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.

Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, Full Metal Jacket – Perich

Gunny Hartman, as played by R. Lee Ermey, is the best pop culture sergeant for the following reasons:


1) Ermey did not invent the stereotype of the profanity-screaming drill sergeant, belittling his recruits because he knows it’ll turn them into real men. For one thing, the ogre with the heart of gold is not a stereotype. That’s what drill sergeants actually do. They’re responsible for disciplining the members of their unit, and they take that job seriously.

Sgt. Hartman’s difference is that he never appears to care for these men. He makes some noise about wanting to weed out the slackers and produce hardcore Marines, but really that’s just talk. Hartman doesn’t have motivation. He’s an unending torrent of psychological abuse given a human shape. He doesn’t want soldiers – he wants killers.

Sgt. Hartman is the Platonic conception of the drill sergeant, the purifying flame made real.

2) Ermey has the best real-world qualifications as an actual sergeant. He served 14 months in ‘Nam. The man has a Bronze Star and a Gallantry Cross. When Kubrick asked Ermey to produce some instructions on how to portray a drill sergeant, Ermey handed in a video of himself belittling British Royal Marines for 15 minutes straight. Without pausing, stumbling or repeating himself. While people off-camera threw oranges and tennis balls at him. Kubrick hired him for the role of Gunny Hartman on the spot.

(Now there’s some lost footage I’d like to see – Ermey’s audition tape)

3) The dialogue. The grabastic, skull-fucking, numbnutted, finger-banging dialogue. If you’ve seen Full Metal Jacket, then you’re already in awe of the fountain of blistering hate that this man can spew on command. If you haven’t, no IMDB Quotes page can put it into proper context.

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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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