May 2020, Week 4


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 		 [The U.S. Space Force is about to be eclipsed by Netflix’s
upcoming parody—and that might be a good thing.]




 Bryan Bender 
 May 23, 2020

	* [https://portside.org/node/22971/printable/print]

 _ The U.S. Space Force is about to be eclipsed by Netflix’s
upcoming parody—and that might be a good thing. _ 

 , Aaron Epstein/Netflix 


The United States Space Force can’t catch a break. The newest branch
of the American military, first championed by President Donald Trump
two years ago, tried to generate some serious headlines this month
with its first recruiting commercial, 
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ud7wgbBBnY]an otherworldly 30-second
spot summoning volunteers “to plan for the possible while it’s
still impossible.”

Instead, it was ambushed by the trailer
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdpYpulGCKc] for Steve Carell’s
much-awaited Netflix series “Space Force,” which came out just
hours earlier (the recruiting ad racked up 17,000 likes on Twitter
compared with the trailer’s 48,000).

In a country stuck at home watching TV, starved for new content, the
absurd comedy is one of the more exciting cultural events of the
season, a “The Office”-style lampooning stuffed with big
names—Carell, Lisa Kudrow, John Malkovich, Jane Lynch, Noah Emmerich
and Jimmy O. Yang of “Silicon Valley.” It’s fair to say that the
first new military branch in 73 years is at serious risk of being
eclipsed entirely by a workplace parody.

It might seem like the real Space Force, which has already been the
target of more than its share of memes and jokes
[https://www.wired.com/story/space-force-internet/], would groan and
dismiss it, but no: The show is already the watercooler chatter of the
year among Pentagon brass and at the far-flung bases where the real
Space Force is being carved out of the Air Force. Watch parties are
being planned, and the real head of the Space Force recently even had
some advice [https://taskandpurpose.com/tag/steve-carell] for the
show, mainly that Carell should get a haircut.

“The Office” was known for lacerating humor, its knives perfectly
sharpened around the absurdities of daily work life, bumbling
management and awkward co-workers. When it comes to a newborn military
branch, how deep can a parody cut? Based on the first season of 10
episodes, which POLITICO binged-watched in advance of the May 29
release, the show is goofy, funny, wildly unrealistic in some
ways—and also gets some big stuff totally right.

If you’ve followed the growing pains of the real Space Force,
particularly the anxieties surrounding its relationship to Trump,
it’s clear the new show is dialed in to some of the biggest worries
about how it will turn out. So if you want to be a really informed
viewer—or just wonder how close to the real thing this is—here’s
your guide to why “Space Force” is stressing out (but also
riveting) the real Space Force. (NO SPOILERS!)

[Space Force cast]

John Malkovich plays a scientist who complains that his research
projects can’t compete with big-ticket weapons. | Aaron

“Boots on the moon”

So is the Space Force just an American attempt to militarize the rest
of the solar system? That’s what its critics worry about. The real
Space Force doesn’t see it that way; the limits of its official
mission are very clear: to focus on Earth’s orbit and protect the
increasingly important fleet of American satellites from potential

On the show, the tension is epitomized by the (fictional)
president’s tweet that he wants “boots on the moon by 2024.”

“Actually, he said ‘boobs on the moon,’ but we believe that to
be a typo,” explains the show’s secretary of Defense character.

The exchange is clearly a nod to the real president’s habit of
blindsiding his generals with his social media blasts and public
pronouncements—and setting his advisers scrambling to decipher what
he really means and if he’s serious.

But it also cuts pretty close to a nerve. The year 2024 is when Trump
has promised to return astronauts to the lunar surface, though via
NASA rather than the military. In the show, the force is divided
between scientists interested in improving life on Earth and military
types hellbent on making space a new battlefield—in this case,
preparing for a shooting war on the moon. There’s the moon-like
camouflage of the Space Force’s uniforms. And there’s the “Space
Flag” war game in which troops test out competing spacesuits for
crater warfare.

Malkovich’s chief scientist character is constantly complaining that
his research projects can’t compete with big-ticket weapons. “I
would like to know,” he demands at one point, “why my science
budget pales in comparison to the riches devoted to turning space into
an orgy of death.”

