Las Vegas Review-Journal entertainment columnist Doug Elfman wins Lead of the Day for this emotional rollercoaster right here:
Las Vegas is about to get a new military attraction made for civilian entertainment — a hardcore, two-hour “Call of Duty”-esque immersion being built by some top forces who were part of the raids that killed Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein’s kids.
Tactical combat sounded so fun right up until we got to the part about killing kids. But don’t worry: Uday and Qusay Hussein were fully grown when we killed them. By “we,” of course, I mean the
people heroes of US special forces operations like Seal Team Six, Delta Force, and the Green Berets. By pretty much universal assent, they are the coolest people in American society. It is extremely awesome to burst into a building and surprise hell out of everybody while shooting their center masses. Now you can do that, too, but with pellets instead of bullets and zombies instead of people.
Conventional wisdom holds that zombie movies1 reflect our fear of uncontrollable social forces—communism in the 1950s, globalization today. But maybe contemporary zombie mania just reflects our desire to kill a lot of people.
Watching the commercial for Adventure Combat Ops Las Vegas and noting its emphasis on realism in nearly all respects—real special forces vets! real gear!—one suspects that an earlier version of the idea featured terrorists instead of zombies. That would have been distasteful. An attraction where tourists experience “realistic urban warfare” by, say, stalking through a recreated Peshawar six-bedroom and shooting actors as they pretend to use the internet might suggest something unpleasant about the culture that created it. A good society does not consider killing people fun.
But killing zombies—that’s super fun and morally okay. For one thing, zombies don’t exist, even if squadrons of special operations forces that move tactically through urban environments do. If zombies did exist, they would be ravenous, unreasoning automata whose only function was to indiscriminately kill,2 so it would be totally okay to shoot them en masse.
A person who fantasizes about shooting a gatling gun into a crowd of people is evil and/or psychotic. A person who wants to shoot a gatling gun into a pile of human corpses probably has something wrong with him. But as soon as those corpses get up and start shambling around, that’s entertainment.
I submit that Adventure Combat Ops Las Vegas is the product of a society that thinks violence is extremely cool, but only when it happens to somebody else. We simultaneously demand that it be a central theme in our entertainment and completely absent from our real lives.
We insist on homeland security and routinely tell our representatives that protecting us from violence is the most important of our concerns, such that we are constantly encouraging our government to commit violence overseas. Interestingly, joining a tactical operations team and experiencing realistic urban warfare is something the United States will pay you to actually do. It’s just that you are probably too weak and scared to do it.
Also, it’s possible that using our democracy to dispatch tactical assault teams to selectively kill people in remote parts of the world is kind of unethical. Maybe a society that has been at war for the last 15 years and is obsessed with first-person computer simulations of shooting people is sick, somehow. Maybe paying 300 bucks to pretend to do to zombies what we pay our proxies to do to actual people reflects some kind of psychological pathology.
But let’s be real: violence is super cool, especially when you cannot possibly get hurt. It’s probably very fun to run around a 77,000-square foot laser tag court while combat veterans tell you how to shoot zombies, just as it is pretty fun to watch actors pretend to do what US soldiers actually did in Pakistan, and a little fun fun to hear about it on the news. What we have here is a continuum of fun and violence, with the actual/not so fun violence on one end encouraging the very fun/totally unreal violence on the other.
I don’t think the causality works the other way around: realistic urban warfare games do not encourage us to support wars. But decades of uninterrupted warfare and lionization of the people who fight it have encouraged us to think of violence as a rad thing other people do. From Jason Statham movies to Call of Duty to gun culture, we want to participate in violence as much as we can without introducing any actual risk to our own lives. Maybe that’s because we expend so much of our financial and political resources introducing violence to the lives of others.