The Challenger
January 21, 2016
A Friend in the Desert
August 16, 2016

The Chuck Norris Archive

“Facts” from Iraq:  The Chuck Norris Archive

FACT:  We don’t have a military.  We have Chuck Norris.

FACT:  In 2003 Chuck Norris went on holiday to Iraq.  Later the United States invaded the country, blaming Iraq for having a weapon of mass destruction.

FACT:  When George Bush said “Mission Accomplished,” he didn’t realize Chuck Norris wasn’t finished yet.  

FACT:  Behind every successful man, there is a successful woman. Behind every dead man, there is Chuck Norris.

FACT:  Sadddam Hussein was not found hiding in a “hole.”  Saddam was roundhouse kicked in the head by Chuck Norris in Kansas, which sent him through the earth, stopping just short of the surface of Iraq.

What is The Chuck Norris Archive?

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(Photo collage by Lori Jackson Hill: http://ljhgraphicdesign.com/)

Graffiti is one of the oldest methods of communication. According to Kohn and Rosenberg, graffiti remains an extremely popular genre of communication because it is viewed as “raw and spontaneous,” focused “mainly on messages of violence, sex, and gender” (610). In a war zone, graffiti can offer unique insights into the minds of men and women whose freedom of expression is otherwise severely curtailed. While embedded with a Joint Special Operations Force in 2008, I had the opportunity to witness the folk art of American soldiers and contractors. As I traveled from Kuwait City to Haditha, Iraq, I documented a range of graffiti in offices and latrines: drawings of flags and genitals, limericks about politicians, mothers, and musicians, and advice for new soldiers from those about to leave the theater of war. “Facts from Iraq”: The Chuck Norris Archive will frame and, for many readers, introduce one of the dominant graffiti tropes of Operation Iraqi Freedom: Chuck Norris.

What is The Chuck Norris Archive? In short, it is a compilation and contextualization of Chuck Norris “facts.” What is a Chuck Norris “fact”? A Chuck Norris fact is, in most cases, an anti-fact, a pithy one to three sentence myth concerning the feats of Chuck Norris, a man who may well go down as the comic muse of the Global War on Terror. Focused on the Rosetta Stone of Chuck Norris “facts,” a poster of post-its I photographed at CPIC (Combined Press Information Center) in Baghdad, this digital archive hopes to inspire a conversation about the CPIC poster and other sites of Norris folk art from Operation Iraqi Freedom and the ongoing war in Afghanistan.  By offering a contextualization of certain “facts,” it is my hope that new “facts” and new interpretations will come to light, and that through this process we may be able to better answer questions like: In what ways does graffiti serve as an interdisciplinary lens into the Global War on Terror? What does the graffiti of a particular war tell us about that war and its warriors? What does the popularity of Chuck Norris tell us about American popular culture at a particular moment in history? And to what extent does Chuck Norris offer us a transcendent story of laughter and forgiving, a unique glimpse of the intersection between terror and comedy?

“Do I contradict myself?” Walt Whitman asks in Leaves of Grass. “Very well then I contradict myself (I am large, I contain multitudes)” (92). If Walt Whitman’s heralding of the multitudinous suggests something quintessential about the American spirit, one could certainly make the argument that Chuck Norris possesses something of this quasi-mystical, contradictory American substance, a post-modern version of the Whitmanian spirit. Norris, as an actor, a Christian, a pundit, an author, a martial artist, a veteran, and a former contractor, appeals to a certain early twenty-first century sensibility that often favors a satirical pop-culture lens for viewing the realm of geopolitics. He is G.I. Joe meets The Daily Show. By virtue of his multitudinous identity, Chuck Norris seemed to defy the identity binaries that pressured citizen and soldier alike in these particular wars. Thus, perhaps the comic mystique of Norris—that rare blend of the zany and the violent—offers a unique instance of symbolic levity and unity during this divisive conflict.

