male movie stars, sustained analyses of TV stars--particularly men--remain conspicuously absent. At the same time, studies of Gulf War TV have focused on news programming in an attempt to expose lies, document the complicity of the networks with the global post-industrial-military-media complex (and the Bush administration), and reveal the formal conventions and representational strategies of Gulf War news. This, however, has been done at the expense of any sustained examination of fictional programming. (3) This structuring absence points to many critics' unwitting complicity with television's more legitimate "masculine" genres during wartime culture. By turning to TV news in order to deconstruct its myth of objectivity, television scholars were blinded to the hegemonizing process taking place through fictional forms. Thus many critics were indeed complicit with the gendered distinctions and discursive hierarchies that the television industry both assumes and prophetically self-fulfills.

Although some media critics, like other viewers, tuned in to "watch the war" specifically on the news or, in the case of CNN "war junkies," during every waking hour, my observations were less selective, comprising a greater sample of "Operation Desert Storm's" vertical and horizontal flow. It seems to me that supposedly "harmless" and "merely" entertaining programs like Major Dad must be taken seriously as ideology-constructing texts precisely because of the generic contract they assume with the telespectator. Through my consideration of Gerald McRaney and Major Dad, then, I hope to contribute to underdeveloped areas in television studies by demonstrating that this banal situation comedy was--like the larger racist, misogynistic, and hypermilitaristic images and language of Gulf War culture--deadly serious.