Memorial Day Special: Best Pop Culture Sergeant [Think Tank]

Memorial Day Special: Best Pop Culture Sergeant [Think Tank]

Overthinking It honors America’s soldiers with this Memorial Day Think Tank.

Sgt. Slaughter, WWF Wrestling and GI Joe: A Real American Hero – Sheely

The best indicator of Sgt. Slaughter’s superiority over all other pop culture sergeants is his presence in nearly every form of popular media—professional wrestling, cartoons, comic books, movies, toys, video games, television variety shows based on video games, and even rock music.

The fact that this one character has shown up in so many corners of our collective consciousness is largely a testament to the imagination of one man- Professional Wrestler Robert Remus, who created the Slaughter persona in 1980 after a number of failed attempts to launch his career in the 1970s.  Although many of the elements of the Sgt. Slaughter character had entered the popular culture before through film and television throughout the 60s and 70s, Slaughter’s appearance in the WWF was the first iconic portrayal of a Sergeant in the 1980s, cementing the linkage of the military rank to aviator shades, flat brimmed hats, an imposing physical presence, and the apparent ability to communicate only by shouting insults, predating R. Lee Ermey’s profanity-laden performance in Full Metal Jacket by 8 years.

The most fascinating aspect of Sgt. Slaughter (the Wrestler) is the fact that he maintained the title and demeanor of a drill instructor in the ring and in promos, even though he never had a direct link to any branch of the military.  Thus, rather than relying on military discipline and protocol, he had to impose his will on his opponents through levels of brute force that would be extreme even by the standards of the most harsh drill sergeant. Take, for instance, his fireball ambush of Hulk Hogan:

This aspect of the Sarge as a renegade officer who largely operated separate from any military hierarchy carried over to his appearances in the GI Joe animated series and TV spots. Even though he was responsible for training new GI Joe recruits, most of his active combat involved him single handedly dismantling whole battalions of cobra commandos, rather than serving as a more hands-off commanding officer:

Although the reality is that the cartoon character was based on the toy that was based on the wrestler, that’s never how I wanted to imagine it as a kid.  Instead, I imagined that the two worlds blended together into one narrative whereby Sgt. Slaughter had been kicked out of the GI Joe unit for going rouge, forcing him to use his brute strength and military training make money in hand to hand combat. Although there was little in the GI Joe series or his WWF story arcs to support these flights of fancy, the character itself was strong enough to fuel many hours of epic action figure adventures.

6 Comments on “Memorial Day Special: Best Pop Culture Sergeant [Think Tank]”

  1. Darin #

    I love Starship Troopers. It’s one of those movies that I could watch over and over if the missus wanted to go to sleep early. Sgt. Zim has the brainwashed rationale that works so well for his world (w/ great accompanying video).

    Sgt. Zim doesn’t have what Mr. T/ B.A. Baracus which is that personality as character.

    R. Lee Erney as “that drill instructor in Full Metal Jacket” has both. He spews hate to make Marines, it is his way, his rationale; and, he is personality as character on screen. His intensity trumps the faux world of wrestling and plays to type much better than Beetle Bailey’s Sarge plays against it.


  2. Gab #

    What about Klinger from _M*A*S*H_? He gets promoted to sergeant in… uh… I can’t remember what season specifically. But I know he ends up a sergeant eventually. Wiki tells me so, at least.

    And I couldn’t help but think of this, too:


  3. Rob #

    No love for Sergeant Pepper?


  4. lee OTI Staff #

    I just watched the knife-in-hand scene. It’s truly horrific. Without having seen Starship Troopers, I’m guessing this movie really plays up the sadistic nature of extreme militarism in a big way, and that it’s an exceedingly uncomfortable movie to watch.


  5. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    @Lee – Totally wrong! What makes Starship Troopers so clever is that it makes extreme militarism look AWESOME. The whole movie is basically a propaganda film for this fictional future army, and by the end, you can’t wait to run out and enlist. Don’t forget, Paul Verhoeven is Dutch, and grew up in Nazi-occupied territory. He’s admitted to using this movie to satirize films like Triumph of the Will. Starship Troopers SHOULD make you uncomfortable, but it’s also a lot of fun. Seriously, see it.


  6. Matthew Wrather #

    So, um, not exactly “totally wrong”, but rather “totally right, but missing the point”?


    I agree that Starship Troopers is awesome. Do you want to know more?


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