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(Photo collage by Lori Jackson Hill: http://ljhgraphicdesign.com/)

Chuck Norris “facts” offer us a unique look into an evolving American conversation about masculinity and war, comedy and pop culture, religion and politics. The “facts” I saw penned on the walls of the bases in Iraq were, of course, not facts at all, but satirical prose and poetry. For example: “When George Bush said “Mission Accomplished,” he didn’t realize Chuck Norris wasn’t finished yet.” To see such “facts” serve as the salient underground conversation in a war of so many disputed facts felt appropriate, subversive, and transcendent at times. Some of these “facts” made me laugh. Some of them made me uncomfortable. All of them, however, served to illuminate the multitudinous consciousness of a diverse multinational force, an army of much more than one.

The primary challenge of the archive is in locating and, in many cases, digitally remastering photographs of graffiti from bases that no longer exist. The CPIC poster offers nearly a hundred Chuck Norris “facts” on pink and neon green post-its, but only certain words and details can be deciphered through my original photograph and one other photograph I’ve been able to find online. Thus, with the help of Lori Hill from LJH Graphics, I’ve digitally enhanced two of the “facts” and offer these as representative of the discourse one will encounter in the Archive.

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(Photo by M.C. Armstrong, Baghdad, Iraq. 2008. Digital enhancement by Lori Jackson Hill: http://ljhgraphicdesign.com/)

If one thinks of the CPIC poster as map or as a kind of grid, the first “fact” in the archive is three post-its to the top right of the black and white autographed glossy of Norris on a motor cycle. It claims: “Chuck Norris died 10 years ago…Death is just too afraid to let him know.” In “Kilroy is Still Here,” his look at wartime graffiti, Scott Beauchamp writes: “People use graffiti to say that they exist; to communicate through space and time; to participate in the folk art of the eye-roll; and, most important, to redecorate foreign surroundings with the baubles of familiarity.” On the most basic level, this first “fact,” like all Chuck Norris “facts,” can be seen as an “I am,” a defiant challenge to the culture of anonymity in the military. It can certainly also be viewed as one of the many “baubles of familiarity” from wartime Iraq, just as fast food kiosks offered soldiers and journalists alike familiar stateside tastes and logos, symbols and artifacts. But I chose this fact because, like many others, it confronts one of the central fears of life in the war on terror: sudden death.

To laugh about death is to transcend that fear. In this particular fact, conventional logic is reversed. Death has become personified and death is the one who is afraid, not the American man, not Chuck Norris. To suggest that one can go on living for ten years after one has died is to gesture at immortality and to the value of courage and fearlessness for those passing through Baghdad, perhaps on their way into combat. But something else is worth mentioning here. To herald Norris’s fearlessness on the CPIC poster is to publicly offer an instance of the graffiti one often found in the quasi-private confines of latrines. It is one thing to find a “fact” markered or carved on a stall wall. The ones posted at the CPIC office did not lack in references to “violence, sex, and gender,” but the content was often “safe” or “positive” or even “politically correct,” or could at least be construed as such due to the public display. Latrine graffiti stating things such as “Chuck Norris doesn’t consider it sex unless the woman dies,” could be censored in the context of the CPIC poster by simply removing the potentially offensive post-it. Furthermore, since the post-its exist in the lobby of an office, authorship, due to surveillance cameras, is, ostensibly verifiable. One could, conceivably, get in trouble for certain remarks.

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(Photo by M.C. Armstrong, Baghdad, Iraq. 2008. Digital enhancement by Lori Jackson Hill: http://ljhgraphicdesign.com/)

But the following “fact” from the CPIC poster raises the question of what qualifies as safe or politically correct in a public military space? The second “fact” claims that “Chuck Norris doesn’t tea bag. He potato sacks!” In addition to the explicit reference to an act in which one places one’s scrotum atop the face of another individual, this “fact” is noteworthy due to the author signing his name and the word “booyah” beneath. Although I’ve blurred out the soldier’s identity, his comfort in sharing this homoerotic “fact” in public suggests an office environment that is, at the very least, receptive to the public discussion of graphic sexual acts.

