“Be a Beast” and “Beast Mode” are phrases I hear often in the world of sports and athleticism. It evokes qualities of strength and power in individuals geared to help them perform their best and excel in what they do. It inspires people to reach within and go back to a primitive state of mind to become animalistic and lessen their polished human behavior while reverting from normal culture ideals into a masculine ideology that poses and pushes strength onto men. The dictionary.com definition of beast is “the crude animal nature of humans and lower animals” which shows the beast is found within humans in certain cultural qualities. The world of sports is full of stereotypes, games, ideologies and discourses that are centralized around common themes. Every sport has its own culture and ideology unique to those who engage in the sport and those who view the sport. The dual sport culture seen between spectators and participants is noticeable in modern military culture through events and training. The military culture has spread to everyday culture in structure, form and process. American culture especially has embraced the cultural idea of boot camp (the basic training camp) all military recruits endure and reappropriate it to fit the needs of other activities. I chose to study boot camp in the form of fitness, strength and flexibility to explore why the military culture is so widely embraced by the population. Throughout my experiences in boot camp and my research of its process I noticed the common themes associated with boot camp seen in many sports. Boot camp contains both an individual and team aspects that are seen in many sports. The ability for an individual to excel and be a beast is a masculine, primitive, and natural experience which is used to better the team. The goal of this paper is to explore the masculine aspects of military culture in relation to sport culture and ask why we have a specific military culture founded on a masculine ideology that relates to the overall theme of “be a beast” that takes us back to a primitive culture. Military operations, military tactics and military culture in itself is extremely masculine due to its prominence of exposing tough and masculine men in harsh conditions while pushing them to find their inner beast. Today my goal is to explore the idea that a beast reverts us back to primitive culture, the military culture is masculine and embraces the idea of the beast and because “be a beast” is a cultural phenomenon anyone can be a beast under the right circumstances.
Beast is a historically and culturally defined term that has been reappropriated to humans and athletes especially because of the amazing fleets they overcome that is a resultant of their hard-work. In his book Sport: A Cultural History Richard Mandell claims “if one accepts the belief that sport antedates man, implicit is the suggestion that man himself may be in essence a beast”(Mandell 4) This provides the idea where primitive culture allows mankind to revert back to animalistic qualities and beast like tendencies because sport could have came before man. If sport came before man, then mankind uses pre-evolutionary phases of behavior in sport as instinct. The instinct humans have on the battlefield and military are associated with a more competitive state of mind that one would otherwise not have. In the historical context of America where the militarization aspect is huge and relies heavily on the physique and abilities of the male body. This idea relates directly back to the time of when a beast is culturally seen as a masculine male figure as seen in childhood movies such as “Beauty and the Beast” where Beast was this large, scary, manly, hairy figure. Historically it touches on slavery where the African American male would be called a beast because of his ability to work in the fields and execute strong and brutal tasks that the white men could not. This historical context also considers the brute force and tough exterior needed to perform grueling tasks that can be appropriated to the beast-like figure we see within athletes and soldiers today. I choose to relate sport to military and military to beast in a circular fashion to show they all relate to each other under the umbrella idea of masculinity. I feel that under hegemonic masculinity that is characterized by the strength and power you find in sport, athleticism and the beast character, takes on many adjectives associated with the rigorous tasks of the military.
Lieutenant Colonel Karen Dunivun, a PhD in the United States Air Force defines military culture claiming “Military culture is learned (via socialization training such as boot camp); broadly shared by its members (e.g., saluting); adaptive to changing condition (e.g., integration of blacks); and symbolic in nature (e.g., rank insignia and language jargon make sense only within a military context).(Dunivin 533). Military culture is structured and supported by the people who perform it and the audience on the opposite side of the spectra. This is seen in sports culture as well as between athletes and their practice times, team-building huddles, cultural terminology specific to each sports rules and guidelines and the symbols of objects relevant to the sport and referee calls. A direct relationship between the structure of the military can be drawn to the sports arenas. The idea of being an athlete to be great and excel in what you do is seen in being a soldier. The similarities drawn between military culture and sports culture and between athletes and soldiers is why I believe boot camp is a sport. Also, within these cultures we see a primitive version of ourselves that bring out the beast trapped inside us all. Military culture embraces the beast-like figure because it encourages tough physique and promotes completing intensely difficult tasks. The primitive nature we see in militarization is due to the specific place where we work hard and as a result get sweaty, dirty and gross because we do things that we would not normally do outside of a gym environment. Dunivun also says “Military culture is characterized by its combat, masculine-warrior paradigm”(Dunivin 533) This takes into account both military and primitive aspects of the sport behind being a beast. The warrior paradigm is accounting for the strength and power needed to be successful in combat. Strength and power is also needed to be successful in the war zone found in a sports arena better known as a field or court. The warrior figure is similar to the Beast figure in that they are tough, idealized and hard-workers. The act of being a warrior that is characterized through military combat is portrayed in athletes “being a beast” in their respective sports, meaning that they fight to win.
