You’re a cop on the edge, an ex-marine with nothing left to lose, or just an everyday guy who’s too old for this shit. Whatever you are, the one thing you’re not is psychologically healthy. In fact, in order to be an action hero, you basically need to be maladjusted in these very specific ways. Let’s talk about that.
District Attorney Rothko: “Where the hell does it say that you’ve got a right to kick down doors, torture suspects, deny medical attention and legal counsel? Where have you been? Does Escobedo ring a bell? Miranda? I mean, you must have heard of the Fourth Amendment. What I’m saying is that man had rights.”
Harry Callahan: “Well, I’m all broken up about that man’s rights.”
Ever known an action hero to get along with his boss? Ever known him to obey the law, go along with protocol, or have any regard for the Prime Directive? No, you haven’t, because he doesn’t play by the rules, and you can’t either! You’re a loose cannon who doesn’t follow orders and does whatever it takes to get the job done. If anyone shows you a goddamn rulebook, you’ll do the opposite. Why? Because that’s exactly the kind of thing that no one would ever expect!
Or it’s because every action hero ever has developed a case of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and you’ll need to develop it, too, because if it’s one thing we hate to see when go to the movies it’s people who follow protocol. Oppositional Defiant Disorder is usually a childhood disorder, but come on, these movies aren’t speaking to our inner adult. Kids with Oppositional Defiant Disorder go out of their way to deliberately annoy people. They actively try to break rules or not comply with requests, because they like to see people get mad. When things don’t go their way, they blame everybody else.
Kids with ODD tend to be touchy, have a bad temper, and harbor deep resentment. Sound familiar? They also don’t see their behavior as the problem. Everything would be okay, they’re convinced, if it weren’t for the unreasonable demands placed on them. What you’ve got to remember, if you have Oppositional Defiant Disorder is that you “win” just by causing people in authority frustration. Sure, your boss has got you pulling overtime, but you smoked in his office because he put that “No Smoking” sign up. He yelled and his face got all red and sweaty, and that’s all that matters.
Martin Riggs: “Well, what do you wanna hear, man? Do you wanna hear that sometimes I think about eatin’ a bullet? Huh? Well, I do! I even got a special bullet for the occasion with a hollow point, look! Make sure it blows the back of my goddamned head out and do the job right!”
If you see a building, you make like you’re going to throw yourself off it. If you’re in your car and you see a train coming, you try to narrowly beat it across the tracks. If you see any piece of fabric longer than it is wide, try to wrap it around your neck.
We generally see suicidal gestures in only the darker movies. You won’t see Schwarzenegger doing it in Predator, in which he’s playing an emotionally healthy member of Delta Force who just happens to be going after an alien. He saves the darker stuff for End of Days, in which he’s playing a cop on the edge who gets involved in a moral struggle with Satan. In real life, suicidal ideation — a preoccupation with suicide and suicidal behavior — is quite common. Many people occasionally get sad, and have dark thoughts. Many people get depressed and find their thoughts getting dark. Most people are able to correct, over time. Some people do, however, make repeated suicidal gestures, even if they don’t follow through. For some groups, it is more common. If we’re looking at the cliche of action heroes, suicidal ideation is most common, and most severe, in those who have borderline personality disorder.
Borderline personality disorder actually explains a lot of action hero behavior. It involves periods of intense depression. It’s characterized by impulsive behavior including unsafe sex (usually with people who are secretly Nazis) and reckless driving (every action movie ever, anyone?). People with the disorder often flare up into inappropriate or uncontrollable anger (also every action movie ever). Then the next minute, they’re devaluing every relationship in their life, and walking away because they “don’t care.” Which brings us to the next section.
Chief Judge: “So what happened in there?”
Judge Dredd: “Drug bust.”
Chief Judge: “Look like you’ve been through it.”
Judge Dredd: “Perps were uncooperative.”
You walk away from explosions and you don’t even look back. You mow down a group of terrorists and then you go eat cold pizza. You get shot in the shoulder and shrug it off like it’s a bee sting. You’re not impressed, you’re not scared, you’re not shaken up. You’re an action hero, dammit!
Not responding emotionally in any way to things that would emotionally affect anyone else isn’t being cool. It’s either blunted affect or flattened affect. Neither is a psychological problem in and of itself, but both are indications of deep psychological problems. It’s associated with everything from post-traumatic stress disorder to overmedication to schizophrenia to outright brain damage. One study showed that in patients with schizophrenia, flattened affect indicated worse quality of life and a worse outcome after one year of treatment. It’s also not always associated with lack of feeling. People with flat affect may not respond because they don’t know what they’re feeling. So they could be a roiling mass of emotion, but are just unable to convey it.
Essentially, when it comes to looking cool in the face of devastating emotional shocks, it’s only what’s on the outside that counts. Keep that stone face, even if you’re not sure whether seeing that drug dealing getting pulped in his own cocaine processing machinery fills you with fear, disgust, or sexual arousal.
Kananga: *eats air capsule, inflates, and explodes*
Solitaire: “Where’s Kananga?”
James Bond: “Oh he did always have an inflated opinion of himself.”
Oh, your funny jokes! Oh, your haughty quips! Oh, your sparkling banter! Of course you joke every time someone dies horribly in front of you, but that’s not enough. You also joke when the villain has you tied to a chair and will clearly beat the hell out of you for joking. You joke when your superior officer yells at you. You joke when your love interest is mad at you. Basically, whenever you’re not actively firing a machine gun, you should be thinking up a good line.
We’ve covered this one before. It’s called Witzelsucht, it’s caused by brain damage, and it sucks. It most often starts with a stroke, but it can happen whenever a person sustains damage to the right orbitofrontal section of the brain. Considering how often an action hero gets punched or thrown through a plate glass window, it’s really not a surprise that almost all of them develop Witzelsucht. And it wouldn’t be so bad if they were just merry. But the condition doesn’t mean you have a sense of humor. You don’t find other people’s jokes funny. You just like making your own.
Hey, you didn’t become an action hero to make friends.