In spite of both of these “facts” treating the taboos of sex and death in such explicit and somewhat predictably masculine fashion, their messages, collectively, represent a break in convention. In Pamela Leong’s “American Graffiti: Deconstructing Gendered Communication Patterns in Bathroom Stalls,” she notes that men’s graffiti tends to be “impersonal, vulgar, competitive, and aggressive” (312). Female graffiti, by contrast is much more “supportive” and “relationship-oriented” (314). Chuck Norris “facts” offer a liminal category, a third space, a largely male centered mode of expression that is also collaborative and constructive. The Chuck Norris “fact” doesn’t assert the individual writer’s superiority, but instead yields to the superhero qualities of Chuck Norris. In many ways, this will to erase one’s self in the context of a competitive environment makes up the paradoxical nature of the soldier’s experience. Although one is always seeking to defeat an enemy, one is also seeking to put one’s platoon or one’s fellow soldier before one’s self. What the Norris “facts” also do, however, is they take the gaze away from “the real.” If Chuck Norris “facts” represent the dominant trope of this war’s graffiti, the dominant trope is then not so much the war itself, or the warriors, but a pop culture reference that is largely kitsch and comic.

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(Photo by M.C. Armstrong, Haditha, Iraq. 2008.)

In Welcome to the Desert of the Real, Slavoj Zizek makes the argument that the War on Terror was precipitated, in part, by our collective “passion for the Real” and this “passion for the Real,” tends to “culminate in its opposite, in a theatrical spectacle” like “spectacular terrorist attacks” (9-10). While I was in Haditha, I interviewed a soldier playing the video game, “Halo” shortly after we’d conducted a patrol in the desert. When I asked him why he played, he said “We’re not getting enough kills here.” There at the frontline of the War on Terror, life wasn’t real enough. Chuck Norris “facts” are in many ways, more “real” than facts insofar as they reflect the increasingly mediated identities of a generation whose longing for immediacy compels it deeper into more spectacular realms of mediation. Their hero has larger genitals than other soldiers. He wears a beard and rides a motorcycle. As a martial artist, Chuck Norris represents a nostalgic nod to “real” men, the ones who can still kill with their bare hands. No, he’s not like the wartime office spaces where one finds “facts” about him. He’s not some drone operator or some desk jockey, what some called the FOBBIT, the soldier who, like the hobbit, never left the shire and went beyond the wire. No, Chuck Norris is certainly no FOBBIT. Chuck Norris is not afraid of what’s beyond the wire. Chuck Norris is not afraid of death. Death is afraid of Chuck Norris.

 

Bibliography

 

“Chuck Norris Facts.” 25 March, 2016. http://www.chucknorrisfacts.com/

Baudrillard, Jean. The Spirit of Terrorism. London: Verso, 2003. Print.

Beauchamp, Scott. “Kilroy is Still Here.” The Paris Review. November 12, 2015:

Online.

Block, Robert. “Graffiti Artists Put Their Mark On War Against Terrorism.” The

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Bergen, Peter. United States of Jihad. New York: Crown, 2016. Print.

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Leong, Pamela. “American Graffiti: Deconstructing Gendered Communication Patterns

In Bathroom Stalls.” Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist

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Mailer, Norman. The Time of Our Time. New York: Random House, 1998. Print.

McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York:

McGraw-Hill, 1964. Print.

Ravilious, Kate. “Writing on the Church Wall.” Archaeology. 68.5 (Sept/Oct 2015):

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Tapies, Xavier. Street Art and The War on Terror: How the World’s Best Graffiti

Artists Said No to the Iraq War. London: Rebellion Books, 2007. Print.

Whitman, Walt.  Leaves of Grass.  D. McKay:  Ann Arbor, 1900. E-book.

Zizek, Slavoj. Welcome to the Desert of the Real. London: Verso, 2002. Print.

 

M. C. Armstrong
M. C. Armstrong
M. C. Armstrong recently embedded with JSOF in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. He published extensively on the Iraq war through The Winchester Star. He is the winner of a Pushcart Prize. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in Esquire, The Mantle, The Missouri Review, The Gettysburg Review, Mayday, Monkey Bicycle, Epiphany, The Literary Review, and other journals and anthologies. He is the guitarist and lead singer for Viva la Muerte.

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