Guest Lecture, “Military Cuteness: Gaga, Beyoncé, YouTube and the Deployment of Soft Power in the War on Terror”

Department of Film Studies, University of St. Andrews
April 5, 2016

In this public lecture, The Aesthetics and Affects of Cuteness contributor Maria Pramaggiore provides an insight into the fascinating topic explored in her chapter in the edited collection: military cuteness in viral YouTube videos.

A masculine performance mode has emerged from the theaters of the war on terror: choreography-heavy lip sync videos depicting US soldiers dancing to the music of Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, and others. In these popular videos—the best known of which may be “Telephone: the Afghanistan Remake,” with 7 million views on YouTube—male soldier’s bodies, usually in uniform rather than drag, are used to deploy mock femininity and cuteness. One video with a wide circulation records US Marines singing along with the anthem “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen (2013). In this performance, the men parodically and yet proficiently match the original version word for word and inflection for inflection, enthusiastically projecting and mocking the affect of the film’s intended audience of young girls.

These videos subtly reassert masculine prerogatives in their appropriation of the position of the female celebrity or fan. Yet they also foreground anxieties regarding the vulnerability of male bodies in combat in light of social and technological changes in the culture of warfare that include the entry of women into combat roles, the privatization and outsourcing of military functions, and the development of drones and autonomous weapons that threaten to render human bodies obsolete. These performances thus both invoke and openly flout the hardbody conventions that Susan Jeffords identifies as part of Reagan-era remasculinization of American culture after Vietnam.

The videos feminize, soften, and domesticate the dangerous male soldier’s body; trained for combat, they perform synchronized dance moves more recognizable as the work of postfeminist celebrity. These performances directly link the soldier’s body to the policy debate regarding the US deployment of soft versus hard power in the war on terror as well as to broader cultural discourses of male vulnerability.