November 13th, 2009


LJ Idol week 4: current events

Man accused of impersonating Marine at Martinez high school reunion.

How often do we want to be someone else?

How often do we daydream about living another life, about the way people would respond to us if only we drove a different car, had a different job, had received an award for “extreme gallantry in combat”?

Daydreams are beautiful, exhilarating, empty things. They let you imagine receiving the prize without doing the work, receiving the respect without sweating to earn it.

Steven Burton claimed to be a marine. He blogged about his combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, and wore a uniform with medals and honors to his 20-year high school reunion. Imagine what that night must have been like for him. The surprise and respect on the faces of his former classmates; having stories to tell that no one in the room could match.

But he’d made it up. All of it. He hadn’t won any medals. He wasn’t even a marine. He is a banker, living what I imagine to be a quiet, ordinary life. We don’t know when his military daydream began. We don’t know when he decided to step inside his dream and make believe it was true, or when he started telling other people about his made-up past and present. We don’t know when he gave himself medals for bravery in a combat he had never seen.

Where is the line between daydream and reality? When does wearing clothes that in some way aren’t meant for you cross the line from costume fantasy to fraud? With self-help gurus telling us that ‘the secret’ is to imagine your life the way you want it to be and it will happen, aren’t they telling us to make-believe just as hard as we can? Why should we stay stuck in our everyday lives when we can be extraordinary? I can imagine any number of different worlds where I’m stronger, prettier, richer, more respected, more popular than I am now. Does that give me the right to pretend to be something I am not? Who gets to decide what I am?

I think that to wear a military uniform is to claim membership in a brotherhood that is earned only through service, not just the wanting. To wear a Navy Cross and a Purple Heart when you’ve never been in combat is reprehensible.

But, Burton just wanted to be someone else for a while, to play dress up and make-believe and have people look at him like he was a soldier, not a banker. I understand that impulse, and that I cannot condemn.

Steven Burton appeared in federal court yesterday to answer to the charge of “unauthorized wearing of military decorations”. He pleaded not guilty.

What do you think?

@@@This is my entry for week 4 of LJ Idol - the topic I chose is “current events”. I will post a link to the poll once it is up on Saturday. Thank you for reading.@@@