Comments and observations on social and political trends and events.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Hurt by The Hurt Locker?

As usual controversies surface during the buildup to the annual Oscar Awards ceremony about the nominees. This year the news media has harped on the criticisms about The Hurt Locker, a movie about the challenges of an Iraq bomb disposal squad. A large part of the controversy stems from a Los Angeles Times article on the various reactions, both positive and negative, to The Hurt Locker.

"The depiction of our community in this film is disrespectful," said Paul Rieckhoff, the executive director and founder of the 150,000-member Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "We are not cowboys. We are not reckless. We are professionals. And a lot of the film would make you think the opposite.”

Naturally, the media has picked up on this criticism while downplaying the supporters.

I saw the movie last week and believe those who feel the movie disrespects them have lost their objectivity. Why? I believe the critics drop or forget the movie’s context.

The movie starts with an episode involving the previous leader of the bomb disposal team (Explosive Ordnance Disposal, EOD). It shows how the leader and his team take extreme care to follow their EOD protocols to ensure they are using the safest methods to prevent accidental detonation of the ordinance. I won’t say what happens but the team ends up with a new squad leader, Sergeant First Class William James, who jettisons many of the safety protocols. The rest of the movie centers on the interplay with James’ teammates who are appalled by his behavior and his need for the thrill of pushing the envelope. The movie creates tension precisely because James is a renegade who doesn’t want to let the constraints of normal procedures to cramp his need for getting a rush.

Question. If the movie shows the EOD in a bad light why are the teammates upset with James’ behavior? Because he isn’t following normal procedures.

Question. How many movies have we seen about renegade cops? Or doctors? (The Fox TV series House is an example.) Or any other profession? Do we conclude therefore that all doctors and cops are rebels? No. We know that the renegade genre depends on the protagonist acting fundamentally different than his or her colleagues to create the dramatic tension. Is this such a hard concept to grasp? I think not!

This point seems so obvious that it’s almost embarrassing to bring it up. I don’t know if the movie’s critics truly miss this point or if they want their 15 minutes of fame from a media that loves to focus on the negative. The bottom line is that a controversy has been manufactured thanks to loss of objectivity.

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