Glamorized film undermines horror of war

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Editorial

You probably watched the Super Bowl, and half the reason you watched the game was to see the commercials. Expecting light-hearted and ridiculous beer ads, one of the commercials broke the flow on Super Bowl Sunday with a trailer of the upcoming movie Act of Valor.

Relativity Media, the studio producing the movie, released several versions of the trailer, but each focuses on Act of Valor’s main selling point: the film stars a squad of active Navy SEALs—some of the most rigorously trained and skilled soldiers in the American military.

War films have been around for decades, but Act of Valor’s ad campaign and main selling point raise a few alarm bells.

When a movie uses active military personnel from the most glamorized division of the military, focuses on a fictional anti-“jihadist” squad and has an advertizing budget big enough to afford the Super Bowl, it’s easy to suspect one of the biggest examples of recruitment propaganda in recent history.

The problem is how movies like Act of Valor portray war. They give it to us clean and palatable with none of the unpleasant bits. It’s simple and entertaining. The “bad guys” are unambiguously bad, the guys on our side are infallibly heroic, and if any of them die, it is in the most noble, meaningful way possible.

“Of course it’s not portrayed accurately in the sense that it’s usually romanticized in some way,” said Professor of English Lynn DeVore of military film propaganda. “Echoes of patriotism and nationalism creep in everywhere, particularly in today’s climate.”

If a film wants to use this kind of style, that’s fine, but when the military itself gets involved, that’s quite irresponsible.

“I’m disappointed that films glamorizing the US’s presence in the Middle East are getting all this attention while films with a more realistic, nuanced presentation of war are overlooked,” said Katie Rose Brosnan, a junior political studies major.

As potential recruits watch movies like this, all they will see is the glory and “valor” that goes with the American military. They won’t think about the possibility of doing things they find morally compromising or of even dying at age 19 thousands of miles from home.

And that’s the other unsettling thing about the ad campaign: the target audience.

It didn’t stop with the Super Bowl. The website for the recently released video game Battlefield 3 streamed the Act of Valor trailer, which was also included in the previews of the new movie Chronicle—a PG-13 film focusing exclusively on a teenage, high school cast.

By seducing impressionable teenagers into service using the gimmick of its most revered soldiers, the military may gain recruits, but it could also be sending children to their deaths.

Now this isn’t to say anything about military volunteers in general. There are many service personnel who join the military with admirable resolve knowing exactly what they may sacrifice and taking it on for their country and loved ones.

In a way, films like this distributed as a Hollywood blockbuster might even help those servicemen and women.

“What I like about movies like [Act of Valor] is that they show the necessity of connecting civilians with the military in general,” said Amanda Larsen, a junior psychology major planning to pursue a graduate degree in military psychology.

But fostering this connection should not come at the risk of fooling young minds into thinking they will get to be the celebrated hero returning home, or that the conflicts they fight in are morally straightforward.

The SEALs in Act of Valor are likely all very noble, selfless and skilled soldiers, but their story should be marketed to the adults who have the wisdom to process what they see, not to the teens who will want to be like the soldiers they saw on their video games and in the movies.