NOTIONS: Preventing the pain that triggers bombs and bullets

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A few weeks ago, my 18-year-old son, Austin, said he was in the mood for a movie. His friend, Jon, had been to see “Miami Vice.” Jon said it was “cool.” I said that the old TV version-which began airing before Austin was born-had been “cool,” too. So based on that trans-generational cool factor, we grabbed dinner at Chili’s and went to see America’s most celebrated vice cops, Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs, do their undercover thing.

On the big screen with a big budget, being a vice cop is a glamorous job. So is being a big-time drug dealer. The leading players on both sides of the narcotics game get to don chic fashions, drive fast cars, fly private jets, race speedy boats, dance at Cuban clubs and romance exotic women. Oh (I almost forgot), they also get to use all kinds of guns and bombs to shoot people and blow them up with nary a blink of emotion.

And, oh, do they look good as the firearms flare and the bodies fall. As New York Times film critic A.O. Scott wrote, there are “visual glories” and “painterly compositions of tropical sea and sky,” in “Miami Vice,” plus “glowing, throbbing nightclub set pieces,” and “meticulously choreographed deployments of lethal force.”

“The depth of focus, the intensity of colors, and the grainy, smudged finish of some of the images combine to create a look that is both vividly naturalistic and almost dreamlike,” Scott wrote.

In other words, Jon was right: this killing film is cool.

When we came home from watching little projectiles trigger death on the big screen, I flipped on the TV to find big projectiles triggering death on the little screen. Israel was shooting missiles at Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah was shooting missiles from Lebanon into Israel. Lots of people on both sides of the border were dying. Others were flailing in pain from gaping wounds. Blood poured everywhere.

And in the heat of a Middle East summer, none of this killing looked cool.

Or did it?

To some among the many who grow up feeling voiceless, powerless, oppressed, poor or hungry, might the little projectiles on the big screen and the big projectiles on the little screen look like tempting equalizers?

To some among the many who grow up feeling that their race, faith, nation or families are disrespected, disinherited, dumped on, denigrated, denied and damned, might the young rebels with their loud shouts, pumping fists and AK-47s appear appealing?

To some among the many relegated to menial work, horrendous housing, downtrodden neighborhoods, rudimentary education, and bottomless despair, might the highflying, fast-driving, glamour-filled, sex-laced, shoot-’em-up world of Crockett and Tubbs look luscious?

Because we’ve evolved into a world of haves and have-nots; a planet defined by “Iwant-yours” and “You-feel-entitled-tomine;” a society in which weapons are readily available and their wielders too often hailed as heroes, martyrs or simply “cool,” we predictably witness mayhem in Baghdad, bombed out buildings in Beirut, missiles reigning down on Haifa, and a rash of drug murders on the streets of Indianapolis.

Then we see panicked politicians-from City Hall to Downing Street to the United Nations-calling for ceasefires and peacekeepers, troops and tanks, cops and courts, prisons and punishment, and the millions and billions and trillions required to fund it all.

And while the clamor to restore calm is inevitable and admirable, it won’t work. Not in the long run. Not unless we spend just as many millions and billions and trillions to address the underlying issue of human souls feeling shunned, silenced, starved or shunted away into rundown corners of cities and barren regions of nations.

A few months ago, I sat on a task force assembled by United Way of Central Indiana to better focus the mission of that organization and more effectively measure its results.

United Way has long been about remediation-supporting the human safety net that helps folks most in need today. One United Way official likened it to watching a child run into a busy intersection. You want to help. So you hurtle in after the kid, scream for the oncoming cars to stop, grab him around the waist and dive for the opposite curb.

And if you save that one life, you hug the kid and feel good for having averted disaster.

But if you find yourself chasing not one, but many, children, day after day, into the same heavy traffic, then you’d better spend your time teaching kids about fast-moving cars, or moving them away from traffic, or building fences between them and the vehicles-instead of exhausting yourself with repetitious rescue missions.

United Way settled on a simple mission: Sustain vital human services for those who need help most while reducing such needs for future generations.

Blessed would be the peacemakers if they could master that formula; for only then might we all inherit the Earth.

Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to

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