VICE Media went behind the scenes at the veteran-run Vet.TV studio- and were arguably “triggered” by what they saw.
Known for irreverent, dark and often times line-straddling humor that can only truly be appreciated to the fullest extent by those who have “seen and done” in service, Vet.TV is one big inside joke that comes from -and is specifically marketed towards- combat veterans, particularly of the Post-9/11 flavor.
At the helm of this operation is Marine veteran Donny O’Malley, a combat-hardened man with a singular mission in post-military life- to create content that appeals to those who feel the most isolated, even if it means hurting feelings along the way.
One such person with visibly hurt feelings was Erica Matson, a VICE reporter who went behind the scenes of Vet.TV, presumably due to her “military family ties,” and the lack of (known) military-affiliated persons on VICE staff since the departure of SEAL veteran Kaj Larsen.
“I’ve worked on a couple military stories and even have active duty service members in my family,” Matson said in the video, her voice narrating over footage of her learning how to shoot an FN handgun from 7 yards away. “But after watching some of Vet.TV’s aggressively politically-incorrect humor, I debated doing this story at all.”
Heading to San Diego, Matson met O’Malley at Vet.TV HQ, where she watched how the shows were created.
O’Malley and his family invested quite a bit of money into Vet.TV, which boasts a highly motivated, predominantly veteran staff that works together to make some of the best, most true-to-form content they can produce for their target demographic.
But Vet.TV isn’t a family business- in less than a month during a Kickstarter campaign in 2016, over 3,600 contributors pledged over $296,000 to get the project running, nearly $50,000 over what they were initially asking for.
Therein lies the heart and soul of Vet.TV- it’s targeted audience of often disenfranchised Post 9/11 veterans, who often grow tired of the “noble and polished” military seen in civilian-catered films and TV, hoping to see a glimpse of the dark-humored, blunt and salty life they once lived as warfighters.
All in all, Vet.TV has over twenty-thousand users who willingly pay $5.00 a month to watch something that they can relate to- a refuge of sorts in a world many find increasingly difficult to both understand and integrate into.
For the most part, Matson said, Vet.TV is television for grunts: the sledgehammers of the military who often saw the rawest of combat.
“Vet.TV is specifically targeting frontline Army and Marine Corps Infantrymen who spent the most time fighting on the ground,” she said. “Donnie understands that doesn’t represent the majority of veterans’ experiences, but it’s the smaller infantry group that he knows best.”
O’Malley is okay with that, despite the occasional backlash, particularly in a culture that has a bizarre relationship with varying degrees of decency.
“Oftentimes, I’ve noticed people will be more turned off by filthy language, than by watching someone be blown to bits,” he said. “They expect us to be like the commercials: proper. “The reality is, the young enlisted ranks are filled with fucking dirtbags who just want to go kill the enemy and then get laid- that’s all they care about.”
Matson clearly took issue with some of the “guy” skits being filmed, including one where provocative and boorish communication techniques were used to retain Marines’ attention in a Sexual Harassment Prevention class. Attempting to get a woman’s perspective, she asked veteran/writer/actress Candiss Veree how she felt about some of these productions.
“Right now is the #MeToo movement,” Matson began. “You’ve done episodes on sexual assault perhaps not always executed in the best way. How does that reconcile how Vet.TV deals with sexual assaults in their parody video and the ‘conversation’ that’s happening in the United States about sexual assault, and bring that..sort of.. Together?”
Veree was quick on the response.
“I’ve made my #MeToo post as well,” Veree said. “So I’ve been in that position before. The things that we’re doing -especially the things that you’re referencing during our first show…I laughed. I’m not always a hundred percent in agreeance on the way that things are executed, but what I do agree with is the fact that these things start conversations and it makes people talk about things that are uncomfortable… We’re not trying to exploit it, we’re trying to bring attention to it and spark more conversations.”
Matson went to a “Vet Together” event for veterans, where both male and female veterans from all walks of life appreciated the racy, often dark humor- including a skit involving advertising a neck brace to reduce the risk of veteran spouses being injured during PTSD-induced night terrors.
The following day, Matson was asked to fill in for another actress. In addition to wanting a speaking role, she immediately found questionable material in the script that she wanted to address, such as the part of the film involving simulated digital penetration of a woman at an alcohol-soaked barracks party.
“Do you have any women help you write this sketch?” she asked O’Malley.
“This one?” O’Malley responded. “No.”
“Yeah, I didn’t think so.”
O’Malley went on to say that not all the content is for all audiences, so if a sketch is male-centric, it will likely have an all-male writing staff. If it requires a female perspective or is targeted towards all audiences, a female writer may be on the staff for perspective.
“If we have a show that is going to be for all of them, then absolutely, come on in,” he said with authority. “Part of what we want to do is keep expanding out audience, and women are a part of that, so we’re gonna continue growing. But right now…in the beginning.. We got to focus on a niche..give the niche what they want so that they’re willing to pay for it and once we have enough money, expand.”
Veree would later comment on the matter when Matson asked her how she would respond to accusations of misogynistic material.
“The veteran community is not that dynamic,” she said. It’s a boy’s club- it is what it is. We’re making entertainment for that.”
The sketch ultimately starred Veree as the girl receiving the digital penetration, after another female actress felt uncomfortable doing it.
“There are lots of people right now who are unhappy with what we’re doing,” O’Malley commented later. “But those people aren’t looking at our fucking bank account and those people are not involved in the production. We’re doing everything we can, we’re firing on all cylinders to make this thing happen. We’ll never make everyone happy, but eventually, many more people will wake up.”
Matson ultimately said that she doesn’t think she can’t really say whether Vet.TV is good or bad, even if she wanted to.
“You know it’s a tough one,” she said. You sort of want a declarative statement and -unfortunately- I don’t think I really have the right to declare if Vet.TV is good or bad, I don’t really think that’s for me to say.”
“Having some exposure to the military,” she concluded, “I understand this kind of dark humor and how it can help people, but still, that doesn’t necessarily mean a mass audience or even a wider veteran audience is going to unequivocally accept the way that Vet.TV’s humor crosses the line in order to get laughs.”
Then again, maybe that lack of mainstream acceptance is just all part of the appeal.
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