The American Obsession with Competence Skip to content

The American Obsession with Competence

They say no obsession is healthy, but I have to disagree. Folks in the US seem to have a preoccupation with competence—with the ability to be dropped into any situation and emerge victorious—and even in the instances where we may overreach, I think that attitude is commendable.

US Action Heroes Keep It Simple

I was struck by this idea when I happened to catch a few minutes from the original Rambo film, which came out all the way back in 1982. The politics (and questionable realism) of the movie aside, what really stands out is the quintessential character of the movie's hero. Alone, with only the barest of survival equipment at his side, it's up to his skill, training, and inner strength to take on a full platoon of state police and come out on top.

MacGyver is a somewhat sillier but similar exemplar of US ingenuity. He uses whatever he finds on hand to create improbable yet effective gadgets that help him get out of life-and-death situations time and time again, no fancy equipment required. His knowledge and his mental preparedness allow him to make the most of his environment, working with it to achieve his goals rather than trying to control it.

Rambo does the same, using little more than a knife and what he's able to scrounge up in the forest of the Pacific Northwest to survive weather, wild animals, and that most dangerous beast of all, his fellow man. It might not be the most believable plot in the world, but it's a classic for a reason: it reflects the American character of independence and success through sheer will that sets us apart from other nations.

Look at James Bond for a clear example to the contrary. You don't see him living off the land, and his gadgets are anything but simple and My customers know that some basic supplies, a little ingenuity, and a whole lot of sticktoitiveness can accomplish virtually anything.

That is and always will be the American way.

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