The other day I read a review of the new film “The Hurt Locker” on a movie blog and it started me thinking. The film, which I've not seen yet, is about Army Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) Technicians in Iraq, and by all accounts is not a typical (linear and plot-driven) film, rather being character driven. The blogger took issue with it for this, and several more reasons which, save one, I wont go into. Both because I've not seen the movie, and I don't care about his other complaints. Also, I commented on his blog and left a link back but have no desire or intention to attempt a cross-blog war. His post, and my response, simply prompted further though an idea. An idea I want to share, where I've the room to do so.
The issue at hand that was taken in this review I read, was with the portrayal of the characters. The blogger did not feel that they were worthwhile or compelling, and seemed to feel they weren't fitting representations of US servicemen. The reviewer felt that they lacked higher minded motivations, and acted as hero's out of personal issues, being adrenaline junkies, rather than out of any particular goodness.
I'm not going to (extensively) quote the review, as this is less about the review, or the reviewer, than the idea of “hero's”, but in paraphrase his objections were: A specific leading character's heroism was driven less by a solid moral fiber, than by being an adrenaline junkie. Most of the character's were in fact lacking positive motivations (“anything but upbeat and inspirational”, to sneak a quote in). They were there and fighting merely for selfish reasons, not some greater struggle against evil, or to protect the oppressed and innocent. He found it hard to support, much less care for, the character's he thought were arrogant, and would've rather been rooting for characters driven by “goodness” - Using Batman, Spiderman and Superman as examples of characters driven by goodness, and the audience' ability to invest in them for the people of character they truly are.
I cannot help but feel that this reviewer has mistaken his favorite fictions and imaginary hero's for real ones. It seems that his real objection is that this film doesn't present his hero's in the fictitious, idealized, light to which he's accustomed to seeing them. It doesn't present them as Supermen, or even as Batmen (tortured, but ultimately idealistic and good intentioned). It presents them as realistic, human, men. Given this, I have to wonder if the reviewer who brought these ideas to the fore in me, isn't the only one who suffers this idealism of hero's.
Has it ever occurred to these folks that their hero's, many of history's (military or otherwise) hero's, were in fact no more high minded than the men in The Hurt Locker? That same people put themselves into situations that make hero's of them not because it serves the common good, but because it serves their needs and desires?
The accounts written after the act(s) of heroism, or after any act, are rarely the truth. This is not to say that all hero's are bastards who were in the right place at the right time, but that not all of them aren't that.
Many hero's, as people visualize them, are actually fictions and in the bright light of day, they are just men and women. People who fought, warred, struggled and killed, less out of patriotism, less out of belief in something greater, than out of a simple skill and enjoyment. Even, without enjoyment, no greater drive than a pragmatic assessment of their abilities, opportunities and situations. At times too, just sheer futility and "fuck it" attitudes. Not everyone who does these jobs does them for upbeat or inspirational reasons - Some do them for the blackest reasons possible.
That does not make them incapable of heroism, or invaluable to society. Quite the opposite. It may be that in these positions (from war to wildland firefighting), where people who have no use for most of society find an escape from it and a great satisfaction in hard work and high risk, they are actually of the most benefit to the whole. An accidental (maybe) symbiotic relationship between the misanthrope, and the masses.
Not everyone who stands on the lines between disaster and safety, between the great hordes and the great civilizations, is a sheepdog guarding the flock. Many are just another type of wolf – One's evolved in a manner where they'd rather bloody their fangs on other wolves.
They may not be people to know, and certainly not the kind of people to have to tea, but they're no less valuable, and when the pressure is on, no less gallant for it. Such men and women need, and deserve, as much celebration as the patriotic, service oriented, and high minded.