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  • February 1, 2010
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Why America’s 1stSgt doesn’t like Avatar.

Okay, that’s not true.

As a fan I enjoyed the effects, CGI, and the 3D. Plus, anytime machine guns and missiles are fired at aliens it meets my minimum requirements for entertainment. The story wasn’t that great, but overall it was entertaining and a good film.

HOWEVER.

Much like scientists dislike seeing things in movies that are just not possible, i.e., light sabers, military professionals hate seeing unrealistic portrayals of combat and misrepresentation of their culture. For instance, watching 40mm grenadelaunchers in movies firing munitions that detonate like 105mm artillery shellsmakes us roll our eyes in grief. In The Hurtlocker, the characters drive all over Iraq by themselves in one HMMWV. Never happens. Personally, my sword training has ruined Conan the Barbarian forever. Sigh.

If there had been a proper First Sergeant cast in the film you would have heard off camera: “Hey sir! How about keeping your *&$#$^% finger straight and off the trigger!” Seeing people mishandle weapons like this drives us bonkers.

So what kind of beef do Marines have with Avatar?

We really didn’t appreciate how Marines were portrayed as soulless mercenaries without a shred of moral character. In the film the Marines completely betray our core values for the sake of the bottom line and bow low to their corporate masters like mongrels.
James Cameron claims the main character, Jake Sully, was meant to embody characteristics of Marines. Unfortunately Sully is the exception to the rule in this fictional universe where Marines have no institutional standard of conduct and are merely on the mission for their cut of the take.

On the other hand, there isn’t a Marine in the world that doesn’t think being a door gunner has got the be the coolest job ever. Especially if he gets to operate this monster.

Meanwhile, in the real world, America’s 1stSgt daily stresses to his Marines that their conduct off the battlefield is more defining than their conduct on it. I often joke that I have sent young men outside the wire loaded down with automatic weapons, rockets, grenades, knives, pointed sticks and have not worried about them in the slightest. Because when it mattered, when the world was watching, they did the right thing. What kept me up at night was letting them go out to Waikiki on liberty.

Of the two types of courage – moral and physical – moral courage has always been the most difficult to execute. We teach Marines that this is what defines a warrior and separates him from a mere grunt. It distinctly sets him apart from the mercenary who may be capable on the battlefield but whose moral conduct resembles that of a common thug.

I do get it though, in the movie the troops portrayed were “former” Marines who sold out to the corporation. You won’t see me beating up James Cameron or demanding he apologize. It would just be nice for once if the Marine Corps as an institution (or any of the services for that matter) were portrayed for what it was.

Other instances of Marines portrayed wrongly in film and TV:

Battle Star Galactica – Marines participate in a mutiny in that series. WHAT? That would NEVER HAPPEN. Marines’ traditional role aboard ship is to prevent mutiny. If they did decide to align themselves with mutineers you’d get all of them or none of them. Not some of them. That’s how we operate.

Brothers – I have not seen this film but I understand the Marine Captain is forced by his Taliban captors to choose between his life and that of a Marine Private’s. He opts to beat the Marine to death with a pipe. I say again, this would NEVER HAPPEN. There isn’t a Captain in the Marine Corps who would do such a vile thing. Speaking for all leaders in the Marine Corps I suspect our response to such an offer would be to stare right down the barrel of the nearest AK and reply: “Shoot me then, dirtbag.”

Jarhead – The author of the original book seems to have a personal problem with the Corps. Enough said. Except that I would personally beat Marines into a coma with a shovel if I caught them out in the middle of the desert firing their weapons into the air in “celebration”.

Stargate: Universe – In the first episode Marines and Air Force special ops types defend their base from incoming alien fighter craft with .50 caliber machine guns and anti-tank rockets from trenches. How in the universe are military professionals using WWI tactics and weapons we currently don’t even use to combat conventional aircraft against sub-orbital alien technologies? What the.?

Hey, I’m just saying if scientists get to rail on Star Trek for its blatant violation of scientific laws then I get to comment on blatant misrepresentation of my chosen profession too.

And really, where in the world is their 1stSgt during all this?

Semper Fidelis,
America’s 1stSgt

/ / / /

22 comments

  1. My son, the Marine, (mama’s chest puffs up with pride) said somewhat the same thing about Avatar. I may be the one person in the CONUS who still hasn’t seen the movie, so I don’t get to express an opinion, but I know better than to disagree with the 1st Sgt.

  2. Avatar was entertaining but it bothered me for many of the same reasons that it apparently bothered you, 1st Sgt… You just express yourself better than I did when I exited the theater. After fully expressing my feelings on the film, I was told by those around me that I had the “mouth of a Marine” and I don’t think that was a compliment

  3. Top,
    I usually don’t see any movies until they are on DVDs…
    But as far as Hollywood goes, they don’t make the movies for anything but profit. How often can they even get a real war movie right?
    …and if we cops did even part of what the cops in the movies did, we’d not only get fired, but sued.
    Average citizens can’t understand why we can’t only not get some police reports done in one or two hours, but they expect us to solve the crime in that time— after getting in 100 MPH veh chase, foot chases and 10 gun fights–firing thousands of rounds of ammo.

    …and they also think after watching CSI, that we can get the suspect’s DNA off the dirt.

  4. Well one thing about all those Weirdiewood Marines, they make a hell of a lot more money than you do and they don’t bleed real blood. And I had to chuckle at you worrying more about Marines going into town and going outside the wire. There aren’t many ROE’s in Waikiki.

  5. Another one that chaps my ass is Alcatraz. Right. Disgruntled Marines hold San Francisco hostage. Why not the Coast Guard? (Sorry any Coasties out there – nothing but respect for you guys). And Nick Cage wins in hand to hand with a Marine? Not in my Marine Corps he doesn’t.

