Grandparents are the opposite of nostalgia. They’re holdovers from a time better left forgotten, like adolescence or Jimmy Carter’s presidency. I have vague and haunting memories from my childhood of sitting beside my brother in the back seat of my grandfather’s dilapidated Cadillac and enduring stories from him about a time when prejudice was cherished but air conditioners and nacho-cheesier Doritos had not yet been invented. It was like visiting with a racist Ghost of Christmas Past.
He was a decent guy but he was always trying to make men of us, even though my brother and I were both still in elementary school. I think our lack of interest in baseball and hunting alarmed him. (I remember the look of profound sadness on his face when I announced that I wanted to shoot films and not, to his dismay, fowl or Asians.)
On my eighth birthday, my grandfather loaded my brother and me into that Cadillac and drove us to a screening of Jerry Bruckheimer’s Top Gun. As he handed us the movie tickets, he declared, “This movie will teach you how to be a man.”
The film, for those who were not taken to it by my grandfather, is essentially a love story about two Air Force pilots, Maverick (Tom Cruise) and Iceman (Val Kilmer), who refuse to let obstacles including a lady (Kelly McGillis) and heterosexuality dampen their budding romance. That’s the subtext buried within a movie that masquerades as a two-hour fist pump for America and its delusions of grandeur.
After the screening, my brother and I said the movie was pretty stupid. My grandfather’s face fell. He said, “You guys sound like a bunch of [redacted].” Then, he hopped into his Cadillac and drove away, leaving us stranded at the movie pavilion. My brother was concerned; I was relieved. In that moment, even at the age of eight, I thought, “I’m a little too old for this.”
So, to enlighten the ghost of my late grandfather, I’ve chosen Top Gun for this week’s Fiction vs. Reality. Just how would this movie play out in real life? Let’s find out.
Scenario # 1
What Happens: During the opening credits, the titles “Written by” are keyed on the screen.
Hollywood Version: The names “Jim Cash & Jack Epps, Jr.” appear. The audience, too excited for massive explosions and the murdering of foreigners, lets this slide.
Reality: “No, those are not real people,” reveals Mark Vallum, former head of development for Paramount Pictures. “During the late 80’s we worked with NASA to develop a super-computer – it was dubbed the Box Office-Tron 9000 -- that churned out blockbuster scripts. For this film, we fed the computer images of a plane, my high school gym teacher, and Richard Simmons on a mechanical bull. Within seconds, it printed out the script and musical score for Top Gun.”
Scenario # 2
What Happens: During a round of silly war games, Maverick and Goose encounter an enemy plane.
Hollywood Version: Maverick abandons a fellow “shell-shocked” pilot to showcase his flying skills to America’s sworn, yet unknown, enemy. Maverick uses his plane to spoon (upside down) with the enemy aircraft. For no particular reason, Mav bravely “flips the bird” while Goose snaps a photograph. Annoyed, the enemy pilot flies away. Meanwhile, across the globe, reporters are inundated with calls from people who have witnessed jocks high-five and dry hump each other for no particular reason.
Reality # 1: According to Hangui Haja, former UN delegate for North Korea, “This type of behavior renders years of diplomacy useless. We would retaliate with a measured response, which includes missiles and IEDs. I’m glad those pilots have a photo to commemorate the death of America.”
Reality # 2: According to Jan Marshall, vice president of marketing for Polaroid, “The reflection from the glass on both aircraft in addition to the glare from the sun would prevent Goose from having a clear picture. Frankly, the only way to recapture that moment is for them to remember their shame.”
Scenario # 3
What Happens: Maverick, ignoring Goose’s polite reminders about their lack of fuel, stays in flight to help the shell-shocked colleague whom they abandoned during their earlier photo-shoot session.
Hollywood Version: Maverick laughs in the face of reality and declares, “We have to help Cougar!” The heroic music swells. Audience members wave miniature American flags and randomly give wedgies to other, weaker theatergoers.