It is a vision that the architects of the real Space Force clearly
want to deflect. “The premise of us going to a moon in the military
and stuff like that, it’s interesting for maybe comedy and
satire,” Lt. Gen. D.T. Thompson, vice commander of the real Space
Force, told me.

For now, the Space Force is preoccupied with defending the satellites
the military and society rely on so heavily here on Earth so that
potential adversaries like Russia and China don’t disrupt them—in
other words, to do the things that NASA can’t do. “Our priority
and our near-term focus right now is protecting those things,”
Thompson says. “They want to take GPS, they want to take
communications, they want to take missile warning, they want to take
all of that stuff away from us.”

The president’s pet branch

The knock on the Space Force, in the show as in real life, is that
it’s an idea dreamed up by a salesman president who sees it as his
plaything. On the show, the direct text messages from POTUS to Steve
Carell’s character, Gen. Mark Naird, will likely make the leaders of
the real Space Force cringe.

The president wants his entrepreneur crony to get contracts even
though her technology is unproven. He makes reckless demands for
quicker results in the race against the Chinese to dominate the moon.
He is also obsessed with what the new branch’s uniforms should look
like, empowering the first lady to oversee the designs, conscripting
Naird’s headquarters staff into service as runway models.

The obsession with what the “spacemen” (and women) should wear is
just one echo of the preoccupations of the real POTUS, whose
administration has made revitalizing the space program a high priority
and for the first time designated space a “warfighting domain”
[https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-50875940/trump-space-is-the-world-s-newest-war-fighting-domain] on
par with the air, land and sea.

Trump, who first declared his intentions
[https://www.c-span.org/video/?442479-1/president-trump-delivers-remarks-san-diego-california] to
propose the Space Force in an appearance at a military base in March
2018, considers the service a signature accomplishment in preparing
the armed forces for the future. And he has taken an abiding interest
in the most minute details, down to tweeting out
[https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1220821545746141187] its
first official logo.

The show, of course, takes that storyline to new heights, as the
fictional POTUS makes some highly questionable—and even potentially

In defense of the real Space Force, though, it’s not just a zany
idea dreamed up by Trump: The initial proposal was a bipartisan idea
[https://www.csis.org/analysis/space-force-or-space-corps] in
Congress that predated his plan by a year, built on decades-old

[Space Force cast]

On the show, the Air Force chief of staff, played by Noah Emmerich,
plots against the new Space Force. | Aaron Epstein/Netflix

The battle within

From the opening of the show, the backstabbing and turf battles that
go on inside the corridors of the Pentagon are torqued for maximum
comical effect. But they will also resonate with anyone who paid close
attention to the slugfest that went on behind the scenes to establish
the real Space Force—which hasn’t been exempt from the
parochialism that runs through American military institutions.

The Air Force early on tried mightily to smother the Space Force in
its crib, out of fear of losing a key mission and billions of dollars.
(The Space Force’s real head himself, Gen. John Raymond, would
probably like to forget the op-ed he wrote
[https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2017/07/we-need-focus-space-we-dont-need-space-corps/139360/] opposing
the idea of a dedicated space branch when he was still in the Air

In Naird’s alternate world, the battle is still raging against his
nemesis, the Air Force chief of staff, who constantly picks on him and
his new service and plots ways to get the mission and its budget back.

The Army, meanwhile, only wishes it could stuff both the Air
Force—and the Space Force with it—back in from whence they came.
(The Air Force was split from the Army in 1947.)

In a candid conversation this month, Air Force chief of staff Gen.
David Goldfein insisted that his service has buried the hatchet with
the Space Force and is committed to its success. (As it happens,
Naird’s fictional biography parallels Goldfein’s, particularly his
experience being shot down over Serbia in 1999.) But Goldfein, as he
looks to the future, also acknowledged that fully healing the rifts is
far from guaranteed.

“The test question that will be asked is, ‘What did we
build?’” he said. “And if we get this right, we will build two
services … built on a foundation of trust and confidence. … If we
get it wrong, it is shame on us. We will allow this to become some
kind of divisive split.”

A billion-dollar boondoggle

The show also doubles down on the widely held perception that the
Space Force is just another black hole for taxpayer dollars.