The umbrella theme I find that surrounds military culture and sport culture is the masculinity that is exhibited by the members. One place in particular masculinity is exhibited is in physical physique which is something readily visible on each person based the cultural norms associated with gender. In the research article “Masculinity, Sexuality and the Body of Male Soldiers” by Nyameka Mankayi from the University of KwaZulu-Natal Pietermartizburg, she states “men’s bodies which are expected to be tough, muscular and macho on many cultural contexts are particularly central, valued and associated with social and sexual success in military contexts.” In military boot camp they shape civilian men into military men. They go through intense physical, mental and emotional training. The fitness boot camp has reappropriated the technique to fit a civilian lifestyle to achieve similar results. Military boot camp brings out an animalistic side in soldiers the way fitness boot camp allows civilians to embrace their primitive side and complete strenuous work outs. In the image below published by airforcemag.com
you see recruits on all fours crawling through dirt while a sergeant with a wide mouth and vein popping out of his head is presumably yelling at the soldiers on the ground showing yet another animalistic aspect we seen present in military and sport culture. Yelling, fighting, and crawling through the dirt is primitive unpolished behavior practiced by those serving in the military. Its almost as if the sergeant is in control or the owner of the animal and training him verbally through commands. Lieutenant Colonel Karen Dunivun herself says “This ‘masculine mystique’ is evident during basic training when traditional images of independent, competitive, aggressive, and virile males are promoted and rewarded.” (Dunivin 536) The terms “competitive” and “aggressive” which are heavily associated with military ideals are also associated with the animal aspect of survival of the fittest where only the best survive. In a sense you see a type of Social Darwinism present in military culture where the ideal candidate is this beast type figure who exhibits all the masculine qualities that involve pushing and exceeding one’s body’s physical limits. People in the military are put to the test through boot camp and only the strongest ones able to endure the training are able to fight in combat. The same goes for in a fitness class because it is noticeable that only the strong survive or are able to finish the workout.
My own personal experience with boot camp associates myself with military culture, while finding my inner beast through embodying a masculine spirit appropriated by the discourses I use to associate military boot camp with fitness boot camp. I went into boot camp thinking I was taking a fitness class that would make me bad ass enough to be in the military because I had the cultural discourse embedded in my mind that boot camp was masculine, tough and brutal because that is what is represented by the military. Boot camp was tough, brutal and masculine but not in the bad ass way I though it was going to be, it was about “being a beast”. By being a beast I mean pushing through what hurt and continuing with your rotation until it was completed regardless of how much you want to quit. You mentally and physically adapt to a “beast mode” that allows you to push yourself even further. Being a beast is not gender specific, being a beast is an individual achievement that each person is capable of regardless of age, sex, race or ability. The Comm111T course focused on the differences and the splits that caused the divisions that we faced culturally in relation to sports, yet being a beast is something we can all relate too due to the primitive animalistic nature humans have evolved from and revert back to in times needing an increase in strength. Every single human being is a product of years and years of evolving from an uncivilized to a civilized behavior.
What I learned by doing boot camp was that although you run through the course individually you work as a team. It is a no man left behind type of sport. You work hard to display your own athleticism and work independently which is a very masculine quality to have that goes back to the time of separate spheres where men would go out and do work while woman would be home makers. Working as a team is a very feminine quality also going back to the time of separate spheres where woman would be care takers and care for the family yet, both of these qualities are seen in the military. Men are often working the front line while woman are nurses and hold desk jobs that show the ideals of masculinity and femininity relating back to the separate spheres. However, the feminine quality of teamwork is not enough to out weigh the prominent masculinity seen. The same can be said for myself, as a female figure not molding to the typical masculine stereotype or holding a male gendered physique. Just because I’m doing boot camp as a tiny female figure does not lessen the masculinity of the sport because the military and sport cultures that surround it is so highly subjected to masculine qualities. The most relevant idea is that I as the feminine figure become tougher and more masculine by doing boot camp.
I also learned that boot camp is difficult no matter what context you take it in. If it is an athletic boot camp structured program then it will push you to your physical limits. It does not discriminate between age, race or gender since fitness boot camp does not use weight and focuses on strength, flexibility and cardio it is an individualized workout that makes you feel like a beast if you can get through it. It is an emotion evoked through physically and mentally taxing events. It is true that certain people are better at certain aspects than others, but that is the individual part of fitness boot camp. The individual experiences each person gains through boot camp and the own goals people strive for give them the ability to be a beast. Since being a beast is found within each person looking back from before years and years of evolution, it is attainable if you are pushed to that limit. If you are cultured with the learning, sharing, adapting and symbolic aspects of what you do, you can embrace the physical and mental aspects associated with the military that are seen in sports. Having that structured mentality allows you to reach within yourself, to achieve your goal, even if it means finding your inner beast. Those who say “Be a Beast” are in essence working to ensure you find your best athletic self and you go into the beast state of mind popularly known as “Beast Mode.”
Mankayi, Nyameka. “Masculinity,Sexuality and the Body of Male Soldiers.” Research Gate. Research Gate, 2008. Web. 25 Feb. 2014. <http://www.researchgate.net/publication/228485732_MASCULINITY_SEXUALITY_AND_THE_BODY_OF_MALE_SOLDIERS>.
Dunivin, K. O. “Military Culture: Change and Continuity.” Armed Forces & Society 20.4 (1994): 531-47. Print.
Mandell, Richard D. Sport: A Cultural History. New York: Columbia Univ., 1994. Print.
“Beast.” Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2014.