Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy in Rhetoric and Technical Communication (PhD)
College, School or Department Name
Department of Humanities
Posttraumatic stress and PTSD are becoming familiar terms to refer to what we often call the invisible wounds of war, yet these are recent additions to a popular discourse in which images of and ideas about combat-affected veterans have long circulated. A legacy of ideas about combat veterans and war trauma thus intersects with more recent clinical information about PTSD to become part of a discourse of visual media that has defined and continues to redefine veteran for popular audiences.
In this dissertation I examine realist combat veteran representations in selected films and other visual media from three periods: during and after World Wars I and II (James Allen from I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, Fred Derry and Al Stephenson from The Best Years of Our Lives); after the Vietnam War (Michael from The Deer Hunter, Eriksson from Casualties of War), and post 9/11 (Will James from The Hurt Locker, a collection of veterans from Wartorn: 1861-2010.) Employing a theoretical framework informed by visual media studies, Barthes’ concept of myth, and Foucault’s concept ofdiscursive unity, I analyze how these veteran representations are endowed with PTSD symptom-like behaviors and responses that seem reasonable and natural within the narrative arc. I contend that veteran myths appear through each veteran representation as the narrative develops and resolves. I argue that these veteran myths are many and varied but that they crystallize in a dominant veteran discourse, a discursive unity that I term veteranness. I further argue that veteranness entangles discrete categories such as veteran, combat veteran, and PTSD with veteran myths, often tying dominant discourse about combat-related PTSD to outdated or outmoded notions that significantly affect our attitudes about and treatment of veterans.
A basic premise of my research is that unless and until we learn about the lasting effects of the trauma inherent to combat, we hinder our ability to fulfill our responsibilities to war veterans. A society that limits its understanding of posttraumatic stress, PTSD and post-war experiences of actual veterans affected by war trauma to veteranness or veteran myths risks normalizing or naturalizing an unexamined set of sociocultural expectations of all veterans, rendering them voice-less, invisible, and, ultimately disposable.
Keranen, Diane J., "Veteranness : Representations of Combat-related PTSD in U.S. Popular Visual Media", Dissertation, Michigan Technological University, 2014.