Liam Day tries to find a connection between the events at Chardon High and the things young boys watch every day.
Act of Valor, the new movie starring not professional actors, but active duty Navy SEALs, was released in theaters last weekend. It is alleged that on Monday T.J. Lane walked into Chardon High School outside Cleveland and shot five students, killing three.
Let me state at the outset: there is no causality. At least none we know of. What I wonder, though, is whether there is correlation? For in the wake of the tragedy I’m forced to ask myself: Is a society and a culture that produce Act of Valor also more likely to produce T.J. Lane?
Act of Valor certainly isn’t the first war movie ever made. Nor will it be the last. I think what separates it from its generic brethren is its intended audience.
Since their emergence during the 50s as a distinct demographic, middle class American adolescents have been a focus of advertising and marketing executives eager to separate them from their disposable allowances. Hollywood is no exception. From Rebel Without a Cause on through Breaking Dawn, film studios and independent producers alike have understood the gross potential of teenage audiences.
War movies on the other hand, have, perhaps somewhat curiously, skirted this demographic. From the films of Audie Murphy and John Wayne on through numerous depictions of the war in Vietnam to more recent films like Jarhead, war movies, from the jingoistic to the pacific, have almost universally been made for adults. The only exception I can think of off the top of my head is Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor and I suspect that’s only because he is an adolescent.
What, then, has changed? For, whatever else might be said for it, Act of Valor is clearly intended for and has been marketed to an adolescent and immediately post-adolescent male audience. In addition to a handful of Super Bowl spots, its marketing campaign targeted video game players. And why not? What is Act of Valor but a film extension of the popular video game Call of Duty? I suspect it’s only possible to make the movie in the wake of the game’s popularity.
Therein lies the correlation with Monday’s horrible events. I suspect the shooting at Chardon High School is also made more possible in the wake of Call of Duty and Gears of War and Grand Theft Auto and all of the other games whose primary purpose is to let gamers shoot digital images, alien and human alike.
I don’t know if T.J. Lane was a gamer and I won’t expound here on the research linking violent video games to increased aggressiveness in particular personalities, but past school shootings, most notably the one at Columbine, were linked to the games the perpetrators not just played, but obsessed over.
Tom Matlack has elsewhere on the Good Men Project written eloquently about the impact of wars on the men and, increasingly, the women who fight them. They are to be acknowledged. They are to be honored. I’m just not sure they should star in movies packaged to sell war to adolescents.
Despite the genuine need for physical security in an age of terror, America is not and should never be Sparta. Democracy is diplomacy and war should never be cultivated as part of it. When war arrives, it should be imposed, not sought and we, as a state, should respond out of necessity, not desire. For all the maudlin reverie that too often threatens to engulf the Greatest Generation, the one thing I believe can be said for its members is that they did not seek the challenge that shaped both their individual lives and their collective place in America’s history.
Linking entertainment, whether movies or video games, with martial virtue strikes me as, perhaps not dangerous, but reckless. The young men who watch the movies and play the games have not yet developed the executive function to regulate their impulses.
As I said at the outset, there is no causality between what happened Monday and the movie released into theaters only three days earlier, but, as a society, I think we’d have to be blind to miss the correlation.
—Ap Photo/Mark Duncan