The Unlikely Unifying Power of Army Surplus

25 Jan
Let’s play an image association game. I’ll type two words, you take a deep breath, close your eyes, and track every image that drifts through your mind. 
Army. Surplus.

Army Surplus

The images come in three waves.

First: Guns. Camouflage. Backwater. Rambo knife. Survivalist. NRA. Second amendment. Libertarian. Hunt. Support the troops.

And then: Service. Honour. Soviet-era communist nostalgia. Authentic. 

And finally: OutdoorsWildernessCamping gearDIYQuality. FashionSoviet-era communist nostalgiaPunk rock. Camouflage. Local. Service. The Revolution. Sustainability. Honour. Authenticity.

They come full circle, even overlapping in places to make something like an imaginary figure eight.

In even mid-sized cities, the local army surplus store has come to represent a complicated palette of products. We learn that militia geek shares an aesthetic sensibility with violent punk rockers and fey scenesters. You’ll find the plain t-shirts and Chuck Taylors that your buzz cut Gran Torino father wore for a fraction of the price that you’ll find them at the skate shop. GQ has lauded the Department of Defense for having added more to American fashion than any designer, including the combat boot, the fatigue shirt, the camouflage print, the campaign desk, and the G-1 jacket developed for the Korean War.

It’s the last places where hunter mingles with urban gardener.

When you wear military surplus, you develop an empathy. Where else can an Israeli Canadian kid hypothetically spend $25 to walk a mile in an Iranian soldier’s combat boots—and vice versa?

For its seemingly all-encompassing demographic, Occupy became weirdly divisive. Millions of words have been written about how Occupy and the Tea Party have grown from the same Petri dish. But, as The Atlantic, put it:

 “Occupy Wall Street protesters tend to think of Tea Partiers as crypto-fascists, while pundits on the right dismiss anyone with a union card, a nose ring, and an iPad (as if the demonstrations would be worthwhile if only they were run by young men in Brooks Brothers suits).”

Social media has paradoxically come to make the internet function like a set of remote, disconnected tribes. The addicted partisan mind feeds on blogs it already presumes to agree with, while huffing singular streams of discontent on Twitter and Facebook. If you’re the sort of person who sees the world through overlapping sets of Venn diagrams, it’s not difficult, for instance, to see the link between fast food and biblical units of family. Dan Cathy’s homophobic Chik-fil-A’s campaign was said to stimulate his  summer earnings. Forbes.com dutifully announced “the next hot new trend in marketing: the ability to differentiate between brands based on what stand they take on significant societal issues.”

The army surplus store, which could easily have gone the Chick-A-Fil route, has gently embraced the overlapping demographics, which seem to feel more comfortable in camouflage, eating MRE lasagnas than with power bars and breathable neon sweatshop fabrics. The beauty of army surplus is that it’s not a centralized corporation, nor even really an intentional movement. It’s a distribution model, which grew in popularity after the first and second world wars. It’s an accidental brand that combines the right’s rugged post-war can-do capitalism with the left’s smug sense of sustainability. It asks: why pit Made in America jingoism against hundred-mile diet locavorism? To paraphrase the idealized military leader of the future Captain James T. Kirk: we don’t believe in no-win scenarios.

CHRIS KOENTGES

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2 Responses to “The Unlikely Unifying Power of Army Surplus”

  1. Daniel Johns April 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

    Amazing post . I always search for Army Surplus to buy . because i am a Military. So thanks to you to provide this information .
    Military Surplus Store

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  1. Military Surplus | Military Store US - March 1, 2013

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