Why Did the Marines Use a Dragon in Their 90s Ads?

What was the inspiration behind the dragon in the United States Marine Corps 1990s recruiting campaign? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Patrick Dugan, product designer at Quora, on Quora:

"What was the inspiration behind the dragon in the United States Marine Corps 1990 recruiting campaign?"

So first of all, it's a lava monster, not a dragon. People make this mistake all the time. This is largely because in Evan Wright's book, Generation Kill, there is a quote taken from Corporal Josh Ray Person where, when speculating why his team leader Brad Colbert joined the Marine Corps, he wonders aloud, "...Brad probably saw that TV commercial; the one with the knight that fucks up the dragon that turns into the Marine in his dress blues."

You can watch the commercial in its entirety here.

The Marine Corps has a long history of having the most badass commercials of any of the United States military branches, the lava monster recruiting commercial being one of them.

The tenets of any good recruiting commercial appeal to an individual's sense of manhood, and the desire to prove himself as a man. "We're looking for a few good men" has been a Marine Corps recruiting slogan in one form or another since 1776 and is mentioned at least once in most commercials. Also, the core tenets of the Marine Corps, "Honor, Courage, Commitment," are also mentioned in almost every recruiting commercial.

You could view a lot of this language and symbolism as standing in direct opposition to the rising sense of a loss of masculinity in today's male youth (The Atlantic came out with a great piece on this earlier this year).

The individual fighting the lava monster is proving that he can overcome any obstacle. This individual is part of an elite and selective force and he is standing up and fighting for all of the right reasons. The lava monster is clearly bad, and this Marine is clearly good, in stark contrast to the evil before him.

While this particular commercial was released in 1998, the 1980s saw the Marines convincing everyone that if they joined, they would basically get to be knights of the round table.

The knight commercials featured a marine on horseback whipping out his noncom officer's sword, raising it in the air and having it struck by lightning using some sick CGI, and then totally slaying another knight or a dark wizard or something.

One of the knight commercials also featured a Marine riding a horse around a chessboard, smoking his enemies with his magic sword. There is a lot that's ironic about this, but perhaps what's most ironic is that the vast majority of Marines never rise past the rank of Lance Corporal, meaning they never even get to carry a sword (the term for this stalled rank advancement is Terminal Lance).

Also, I'll eat my shirt if this commercial isn't exactly where J.K Rowling lifted the real-life game of Wizard's Chess in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone where Ron also rode around on a horse fighting dark knights. The evil wizard from the commercial even sort of looks like Voldemort.

So to summarize this all a bit, the lava monster doesn't symbolize anything that a dragon or a dark wizard or any other sort of blatantly evil creature would. All of these things act as dangerous foes and evil foils, which allow the Marine in each commercial to appear both good and badass.

For what it's worth, the knight commercials prove just how awesome the 80s actually were.

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