Happy Memorial Day

From two friends on Facebook (lightly edited) on Tuesday (US Memorial Day having been on Monday):

1: What is up with “Happy Memorial Day?” It’s a day to remember the dead … I feel like people have no idea what Memorial Day is!

2: I’ve seen a lot of “happy” Memorial Day comments too. Unfathomable.

For them, such well-wishings are akin to “Happy Yom Kippur” (the Day of Atonement in Judaism) or “Merry Good Friday” (Crucifixion Day in Christianity) as expressions of goodwill — deeply at odds with the solemnity of the occasions.

Their reactions have been shared by many others. There’s a simple response, which I gave on Facebook and repeat below. Then there’s a more complex, messy response. (The topic will eventually lead, given my inclinations, to discussions of homowear and gay porn for the holiday — definitely racy, but not, I think, quite over the line into Not Safe For Minors territory.)

A longer discussion of the negative reactions to Happy Memorial Day — in HuffPost, “The Problem With Saying ‘Happy Memorial Day’: Many Americans see this seemingly harmless holiday phrase as quite the faux pas” by Caroline Bologna from 5/23/19, updated 5/19/20:

We’re nearing Memorial Day, which to many Americans means time off work, permission to wear white, an occasion to fire up the grill, and other fun start-of-summer fare. If you scroll through Instagram on Monday, you’ll likely see a number of sunny (and hopefully socially distanced) photos with the caption “Happy Memorial Day!”

But the joyful word “happy” has rubbed some people the wrong way and caused quite a debate. Indeed, while Veterans Day is a time to honor all those who have served in the military, Memorial Day is meant to pay tribute to those military personnel who died while serving. Thus, the latter carries a more somber tone.

… In 2015, Marine Corps veteran Jennie Haskamp wrote a piece for The Washington Post in which she shared her frustration with the sentiment of “Happy Memorial Day” and the holiday’s transformation into “grilled meat, super-duper discounts, a day (or two) off work, beer, potato salad and porches draped in bunting.” Instead, she argued, it should be more than that.

My Facebook summary:

What seems to be going on here is that there’s an official holiday (roughly analogous to a religious holiday) and there’s a popular, or folk, holiday (roughly analogous to a secular holiday) that has developed from the official holiday. Memorial Day the official holiday is a solemn occasion for remembering and honoring the war dead. Memorial Day the popular holiday is the beginning of the summer season, the day when summer events and practices open up, so a time for celebration, and it has its own customs, which have absolutely nothing to do with the war dead. Compare the Christian religious holiday Halloween (All Hallows’ Eve), the beginning of a three-day observance honoring the dead, especially the saints and martyrs, versus popular Halloween, with its witch figures, trick-or-treating, and all the rest.

Insisting that a holiday can have only its original meaning is a form of irrational Originalism, like insisting that quarantine can be used only for isolation periods of exacty 40 days. But sociocultural practices (including linguistic usages, but also customs of many kinds) alter over time, fracture into several new ones, merge syncretically with practices from other cultures — though the labels used for them are often maintained throughout these transformations, so that they become ambiguous, with several clearly distinct denotations, and often fuzzy as well, with unclear boundaries between the different referents. There’s more than one Christmas, and people frequently mix elements of the religious Christmases (in different Christian communities) and the various folk Christmases indiscriminately. Memorial Day turns out to be a lot like that.

There’s nothing wrong with valorizing one of the uses of a linguistic expression, like Memorial Day, Halloween, or Christmas, but insisting that your use is the only legitimate one is just pigheaded bullying.

Mingled meanings. For Memorial Day, things go well beyond the simple division into an official holiday and a popular holiday: the official holiday has been imbued with associations well beyond the war dead, to take in military service in general (note the careful distinction in the HuffPost piece between the purposes of Memorial Day and Veterans Day, though it’s often elided), and to serve as another occasion for American triumphalist patriotism (largely through prominent displays of the American flag), along with Flag Day, the Fourth of July, and Veterans Day (the last being roughly equivalent to Armistice Day outside the US).

This mingling of associations turns out to be very common. Here’s the whole package, in the posting “Happy Memorial Day, from the USW” (United Steelworkers) on 5/27/19:

(#1) Both “serve” (veterans and current members of the military) and “sacrifice” (the military dead), plus a big American flag: everything for an official holiday, but nothing here about the popular holiday

One point here is that if you widen the official holiday to embrace military service in general and also patriotism, then it becomes a day of celebration, virtually a Fourth of July in May, and picnics and the like are entirely appropriate. (I ritually eat hot dogs — always Hebrew National all-beef, with pickles, onions, and mustard — on two occasions each year: Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. Nostalgia for these occasions in my childhood, though for some years now I’ve eaten alone, rather than in company with family and friends — this year at home rather than at the Peninsula Creamery in Palo Alto.)