Reality: According to Lt. Samuel D. Gerfussen, “If only we could harness the power of machismo. Until then, this guy is putting us on the chopping block. Assuming the fuel gauges shown in the film are accurate, their plane would remain airborne for about two minutes before losing power and crashing into the ocean. The damage to the plane in conjunction with the cost of paying a rescue and clean-up crew would total in the millions. Stunts like these are difficult to explain during annual budget reviews and it would most likely result in the cutting of several defense programs. I would court martial this kid, regardless of his moxie.”
Scenario # 4
What Happens: Good news. These war games aren’t simply pointless exercises. It’s revealed that the winner of the coveted “Top Gun” honor will have his name placed onto a plaque.
Hollywood Version: Semper Fi. The heroic music swells. Audiences fist-pump uncontrollably. Finally, life has purpose.
Reality: According to Samantha Miller, 3rd grade teacher, “I offer the same sort of competition with my class for Top Speller. It’s essentially the same thing except our plaque is made of macaroni and there is more at stake: people actually need to know how to spell.”
Scenario # 5
What Happens: The sergeant offers Maverick and Goose the chance to earn a promotion.
Hollywood Version: Employing salty language, the sergeant warns the boys of their fate if they screw up: “You'll be flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog s--- outta' Hong Kong!"
Reality: According to Hank Francesca, pilot for Wacky Products, Inc, “Wacky Products gives me a flexible schedule as well as great benefits and vacation time. Flying this cargo plane from Hong Kong has been rewarding for me and my family – my cargo provides laughter; Maverick’s provides death. He is a monster.”
Scenario # 6
What Happens: Maverick, Goose, Ice Man, and some other guy hang out in a pilot bar and flirt with each other. To spark jealousy in Iceman, Maverick steals glances from a lady (and potential beard) and tries to court her.
Hollywood Version: Mav approaches the woman (Kelly McGillis) and three things happen:
1. He serenades her with an a capella version of You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.
2. Never one to miss out on a good sing-a-long, all of the other pilots/cabaret singers follow suit resulting in what the audience and the lady deem a hilarious and seductive pick-up attempt.
3. I frantically search for my genitals, which have curiously vanished during this scene.
Reality # 1: “I had envisioned something like this for our production,” says Gary Marx, dance coordinator for Wicked, “but I thought it might be a little too camp for regular theatergoers; however, if Maverick and co. decide to hang up their wings, we would welcome them to our theater company.”
Reality # 2: According to Dan Smith, NYC bartender, The Friendly Toad, “I’ve been a bartender for 30 years and the only time I saw a man leave with a woman whom he serenaded was an escaped mental patient and the female orderly who tranquilized him and transported him back to the hospital.”
Scenario # 7
What Happens: Maverick “buzzes” the tower. The jet wash causes an air traffic controller to spill coffee onto his shirt.
Hollywood Version: The air controller is (rightfully) upset. Audiences deem him a “crybaby.” “Lighten up,” they say through their American flag-emblazoned bullhorns/beer helmets, “his arrogance is enchanting!”
Reality: “Hot coffee can cause second or third degree burns, not to mention damage to perfectly good shirts,” says Army medic Arnold Lamont. “I would recommend a few days of bed rest and a light sedative for the controller. I would also recommend psychiatric evaluation for Maverick. His sexual confusion is overflowing into his professional activities. Perhaps this controller rebuffed his advances? We’ll never know.”
Scenario # 8
What Happens: After Maverick breaks the rules (and puts others at risk) during another war game, Iceman says, “You’re unsafe. Every time you go up in the air, you’re dangerous and you’re everyone’s problem.”
Hollywood Version: Maverick, unequipped to deal with human conversation, replies, “That’s right, Ice… Man. I am dangerous.” The captain intercedes, telling the team that Maverick’s arrogance is exactly what he looks for in a pilot.
Reality: According to air commander Frank Mitchell, “I’m holding the official government handbook that contains the criteria a recruit must possess if he is to be trained as a pilot. ‘The pilot must possess superior hand-eye coordination, mental dexterity, and uncommon ability to follow orders and adhere to the strict code of ethics put forth by the United States Air Force.’ Nowhere on that list is arrogance. Iceman is completely correct: Maverick is a danger to everyone, including the audience. God help us all.”
Scenario # 9
What Happens: Recess. After a stressful day of war games, the boys unwind with an extended volleyball/music video sequence that sends my grandfather into cardiac arrest.
