I’m generally the last person to pretend like Hollywood is some big conglomerate with singular objectives, and not the multiple businesses with multiple interests and agendas that it is. There is no one “agenda” and they aren’t trying to push one image or the other as a whole, though it can often seem that way when their politics and/or brands of ignorance seem to blur together.
Still, there are some mistakes that seem to find prevalence across the board in movies and TV shows, probably since most filmmakers grew up watching movies and perpetuate the mistakes that they know, especially in the tactical realm. For example, rifles don’t make noise when you move them from left to right, but for some reason in movies they often sound like the actor is swinging around a hefty bag of chains, because it sounds like “gear.”
When it comes to costume design/wardrobe, I don’t know how many times I’ve rolled my eyes at a TV show or movie—beyond the obvious uniform inconsistencies. It’s so easy to find advice from a veteran that would know what these “Special Ops” guys would wear, and with any effort at all it’s easy to find some special operations veteran so they can grab the information straight from the source. Either way, without this advice, you can sometimes get a decent script that has obviously had help from a veteran, but is tempered by a costume designer that dresses the actors in a way that is painfully obvious that they only have some vague idea of what “military guys would wear.” The quality of the film or show is then significantly lowered in the eyes of any real vets.
Most of the issues I’m about to address may not have been considered issues by older generations, but most films and shows nowadays portray warriors from the GWOT era, so I think this would apply across the board with many modern films.
1. Nobody blouses their boots in the civilian world
This one gets me the most, and I’m not sure why. People blouse their boots for a number of reasons in the military—to not have your pants flapping in the wind as you exit an aircraft, to keep tilled up dirt out of your boots, or maybe some other obscure reason. Most of the guys I know and worked with specifically never bloused their boots on missions, only for dress uniforms. If you were to get caught wearing some kind of combat boot as a civilian, whilst tucking your jeans into them? You would never hear the end of it. It looks ridiculous, like you’re a guy who wishes they had joined the military and wants everyone to incidentally think that you did.
2. ACU is the special operator’s least favorite color
ACU as a camouflage was a terrible decision for a number of reasons, and most people from most SOF units that I know would agree. The multi-cam pattern and the old woodland pattern are both infinitely more effective and (for the sakes of movies) just plain look better. The ACU pattern screams: “I’m on leave after Airborne school and I’m waiting to go to my unit.” He certainly wouldn’t be wearing any trace of the pattern in civilian clothes, unless maybe he’s an older guy that just doesn’t know any better or doesn’t care (which, to be fair, is often the case). That includes bags, wallets, shoes, or pretty much anything else.
3. Dog tags lose their coolness after basic training
Don’t get me wrong, if I found myself in the world of “Top Gun” I would be wearing dog tags too on the beach too. However, it’s not the ’80s anymore and people don’t wear dog tags out in public in the same way that firefighters don’t wear their turnout gear at the bar. In today’s SOF culture, it’s unnecessary signaling toward one’s military service and is looked down up on in almost every circle. The only time these guys wear dog tags is when in uniform, and sometimes when in combat (depending on who you’re talking to).
4. No more overtly military haircuts
This one is tricky, since different units do it differently and since Rangers have a history with easily identifiable haircuts. But nowadays, if you’re a Ranger or MARSOC, you’re generally shaving your face and getting a clean-cut but non-military haircut. If you’re in SF, maybe you can grow out a beard—it depends on the unit, and often the individual job within that unit. Every Special Operations group has different standards, but most aren’t going to subscribe to the high and tight, or any “military” haircut anymore (Rangers included). If I were to give blanket advice to a Hollywood hair stylist, I would tell them to just give the guy a classic side part, as you would imagine military men from the 1940s having.
The fact of the matter is: anything that screams: “I was in the military!” generally doesn’t sit well with your average special operations veteran and is subconsciously going to tell audiences that your character is not a veteran either (which, as a filmmaker, you should probably be minimizing). Sure, you might have a subdued Ranger flash or a SEAL trident, and there are absolutely certain “looks” these guys subscribe to (tattoo sleeves, clean-cut but longer hair), but they generally attempt to blend in, wearing chuck-Ts and Millennium Falcon t-shirts. And yes, everyone knows the exception to the rule—but most of these actors play the everyman ex-PJ or the everyman former MARSOC Marine, not the weird guy who got out and bought an ACU backpack to wear around college campuses.
Featured image courtesy of Pixabay