Bare strength: Representing veterans of the desert wars in US media

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Until recently injured veterans of the Afghanistan War (2001–present) and the Iraq War (2003–2011) were significantly absent in US media. However, veterans are becoming increasing visible in mainstream US media. This article suggests that the initial reluctance to represent injured veterans stemmed from the deep-rooted governmental and military need to reinforce the ideology of a masculinised US identity. American masculinity relies on the preservation of the hyper-masculine ‘all American hero’, hence the previous invisibility of injured or ‘damaged’ veterans in the media. However, the new wave of veteran images which is rapidly coming to the fore in US media indicates a shift in public perceptions of veterans. The central focus of the article is the recent increase in the visibility of veterans in US media, with veteran Noah Galloway featuring on prime time television show Dancing with the Stars, and photographer Michael Stokes’ photobook and online projects Bare Strength and Always Loyal featuring injured veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. While increasing the visibility of veterans in the media is commendable, Dancing with the Stars’ and Stokes’ representations present their own difficulties in terms of the narratives used by each to depict the veterans. Through a close textual analysis, this article examines how representations of injured veterans in US media have been transformed, explores the reasons for this shift and identifies the potential problems with the more recent depictions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-61
Number of pages17
JournalMedia, Culture and Society
Issue number1
Early online date21 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017


  • Afghanistan
  • disability
  • image
  • Iraq
  • media
  • veteran
  • war

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