Members of Congress are portrayed as wanting to know why Space Force
exists; they express sticker shock at its sprawling Colorado
headquarters and pet programs. On the show, a prominent liberal
lawmaker grills Naird on how its massive budget will help her
constituents who are on food stamps. Further feeding the perception is
a hawkish congressman who is eager to give the new branch whatever it
desires. At one point, Malkovich’s character carps that he is
starring in an infomercial for the arms industry (two marquee Pentagon
contractors get name-checked in one scene; one of them won’t like

In reality, the Space Force’s initial budget request was a measly
$15 billion, which is a fraction of the budgets for other branches of
the military. (The total annual defense budget is more than $700
billion.) Both Democrats and Republicans have worried about
bankrolling a branch that could end up being wasteful and duplicative,
so its relatively small price tag was crucial for the Trump
administration to get buy-in on Capitol Hill.

It was also a way for the Air Force, which will still carry out many
of the management and support functions of the Space Force, to keep
the new branch from gobbling up too much of its authority—especially
its power to acquire more new satellites, rockets and other space
systems. Much of the rank and file of the Space Force, at least
initially, will be transfers from the Air Force.

And the real Space Force has been authorized to grow to only 16,000
total personnel, which also pales in comparison to the Army, Navy, Air
Force or Marine Corps, which together total some 2 million personnel.
“We’ve got about a hundred, I’m gonna say 110 people, on
staff,” Lt. Gen. Thompson, the second in command of the Space Force,
told me. “We’re going to be a very small and lean headquarters

The devilish details

Some of the TV show's biggest laughs come at the expense of the
military’s idiosyncrasies—its obsessive regimen, its rigid
adherence to process and protocol, and its well-earned reputation for
intolerance to new ways of thinking. The show also nails the extreme
preoccupation of the Pentagon with the threat posed by China and the
arm's length, increasingly uneasy relationship with Russia.

The show, created by Carell and Greg Daniels, who also was behind
“The Office,” manages to avoid the pitfalls that often turn
military viewers off: They don't do stupid things like call Marines
“soldiers”; close observers of the sneak peeks have noted how
[https://taskandpurpose.com/mandatory-fun/steve-carell-space-force-got-military-awards-right] even
the ribbons on Naird’s uniform are spot on.

“Space Force” also captures in sidesplitting fashion some of the
most enduring stereotypes of the military: the profligate Air Force
that puts ostrich-leather seats in its stealth fighter; the numbskull
killing machine who runs the Marine Corps; the elitist but foulmouthed
chief of naval operations who swears like a sailor; and the humorless
and narrow-minded Army chief of staff. Of course, the poor Coast Guard
still can’t get any respect; it ends up the target of more ridicule
than even the Space Force.

But the show’s portrayal of military stereotypes is anything but
one-dimensional. It is the generals, including Naird himself, who
sometimes have to talk the trigger-happy civilians out of a major
escalation they warn could spin out of control. There are other
flourishes that go well beyond military stereotypes: For example, any
base commander who watches the show will thoroughly enjoy the lengths
Space Force has to go to protect the wildlife that also lives on the

Indeed, amid the jokes, “Space Force” is surprisingly insightful
at a time when military culture is as foreign to many Americans as
other planets. It poignantly depicts the emotional toll of military
life for military families—not simply the sacrifices of those
wearing the uniform. While Carell’s character is often portrayed as
a buffoon, there are more than a few glimmers of why he has been
chosen as the leader. And it makes a pretty solid case for why space
inspires so much hope.

“I think part of the reason we're excited about it is it just
represents the enthusiasm, the excitement, and the focus and the
attention—sort of a rebirth in terms of space,” says Thompson, the
second-in-command of the real Space Force. “You know, there's a long
history of comedy associated with the military and the armed services.
I think, you know, we as a culture are sophisticated enough to
understand comedy and satire and the desire to enjoy those parts of
life and the very serious business we’re engaged in every day.”

Peter Garretson, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, is a former
military space strategist—and one who is eagerly awaiting the
Netflix take. “The creators of the show have an amazing platform to
educate America about a number of issues,” he says, “from military
organization to anti-satellite weapons and international law. Even if
it’s a comedy, the potential for people to see those things interact
could actually be quite useful. I think they probably realize at this
point that there are fewer people in the Space Force than there are on
the cast and the crew of the show.”

	* [https://portside.org/node/22971/printable/print]







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