Maverick (finally) pulls himself away to visit that lady.
Hollywood Version: After apologizing for his lateness, Maverick tells the lady that he has other things on his mind… like taking a shower. The lady denies Maverick’s request, so he responds by unloading all of his emotional problems onto her. Then, just as the lady leans in for a kiss, Maverick seductively leaves stating that he really needs to take that shower. Back at the base. With the guys. Audiences are… charmed!
Reality: According to Stan Kasnik, psychiatrist and author of It’s a Man Man Man Man World, “Maverick is confused; he treats her more like a mother than a romantic partner. Frankly, the only thing this woman and Maverick have in common is that they both suffer from penis envy.”
Scenario # 10
What Happens: After the lady – she’s also his teacher -- points out flaws in Maverick’s flight patterns, he storms off via moped. Deranged, she follows him.
Hollywood Version: After catching up with Maverick, the lady declares her love for him despite never having a conversation that lasted longer than two minutes. They engage in an awkward sex scene that is about as erotic as watching someone kick aluminum siding.
Reality: “This is where the Box Office-Tron 9000 failed us,” says scientist Mitch Reisen. “The computer was responsible for seminal films of the decade like Three Men and a Baby, Look Who’s Talking, and the career of Andrew McCarthy, which isn’t a film but should be. Although my colleagues think it’s impossible, I believe the Box Office-Tron 9000 committed suicide by detonating itself and the lab after the completion of this script and, in particular, this scene.”
Scenario # 11
What Happens: Goose dies. Maverick, confused about his sexuality and grieving the loss of his friend, cannot, ahem, fly.
Hollywood Version: The top brass ascribe it to “nerves” and insist that the instructors keep sending him up. Literally 34 seconds after the commander announces Goose’s death, he instructs Maverick to “let Goose go” and move on. Audiences, waiting for more explosions/volleyball, grow impatient.
Reality # 1: According to Air Force accountant James Singler, “Each flight burns through gas and manpower that costs about $500,000. The taxpayers do not help pilots work through emotional issues. I would suggest sending Maverick to a therapist. It would cost the taxpayers far less money.”
Reality # 2: According to psychoanalyst Richard Fesler. “There are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Although each person navigates through these stages at his own pace, no one has done it in 34 seconds. Nor should he.”
Scenario # 12
What Happens: The lady loses her “loving feelings” for Maverick.
Hollywood Version: The lady admits that her attraction was solely based upon Maverick’s arrogance – he was larger than life! Unfortunately, Maverick’s grief and self-doubt (brought about by the boring death of his only family member) are annoying and unattractive. (Spoiler: Near the end, after Maverick bottles up his grief and murders innocent pilots, i.e. wins, the lady is erotically charged and showers him with love and respect.)
Reality # 1: Sadly, for men (and dead relatives), the same. Hollywood and the Box Office-Tron 9000 understand women.
Scenario # 13
What Happens: After bonding over their murdering of foreigners, Iceman and Maverick bury the hatchet.
Hollywood Version: Casting off the shackles of society’s conventions, Maverick hugs Iceman and they both insist that the other become his “wingman.” Audiences, unaware of the sexual undertones, honk the horns of their trucks and fire celebratory rounds into the air. Maverick courageously decides to hang up his wings and become an instructor. Then, he tosses Goose’s dog tags overboard; memories are for the weak.
Reality: According to Ellis Trask, former secretary of defense, “This is hardly heroic. The government has spent untold millions and man-hours training this kid to perform and in lieu of fighting for his country, he opts to become a teacher without having any experience? This is deeply insulting and reeks of cowardice. I would lobby for his immediate dishonorable discharge. Or perhaps see if that assignment flying cargo planes filled with rubber dog s--- is still available.”
Final Thought: Art is often misinterpreted by the public; Top Gun is the only instance in which it’s misinterpreted by the actual artist. The producers unwittingly made a perfect attack ad for the Democratic Party that supports their case for a reduced defense budget. The reality is that grief cannot be hurried for the pursuit of flashy plaques, arrogance is a bad attribute and will not lead to lasting success, and watching this film will not make you into a man; however, it could make you fall for one.