Popular culture is the lens through which we can experience places and situations we never come across in everyday life.  Thanks to modern media consumption, every teenager that’s never left Wisconsin still has what many could justifiably consider a passable understanding of the cultures and lifestyles of people all over the world.  Not everything we see on TV is fantasy; I’ve never been to Antarctica, but thanks to my interest in programs involving it, I feel like I have a reasonable sense of what the landscape looks like, how treacherous the journey there can be, and just how difficult it would be to get my hands on a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee once I arrived.

But that’s the problem.  As I’ve mentioned in the past, the incredible landmarks we grow up seeing on TV are rarely as we imagine them, no matter how many hours we spend watching NatGeo.  I’ve been to Pyramids ranging from Mayan to Egyptian, to arenas ranging from the New England Patriot’s turf at Gillette to the Gladiator’s sand in the Roman Coliseum, and I’ve walked down the impoverished streets of villages depicted in “Save The Children” commercials – and time and time again, I was faced with perspective shifting realities due to the omissions or complete fabrications I’d grown up with in order to make these locations more marketable or plot-friendly in TV shows, movies, and video games.

These kinds of misconceptions aren’t relegated specifically to geography.  As we covered in part one of this series, there are a lot of things about combat, tactical situations, and even regular old fist fights that many of us get wrong thanks to a steady supply of misinformation being delivered via action movie tropes.  In part one, we covered flesh wounds, being knocked unconscious, and the power of explosive blasts.  Now, in part two, we’ll venture further into the world of excusable misconceptions many of us harbor about violence because, much like the Pyramids of Giza, we’re only ever shown what producers want us to see.

Myth #1: Tranquilizers are effective enough to be used as weapons

Tranquilizers in movies and TV shows are often delivered via dart, and used by either heroes or villains to dispatch someone without actually having to kill them.  The scene always plays out pretty simply: a security guard passes by on patrol when someone shoots him in the neck with a tranquilizer dart.

Immediately, the security guard grabs his neck, with the dart standing perfectly between his split fingers (no one would ever to think to pull a dart they found in their neck out, I guess) before he slinks down to the floor, unconscious and no worse for wear.

“I’ll just hold this in with my fingers until I get sleepy.”

Obviously, this isn’t the case.  If we could load our magazines full of the kind of tranquilizer darts that immediately knock a person out and allow them to wake up a few hours later with no ill effects, we’d arm every police department in the country with a Costco box full of them.  In reality, tranquilizer darts are a means of delivery for powerful sedatives.  Sedatives, being a kind of drug, can come with all sorts of complications – and rarely work as effectively as movies would have you believe.

First of all, the dosage of whatever sedative one chooses to put in their dart need to be carefully determined for each target.  Loading enough sedative into a dart that would put me down (at two hundred and forty pounds) would almost certainly kill an adult woman who walks around at half my size.  And even when wildlife experts do use a specifically calculated amount of sedative to subdue a large animal, it can take anywhere from minutes to hours for the drugs to set in enough to make it safe to approach them.  There’s a reason surgeons rely on an anesthetist to administer and monitor the drugs used to put you under for surgery: it’s an exact science that could easily kill you if you’re given too much, and may leave you waking up early if given too little.

Myth #2: Two guns are better than one

Ah, duel wielding… a phrase that probably wouldn’t have even entered our lexicon if it weren’t for 80’s action movies and the video game franchise Call of Duty.  The concept is simple enough, one gun in the hands of a highly trained protagonist out for revenge is deadly… so two guns must be twice as deadly, right?

Your accuracy increases even more when you’re airborne.


You guys already know this one, because even if you tolerate it in the stuff you watch, a fair amount of SOFREP’s readership has slung lead downrange at one time or another.  Firing a pistol accurately is a skill that requires training, practice, and focus.  In order to impact your target exactly where you intend to, the shooter must gain good sight picture and sight alignment.  Even in situations where you don’t have time to draw your weapon and properly frame your target in your sights, firing accurately still requires direct focus on your target.  I train using the common adage, “in a firefight, you have the rest of your life to find your front sight tip,” meaning even in a hurry, the shooter that places their front sight tip on their target will be the one to fire more accurately, and likely the one to survive.

This is impossible with two pistols.  Firing two pistols means you aren’t accurately aiming either one (unless you’re firing so slowly it doesn’t make sense to use two).  Duel wielding pistols just means you’ll miss twice as much… and then have no free hand to help reload.

Myth #3: Bullet proof vests stop rounds without harming the wearer

Here’s another scene you’ve watched a hundred times: our protagonist is in a standoff with the bad guy, when all of a sudden, the worst happens: the villain shoots our hero right in the chest.  The hero grabs at the wound and falls to the ground in a slump… only to spring back to life just in time to save the day.  What let him pull off such a ruse?  A bulletproof vest, of course!

Combat myths and tactical fallacies we all believe thanks to movies (Part 1)

Read Next: Combat myths and tactical fallacies we all believe thanks to movies (Part 1)

First of all, no vest is bullet proof.  The type of body armor you can easily conceal under your clothing without making it apparent to everyone around you can usually stop small arms fire, but would be no match for a high-powered rifle, for instance.  This is why you see soldiers wearing layers of armor, including Sapi plates that are not flexible but can potentially stop some commonly fired rifle rounds like 5.56 or 7.62.  These vests work by absorbing and distributing the kinetic energy delivered by the round that impacted you – basically they distribute the impact over a wider area of your body.  That means instead of feeling like you just got shot by a small bullet, you’ll usually feel like you just got hit with a large baseball bat.

Broken ribs and even internal bleeding can be a common injury sustained by people who have been shot in their “bullet proof” vests – meaning our hero may survive being shot at point blank range by the villain, but he’ll likely need to make a trip to the hospital because of the ribs he just broke.


Stay tuned for Part 3 of this installment coming soon!


Images courtesy of Fox, Internet Movie Firearm Database, TV Tropes