I worry about Mark Wahlberg.
With the release of Mile 22, Wahlberg has teamed with director Peter Berg (Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, Patriots Day) a fourth time to tell another gritty story of heroism as a disaster unfolds. In his partnership with Berg, Wahlberg has played a Navy SEAL, an oil worker in the Gulf of Mexico (a heroic one), a fictional Boston cop in a true Boston story, and now a CIA paramilitary operative. These roles fit into a larger theme in his film career, during which he has played a cop, a sniper, a cop, an Army private, an Army sergeant, a cop, a funny cop, a firefighter, and a cop.
If acting lets you be someone else, then it’s pretty clear who Wahlberg wants to be.
He hasn’t only played service members and police officers, of course. But his aggressive pursuit of roles as our presumably-patriotic public servants stands out at least in part because of his infamous claim in 2012 that he would have stopped 9/11. “If I was on that plane with my kids, it wouldn’t have went down like it did,” he told Men’s Journal in 2012. “There would have been a lot of blood in that first-class cabin and then me saying, ‘OK, we’re going to land somewhere safely, don’t worry.’”
Wahlberg apologized, but his portrayals of heroic blue-collar types have continued. The man has a successful film career, a lucrative track record as a Hollywood producer, a chain of hamburger restaurants, and enough money to buy his own F-35, but all he wants to do is hang out with Marcus Luttrell and make AAFES commercials. A civilian hasn’t been this thirsty around Navy SEALs since Tiger Woods.
None of this is an indictment of Wahlberg as an actor or as a person! If the average American were as interested in service members, veterans, and law enforcement as Wahlberg clearly is, I wouldn’t have to type the phrase “civilian-military divide” several times a week. And I won’t denigrate Wahlberg’s Everyman chops; no actor on the planet is better suited to play a Boston cop. The Departed was great! And Patriots Day was, uh … made!
Indeed, Wahlberg’s thirst feels driven by an authentic mission: to bridge yet another divide in American society. “A lot of Hollywood is living in a bubble,” Wahlberg told Task & Purpose in 2016. “They’re pretty out of touch with the common person, the everyday guy out there providing for their family. Me, I’m very aware of the real world. I come from the real world and I exist in the real world.”
This much is true: Wahlberg is more aware of life outside the Hollywood bubble than his multi-millionaire peers. As celebrity fans go, the military community could do much worse than someone whose charity for at-risk youth earns high marks from Charity Navigator. Plus, given the rap sheet he accrued as a youth, he surely identifies with anyone who needed a waiver to enlist. Celebrities: they’re just like us!
But Mark, if you truly want to represent the military, may I humbly suggest a moratorium on playing operators? At age 47, you’re really more of a retired Sergeant First Class-turned-GS-12 type. Trust me, you haven’t represented the REAL military until a slow-moving civilian contractor holds up live-fire training on the range because the company XO didn’t fill out some forms. Heroism only happens on the battlefield after service members have survived bureaucracy.
Think about, Mark. You’ve got the juice to make it happen. And if you pull it off, I’ll send you the symbol of American warriors stationed all over the planet, existing in the real world: Your very own reflective belt.