(cross-posted at C&L)
Tom Clancy’s fiction has never really been my cup of tea, and his rightwing ideology even less so. Clancy, a gun-toting NRA member who famously blamed 9/11 on left wing politicians, has made a vast fortune writing military thrillers. But like a lot of rightwing military fans, Clancy never served in the military, enrolling at Loyola College at the height of the Vietnam War to earn a bachelor’s in English Literature before becoming an insurance broker. His wife of nearly thirty years divorced him after she discovered his affair with Katherine Huang, an assistant district attorney in New York he’d met on-line. He then married Alexandra Llewellyn, twenty years his junior and a cousin to Colin Powell who introduced them when Clancy was still married to his first wife while having an affair with his mistress. Charming.
His personal ethics are reflected in his fiction, not only by its literary content but by the questionable professional practices of its author. His novels gleefully espouse torture such as waterboarding and inducing heart attacks, where every liberal character is an idiot and a buffoon snorting cocaine, scarfing tofu, and determined to raise taxes on the wealthy (the bastards!), and all the conservative characters are heroic patriots with impeccable principles. Then again, Clancy can’t actually be considered a real writer anymore, since he’s far too busy milking his various cash cows to ever sit down at a keyboard. It might be because since 2002 and the release of Red Rabbit the quality of his novels has greatly deteriorated. “If you haven’t read the new Jack Ryan novel yet, do yourself a favour. Don’t,” read one particularly acrid critic. The following year, his book, The Teeth of the Tiger (where the so-called “good-guys” are an FBI agent who murders a suspect in cold blood, and his cousin, Jack Ryan Junior, a lacklustre foul-mouthed frat-boy with the intellectual acuity of roadkill) was likewise savaged in reviews; the Washington Post calling it a “bloated, boring, silly novel” with “inane dialogue, gossamer characterizations, endless repetition and bumper-sticker politics.”
Ouch. On the other hand, Putnam paid him a cool $50 million for the two new books, which I’m sure did much to assuage any bruising to the ego.
Even so, Clancy didn’t come out with another Jack Ryan novel until 2010, which he didn’t even write – instead, it was written by Grant Blackwood, with his two follow-up novels, Against All Enemies and Locked On written by Peter Telep and Mark Greaney, respectively. That the true authors’ names appear on the cover in squintingly teeny-tiny print dwarfed under Tom Clancy’s name in huge typeface is actually quite remarkable, since Clancy didn’t even previously acknowledge his novels were being ghostwritten by other people past a brief mention in the acknowledgments to their “invaluable contribution to the manuscript.” Raymond Benson and David Michaels wrote the first two books in his Splinter Cell franchise, for which Clancy received millions from his publishers. No idea how much Benson and Michaels got for their work-for-hire hackery. The only thing Tom Clancy has to write these days to ensure a bestseller is two words: his name.
Clancy has instead spent much of his creative energy (if that’s what you want to call it) working on producing video games based on his franchised universe. In 2008, software publisher Ubisoft bought his Red Storm video game business in a mega-deal that has been estimated to be around $100 million dollars. Clancy is definitely a card-carrying member of the 1% club. Which makes his newest video game both morally repugnant and enormously hypocritical. The upcoming version of his long-running video game series, Rainbow Six, is a thinly disguised revenge fantasy against American bankers, but with a bizarre and loathsome twist. The terrorists are… Occupy Wall Street activists. In suits and ties, with shaved heads, and carrying Kalashnikovs. Yeah, right.
In Ubisoft’s Press Release, Team Rainbow (good guys) face a new threat called True Patriots (bad guys), a “highly-trained, well-organized group of militias. The True Patriots are capitalizing on the growing sense of frustration and anger in a modern day America that they feel is irrevocably corrupted by greedy politicians and corporate special interests. Lead by a calculating figurehead named Tredway, this grassroots, homespun, terrorist organization will stop at nothing to overthrow the government and financial institutions to reclaim their country. Capturing the reality of modern-day terrorism, players will take on the role of a new Team Rainbow member as they face critical scenarios that will require them to make tough ethical decisions in order to stop this new breed of terrorists.”