  6. You too, 1SG? Avatar bothered me for the same reason. They definitely did need a 1SG.

    And the Hurt Locker- one of my instructors here in AIT-Land showed it in class as an example of what NOT to do, with the EOD types running around by themselves and taking silly risks all the time. But I suppose it made for a more exciting movie than “The 11Bs killed the bad guys. The End.”

  7. Foodie, you’re an American, feel free to express your opinion. Just be ready for others not to agree with you. 🙂 The movie is actually pretty good. As a fan of the genre it was well done. As a Marine, I want to punch someone’s liver out.

    T, right back at ya!

    Red next time your response should be: “And you have the mind of a godless, communist heathen!” That will get their attention.

    CI Roller, I imagine cops have a bigger beef with Hollywood than the military does. If we were to believe the movies, then almost all cops are on the take (except Commissioner Gordon), constantly violate the law they are sworn to uphold, and solve all crime in 60 minutes. Seems to me if Hollywood were misrepresenting some other sub culture in America people would be up in arms.

    Ah Coffee, but there are ROEs for Waikiki. I’ve told the men that the rules are the same but the terrain has merely changed. Just because we are in America doesn’t make one “safe”. There are still threats to assess and hopefully avoid. You just don’t get to respond with machine guns. Too many troops have survived combat tours only to wrap themselves around a telephone pole on a crotch rocket or get beat up in an alley.

    Jim, Alcatraz! How could I forget? NO WAY Marines would threaten American citizens like that. I remember my dad particularly not liking the scene where they gun down all the SEALS. Once again, another Hollywood FAIL.

    Saker, ever noticed there is NEVER a 1stSgt in the movies? They’ve had a SgtMaj here and there, even Gunnery Sgts. I feel slighted really. Of course, the Hollywood version of America’s 1stSgt would probably have a scene of me drowning puppies.

    Tyler, feel free! And be a follower too! Because, you know bloggers obsess about numbers. 🙂

    Southern, being a guy I can compartmentalize my feelings. The movie was entertaining and worth seeing on the big screen. Do the 3D, it worked.

  8. Hey Burke. Good commentary. I’ll keep it in mind if I EVER get the chance to go see it. Damn.

    Anyway, you and I have talked about this phenomenon several times. Think about Heartbreak Ridge, Full Metal Jacket, and A Few Good Men. All have their merits, but all have their faults too. It’s a good thing Heartbreak Ridge is supposed to be funny, because otherwise it would be a disgrace. Cycling back to The Rock that another poster mentioned, most Marines I know like watching it (me too), but I have to hide my inward cringing because like you said, Marines would NEVER do that.

    How about our trusty Colonial Marines from the Alien series? Cpl Hicks from Aliens is maybe one of the better portrayals out there. He definitely takes Mission First, Troops Always into account.

    Take care. And watch out for zombies.

  9. Why am I picturing a cinema full of marines all doing that really low meancing growl as they watch this? 😀

    Pax

    [I’ve seen the movie – did not enjoy the subtext that ‘most earthers are greedy nature killing B’s’]

  10. Saker, another good 1stSgt is from the movie Siege of Firebase Gloria. I believe his name is 1stSgt Jones in the film.

    Starkey, I agree, Aliens had a pretty good take on the Marines.

    Pax, come on, everything humans do is bad, bad, bad. Therefore being human must be bad.

  11. Hello Sir….

    I love your blog, and I agree. While Mister Cameron can make an entertaining film, he is also not a nice man. I’ve seen him verbally abuse and drop F Bombs all over fans just because they asked for autographs. He seems to forget who pays for all of those movie tickets…

  12. Good points! Very well expressed and written. Let’s put it this way: my 13 year old loved it. My yoga instructor thought is was about pantheism, and was also bowled over by the CGI. He thought I should go see it. Well, I didn’t because I
    I avoid seeing movies with heavy CGI. Often they use it to beef up bad writing and faltering plot lines. As a writer, I can’t tell you how pissed off I get when I see this.

    Hence, I watch things like “Lost in Austen,” on Ovation TV and am thoroughly beguiled.

    I’ve heard people echo your comments about the depiction of Marines as soulless. This says more about the perceptions of Hollywood –and sadly, about what much of the public thinks of the military. I know. I encounter this same condescending asshattery in my own community.

    As far as watching films like Hurt Locker, I can’t. I already think of war every day, I already dread The Hubs going back soon and when I go to the movies I’d much rather see Elizabeth Bennett fighting Mr. Darcy, than this other more nefarious stuff on the screen.

  13. Kanani, if I were to sit down and watch “Lost in Austen” or view Ovation TV or other similar programing the Testosterone Police would immediately kick down my door, violently remove all my chest hair, then revoke my status as a MAN. I prefer to remain a member in good standing.

    As for the movie, I find it interesting that Avatar and Hurtlocker are both nominated for multiple awards.

  14. Don’t worry, not everyone buys all the silly stereotypes. We know it’s just entertainment! I live in Boulder (25 sq. mi. surrounded by Reality), and my dad was a Quaker who threatened to disown me if I went ROTC, so all in all my world is about as different from yours as you can imagine. And you know what? I walked out of Avatar. There is only so much trite an intelligent person can handle. (OK, the 3D thing was also making me nauseous, literally.)

    So what military movies DO you like? I’d really like to know!

    Love your posts.

  15. Oh…duh. I just accidentally found your “favorite movies, books, etc” page, which probably answers my question, but feel free to throw in any other suggestions. Princess Bride?? THAT doesn’t bring on the Testosterone Police???

  16. Sierra, Princess Bride has one of the greatest sword fights in movie history: “I would admit that you are better than I am, but I know something you don’t know…”

    It also contains one of my favorite lines:”We are men of action; lies do not become us.”

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