Now, you could take the position that it’s just wrong to jumble Memorial Day up with the Fourth of July and Veterans Day. Then you’re a purist, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s just annoying to berate those of more latitudinarian bent for not sharing your purism.

Obviously, with those Memorial Day hot dogs, I’m no purist. Elsewhere on this blog (search under “Maple Donuts”) I’ve expressed my deep disquiet with aggressive displays of the American flag, but picnics and the like, let’s go!

HomoMemorial Day. Any occasion with a whiff of a military theme is an occasion for selling homowear (gay-inflamed premium men’s underwear and other clothing) and gay porn flicks. In the fantasy world of Gayland, it’s all guys; the trappings of masculinity are highly valued (as is only natural, since Gaylanders desire men as sexual partners); and military men are a distillation of young tough masculinity, they handle weapons they can fire off, and so on — so of course they are high-octane fantasy lust objects (for many actual gay men; I don’t really get their pull).

Give me some men who are stout-hearted men,
Who will fight, for the right they adore,
Start me with ten who are stout-hearted men,
And I’ll soon give you ten thousand more.
Shoulder to shoulder and bolder and bolder,
They grow as they go to the fore.
Then there’s nothing in the world can halt or mar a plan,
When stout-hearted men can stick together man to man.
— “Stout-Hearted Men” from New Moon (Sigmund Romberg / Frank Mandel / Laurence Schwab / Oscar Hammerstein II) from 1927

(I note that this was apparently written in total innocence, extolling manly brotherhood. Which can be, by the way, a very good thing. I don’t laugh at the sentiment, but at its extravagant formulation, which encourages alternative readings.)

In any case, Memorial Day is a prime military occasion, so you’re going to see a fair amount of homowear and tons of gay porn flicks (you do have to put death out of your mind to appreciate these works).

On the first, from my 5/30/17 posting “Flagging America”:

A recent Daily Jocks ad, with a N2N speedo-style Stars and Stripes swimsuit for Memorial Day, yesterday, also looking forward to Flag Day on June 14th and Independence Day on July 4th :


On the second, a sampling from earlier postings of mine, in the 5/28/18 posting “More porn for the holidays”:

On the 26th, about the Lucas gay porn sale for Memorial Day 2018: “Memorial mansex” on AZBlogX; and “Porn for the holidays, with narrowed eyes” on this blog, about offering gay porn for various holidays (for Memorial Day as a cultural celebration of summer, in particular), and about interpreting narrowed eyes and drooping eyes.

Now, in “More Memorial mansex” on AZBlogX today, two more gay porn ads for the holiday: one from TitanMen featuring Liam Knox; and one from Dirk Yates featuring Rod Peterson. Here I’ll pick up some themes from those ads: from the Titan, Knox’s tats, and what tats convey; from the DY, a note on palming off pros as amateurs, plus reality vs. fiction and the playful invention new cummer.

(#3) Rod Peterson playing a Marine kid who is (in this cropped photo) inhaling a buddy from the base; caption at the bottom: “Starring new cummer Rod Peterson”

The TitanMen has no rationale beyond celebrating summer, while the DY exploits the military origins of the holiday to offer what’s billed as gay sex performed by straight Marines who are amateurs at porn (and so taps into audiences for straight guys as sex objects, for military men as sex objects, and for amateur, real-life sex, as opposed to fantasies crafted by pros).

And then, while I was preparing this posting, there appeared the 2020 Memorial Day sale from TitanMen, offering an assortment of military-themed flicks (and more), including one I’d been unaware of: American Military Grade Bukkake (Joe Gage Private Stock) from Dragon Media (2015). I won’t try to illustrate it here or on AZBlogX, but I have looked at a trailer, which is just a montage of men getting facefuls of cum from their military buddies. Just the sex man, in this case the sex advertised in the title.

Gage, however, is famous for his long-form porn flicks in which the complexities of relationships between men (mostly in pairs) are explored in some detail via their sexual connections, often with subtlety. He’s also been good at unearthing porn actors who are naturals at this, and at coaxing believable performances from others. Not high art — its principal function is to get queers  off, after all (and it certainly works for me) — but within the extraordinarily tight constraints of the genre, it’s very well crafted.

I’m hoping that the new video falls in with the rest of his work, though you can’t tell that from the trailer. Plus, bukkake, many men on one, would seem like a barren ground for Gage’s usual explorations of the emotional world of mansex.

But it certainly has a big bunch of guys framed as military men.

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