Got that? It's all about making “tough ethical decisions.” Like this one: In the video game’s trailer, Occupy Wall Street operatives murder Wall Street fat cats, kicking down the office door of a banker who looks remarkably like Jamie Dimon, beating the crap out of him before strapping explosives to him and tossing him out the window of a New York skyscraper, detonating the bomb just as the banker smashes into the traffic many stories below.
“This is for the jobs you’ve streamlined, the debts you collected,” the Occupy Wall Street baddies mutter. “This is for the homes you foreclosed on, the bailouts you took. You may not answer to the governments, but you will answer to us. We are the true patriots.”
A conceptual video released by Ubisoft to give potential punters an idea of what the game might be like to play (while containing no actual gameplay footage) is quite revolting enough. A banker about to enjoy a sexy birthday treat from his wife is interrupted by home invaders, Occupy Wall Street terrorists/True Patriots. One of them, threatening to field-dress the banker’s wife like a deer, and his baby too, tells the banker, “Very nice place you’ve got here. You really did cash in on everyone else getting foreclosed, didn’t you?” The banker is strapped with an explosive belt and told to hold down the deadman switch or he’ll explode, then driven into the city toward Times Square. The terrorists and their victim are stopped on what looks like the Verrazano Bridge by the so-called good guys, one of which I gather is the player as the first-person shooter. The good guys kill the OWS terrorists as well as cold-bloodedly shooting a police officer (the moral justification apparently being you have to kill the cop who is about to shoot the suicide bomber/banker to prevent even more deaths) along with any other random civilians who happen to be in the way. When they finally reach the banker, realizing the Bomb Squad won’t arrive in time, they bodily pick up the banker who’s begging them to save his wife and baby and toss him into the river where he explodes. They do have the courtesy to apologise first, of course, being good guys.
And this, it seems, is what is passing for moral ambiguity and complex ethical dilemmas in video games. Right-wing style.
Don’t get me wrong, I play video games myself. I’m a long-time fan of Lara Croft, and up until recently played World of Warcraft for a bit of mindless relaxation and fun. Tomb Raider has its fair share of shoot-em-up storylines, but there’s also quite a lot of humour and puzzle-solving. World of Warcraft, up until the last few expansions bored the crap out of me, likewise was based largely on the concept of kill silly monsters and steal their stuff. But being a MMORPG, part of the attraction of the game was playing in teams and chatting with other players. I’m not sure how ethically challenged I might find killing a three headed giant wasp with a magic wand so I can bag myself a Dwarven Helm of the Twilight Moonpie, or some such imaginary treasure only useful in a make-believe world. Sure, I’m aware video games, particularly violent games, are designed to be addictive and too often create harmful emotional arousal while decreasing self-control, inhibition and attention spans. But adventure games, strategic games, puzzle games can have positive effects, teaching logic and problem solving skills. Engineering.com is a favourite site for just such games, such as Cargo Bridge or Fault Line. There are game designers with intelligence, a sense of fun, and a moral conscience. That doesn’t seem to be Ubisoft, however.
Rainbow Six – Patriot pays scant lip-service in trying to qualify for any of these more beneficial results. It’s an unabashed blood-fest, with zero ethical content – worse, it’s blatantly morally depraved. I seriously doubt Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes could have imagined this in his wildest dreams back in 1919 when he insisted only a “clear and present danger” could justify Congressional interference with freedom of speech. Clancy has gone a step beyond simple rightwing wingnuttery in his badly (largely ghost) written fiction. Rainbow Six – Patriot seeks to twist the reality of a peaceful protest movement, cynically subvert public perception of OWS activists from ordinary Americans exercising their constitutional right to dissent to a sinister fantasy where terrorists are increasingly defined anyone who threatens the status quo of the 1%, and tap into that latent ersatz bloodlust in violent video games to advocate this despicable and corrupt political agenda.
There’s not much to like about Tom Clancy. Or his fiction. But Rainbow Six – Patriot really scrapes the bottom of a morally bankrupt soul, and exposes at its black heart the greed, rage and inhumanity inherent in so much of the right-wing’s political perspective. Ubisoft doesn’t give a toss – like most profit-driven corporations, they’re just out to make money, and it doesn’t matter if that means casting innocent and well-meaning peaceful protesters as villains and encouraging players to murder them, at least on a video screen.
There is indeed a clear and present danger, and Tom Clancy and his warped video game couldn’t provide us with a better window into that right-wing mindset.