All That You Can Be

June 2017

The U.S. Army has had some memorable advertising slogans over the years. Who remembers this one: “We do more before 9 A.M. than most people do all day”? Inspired! Or this one: “Be all that you can be”? Rousing!

Unfortunately, the Army’s later ad phrasings lacked the same luster. “An army of one” — what does that even mean? It seems to militate against the very concept of an army: a group of people working in unison toward the same goal. The Army’s current slogan, “Army Strong,” seems like it was coined by Tarzan or Frankenstein. Perhaps it’s suited to social media, where incomplete phrasings and half-baked thinking rule the day.

But those earlier efforts resonated in a rare way. “Be all that you can be,” along with its accompanying jingle, which debuted in 1981, was so effective that Advertising Age magazine ranked it as the number-two ad refrain of the twentieth century. It captured, in an economy of words, the essence of the American dream — the sense that, in this graced land, you can achieve whatever you set out to achieve, so long as you’ve got the will, determination, and perseverance to see your dream to its fruition. It became the background anthem for the nation.

It turns out, however, that there are those who have taken the concept that you can and should “be all that you can be” not as an airy summons to strive for self-improvement but as a literal directive. Not satisfied with “being” merely one thing, they’ve decided to be more — to experience as many possible modes of being that we know of at this time. Who are these people? They are the gay men who have become lesbian women.

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New Oxford Notes: June 2017

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