'Act of Valor', 'Call of Duty' and the Role of Entertainment in Military Recruitment

The much hyped military action drama Act of Valor opens nationwide this weekend. It is the latest in a long line of movies, TV shows, and video games focusing on war and combat. The amount of readily available war-related content is at an all-time high right now, is this good or bad for military recruitment?

Movies like Act of Valor impact recruiting, so do video games. Usually they cause people to enroll in the military because they want to look as cool as what they saw at the theater or on TV.

The Navy saw a huge increase in recruitment after Top Gun was released. Will this film, along with the killing of Osama bin Laden and other assorted SEAL Team Six activities, boost enrollment in the Navy again? Only time will tell. One thing that is quantifiable is the impact past military/special forces dramas and video games have had on military perception.

The Army is so convinced that video games like Call of Duty boost recruitment numbers that it has released multiple versions of its own video game called America’s Army. Call of Duty itself is now on its 18th iteration, with a 19th already on the way. Every year the video game franchise breaks sales records, and the latest CoD: Modern Warfare 3 was no exception. With over 12 million copies sold in the first week it broke the old record of 4.8 million copies held by Call of Duty: Black Ops; its predecessor.

America’s Army has never even approached those numbers, most likely never will, but it still gets the message the military wants to broadcast out there: shooting things is fun, and you can do it while working for us.

Act of Valor sets itself apart from the pack by starring an ensemble cast of active duty Navy SEALS. Most movies about combat retain former soldiers in consulting roles, but this movie put commandos in front of the camera and let them do what they do best. This may not be the best military action film ever made, but it will likely be the most realistic.

Before you watch the movie, remember the Vancouver Sun review’s headline: “US Navy SEALS can do anything – except act.” They aren’t being paid to act, they’re being paid to kick ass and make it look cool while doing it like Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer did in Top Gun. Only this movie involves less drama and more murder, death, kill.

While movies like Full Metal Jacket, Platoon and Saving Private Ryan made attempts to dramatize wars, they did not always convey a very positive image of the military. With graphic war scenes in the media, soldier meltdowns, and war crimes being committed all over the place; it’s no wonder people have such distrust in the soldiers who dedicate their lives to serving and protecting our freedom.

That brings us back to Act of Valor, which derives its name from the Medal of Valor; an award bestowed on soldiers for heroic acts while under attack. The Navy SEALS portrayed in this film perform heroic act after heroic act because it’s their job, they’re SEALS. The movie goes for the gusto instead of the Oscar.

Most movies that depict war make it look cool and fun. They make dying in combat look brave and heroic. My father fought in Vietnam, he would disagree with that idea. While dying in war can be heroic, simply doing so isn’t a heroic act and shouldn’t be viewed that way. Movies that make it look heroic to cowboy up and go guns a blazing into a hail of bullets are unrealistic and ridiculous. Movies like Act of Valor depict action in a way that will hopefully make people see war realistically. It will probably also boost recruiting so more people can try to be the hero who kills the next Osama bin Laden

Photo Credit: US Navy

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Ryan Gorman

Ryan's work has been featured in the NY Daily News, Gothamist and the Wall Street Letter. His work has been cited by both the Colbert Report and Time Magazine's website. Ryan worked on Wall Street for five years before returning to school to finish a degree in journalism at St. John's University.

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