Why action heroes are an endangered species

“Ray is working on old software, functioning in a world that no longer appreciates men as breadwinners and warriors. And there is a lot of pain in that.”
That’s Liev Schreiber talking about his eminently watchable LA “fixer” Ray Donovan in the superlative series of the same name.
I often think about his perceptive words as I see the changing roles required of men in modern society.
Because Liev is not entirely wrong.
The golden age of the warrior is passing.
Like mutant Wolverine riding off into the sunset in swansong Logan, the era of the lone tough guy riding into town to solve everyone’s problems with fists, guns or baseball bats is increasingly threatened.
Man’s one great advantage – his physical strength – is being eroded in a world where machines can perform manual labour faster and more efficiently.
On the big screen the fantasy still exists. We are continuously deluged with movies about mighty (albeit increasingly more-than-human) heroes, the latest iterations being the Avengers and X-Men series.
Yet back in the real world, the modern-day military superstar isn’t the human soldier: it’s the drone, delivering death from above, the missiles and cannons deployed by operators thousands of kilometres away from the battlefield.
These cubicle warriors pushing buttons in airconditioned comfort are not Wolverine or Ray Donovan types: rather they are ex-air force pilots, sent in to command the machines that have made them obsolete. There are now more drone pilots being trained than those that will ever see the insides of a cockpit.
For politicians scared of the bad press of humans coming back from overseas deployments in bodybags, the increasing use of drones is a blessing: not to mention the billions saved in ongoing human medical bills and pensions.
We stand on the cusp of an explosion in autonomous weapons systems and AI. How long before enhanced tactical devices – the proper robots of science fiction lore and Terminator fever dreams, not just drones and border-guarding sentries and SWORDS weapons platforms  – will be employed en masse in combat?
When that happens – when we outsource the fighting to the machines – part of the identity of man as warrior will also disappear. One of the critical pathways man has used to prove his strength, worth and courage for millennia will disappear.
No doubt it will be an emasculating experience.
Once again The Simpsons, which predicted the Trump presidency, saw the future.
I give you this quote from The Secret War Of Lisa Simpson: “The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today, remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots.”
The tale of Sparky The Hero Army Electrician does not excite the synapses of the male mind as much as say Conan The Barbarian. How will Hollywood make these technological functionaries seem heroic?
I have seen other signs at the coming action-man obsolescence in popular culture: in particular, the anti-hero The Punisher, whose widely anticipated TV series is coming soon to Netflix.
To quote the emissary of The Hand from Punisher Max: Homeless, as he refuses to take the contract to kill Frank “Punisher” Castle: “Frank Castle is an endangered species. And one does not hunt an endangered species. One preserves it. And marvels at its beauty. And on the day it finally succumbs and dies, one mourns its passing, knowing we may never see its like again.”
My own hero The Spartan feels the same psychic pain as Frank Castle and Ray Donovan. He is also an endangered species … and he knows it.
It is our duty to marvel at his heroism, along with that of Frank and Ray.
And on the day these heroes die, we will mourn their passing, know that we may never see their kind again.

My new military thriller Game Of Killers: The Spartan is available as an ebook here and a paperback here.

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