The Air Force
In the period before conscription ended, the Air Force was considered the most glamorous of the services, and for many draft-eligible young men, it was a more desirable option than the Navy, Marines, or, especially, the Army. Since the end of the draft, the Air Force has developed appeals, based on the Air Force’s technological and career-related strengths, that draw on conceptions of masculinity that are not particularly martial or militaristic. In the early 1970s, for many young men, militarized ideals of manhood had been discredited by the Vietnam War, and during those years, military recruiting across the branches did not emphasize the martial aspects of service or show a lot of militaristic imagery, like weapons and combat uniforms. Over the course of the next several decades, though, the other branches made intermittent use of specifically martial forms of masculinity in their imagery and appeals; the Air Force, for the most part, has not.
Air Force recruiting has emphasized job training and has specifically offered respect and advancement to blue-collar, mechanically inclined young men, reinforcing a working-class masculinity that values skilled labor and economic independence. This was especially true of recruiting advertisements in the 1970s but continued as a theme in later ads as well. For a brief period in the early 1980s, Air Force advertising highlighted the intangible benefits of service, but it soon returned to an emphasis on job training, education, and benefits. One lasting theme that began during this period was the evocation of pride and awe in the Air Force’s sleek aircraft and advanced technology. The Air Force had always showcased its technology in relation to job training and skills that would be valuable in the civilian world, but from the 1980s on, the Air Force has used imagery of aircraft to lend glamour and appeal to the service as a whole.1 Technology is “widely acknowledged as [a] powerful [motif] of hegemonic masculinity” (Lohan and Faulkner 2004, 319), so the deployment of