When did careful planning and execution become un-cool in real life? Probably about the same time it became un-cool in Hollywood.
Think how the American hero has evolved. He used to be smart, principled and disciplined. Not anymore. Where we used to have student-of-the-game Ted Williams, we now have Barry Bonds. Where we used to have Atticus Finch, Rick Blaine and Jefferson Smith we have hot-headed Lt. Daniel Kaffee (played by Tom Cruise). Planners and careful executers include heroes as diverse as Rocky Bilboa and Gandhi. Heroes-who-plan include soldiers from starkly different backgrounds, such as the soldiers in The Great Escape and The Dirty Dozen.
Modern television and movies don’t offer heroes who intelligently plan and collaborate with others to save the day. A television show offering this in the 60’s was Mission Impossible. The Impossible Mission Force was a group of specialists who actually sat down to plan their mission at the beginning of each show.
Modern heroes rarely sit down to plan their missions. They bristle at the thought of collaborating. Modern protagonists are reactive, not planners. Think of Indiana Jones, Han Solo, Terminator II. These are individualistic hot headed rejecters of collaboration. When they succeed in the end it is because they got lucky at that last desperate moment, not because they pondered contingencies before setting out. Interestingly, if you want planning and execution, look to Hollywood’s villains, people such as Hannibal Lecter, Darth Vader or Batman’s Joker.
Today’s heroes react short term, primarily with reflexes and violence. They punch and kick people and blow up everything that gets in the way. They seek instant gratification, so they lash out. They see collaboration as effeminate and unworthy of their precious time. They would rather knock down doors of thousands of “suspected terrorists” then pause for a moment to consider whether they are doing more harm than good.
What does any of this matter? Violence is a blunt tool. Like drugs, it offers promise only with lots of side-effects. Therefore, it shouldn’t be the tool of first choice for resolving conflict. It matters because our narrow definition of “hero” leaves out most of the dedicated people who keep us safe and make the work run; it leaves out teams of doctors, teachers and scientists. The current conception of heros as people who don’t plan or collaborate matters for a more important reason: many of us, including many politicians, look to Hollywood for role models.
Our political leaders are increasingly starting taking on the characteristics of Hollywood’s modern heroes. They go into Iraq with guns blazing to great applause. They fail to consider their lack of sufficient troops and armor. They don’t care about defining success in their adventures. They are too busy dropping bombs to consider an exit strategy. They fail to do the planning and execution are necessary to pull desperate people out of New Orleans ahead of a massive hurricane. They are too busy spraying bullets to provide medical care to millions of needy folks, people into whose desperate eyes they dare not look. They have no real plan stopping destructive deficit spending. They don’t see any glory in caring about balancing a budget or stopping the flow of toxins into our environment. They can’t sit still long enough to consider that corporate money has almost completely pried control of this government from we the people. Modern politicians are baffled by such problems because they can’t be solved by hitting baseballs or firing missiles.
I don’t know the extent to which Hollywood’s current generation of heroes has influenced the current generation of politicians, but I wonder.