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July 26th, 2017

Point and Shoot

**1/2

When I read a headline about a westerner being captured by ISIS, my first thought is to feel horror and sadness for the poor man.

My second – less empathetic – thought is, what the heck was he doing in the most dangerous part of the world to begin with?!

“He was there to help the needy or report the news,” you say.

Sure, but that doesn’t fully explain it. There is plenty of worthwhile charity work to do here in this hemisphere and there are plenty of interesting news events that are happening outside of the Middle East.

My theory is that American guys who voluntarily travel to the Arab world are extreme thrill seekers. They are driven by a compulsion to risk their lives in the same way as a sky diver or a base jumper.

The documentary “Point and Shoot” helps confirm my theory. It is the story of Matthew VanDyke, a regular American kid from Baltimore, who ended up fighting for the Libyan rebels in the 2011 revolution.

Five years ago, VanDyke was a self-proclaimed lazy loser loner. He didn’t work or buy his own food or wash his own clothes. He sat in his mother’s basement and played video games for 12-hour stretches. He was paralyzed by a lack of motivation and extreme OCD.

One day, he had a wake-up call and decided to grow up and become a man. So he got his own place, got a steady job, and started sleeping with more women. Just kidding. That would have been the sensible thing to do.

VanDyke’s idea of growing up was buying a Kawasaki motorcycle and a video camera and going to the Middle East by himself to shoot an adventure documentary.

The plan worked. On his 35,000-mile odyssey from Morocco to Afghanistan, he got tougher and more independent.

Along the way, he learned how to operate heavy weaponry from American soldiers he interviewed. And he picked up an unhealthy addiction to extreme risk taking. He started introducing himself as cool dude Max Hunter. VanDyke quickly became the daredevil character he created.

When he got back to Maryland, VanDyke was restless. He craved the meaning that only adventure could provide him. When the revolution against Qaddafi began, he horrified his mom and girlfriend by flying to North Africa and joining his Libyan friends in the fight.

His mom and girlfriend were right, obviously. VanDyke was promptly captured by Qaddafi’s soldiers. He rotted in solitary confinement in a government prison for 6 months.

When he got released and had the opportunity to fly home to his relieved loved ones, VanDyke shockingly chose to return to the front lines instead.

Matthew VanDyke’s story – all captured on his handheld video camera – is unique and spellbinding. The documentary itself is lacking, however. If there is any moral to the story, I missed it. I just hope viewers don’t choose to emulate the protagonists.

VanDyke’s girlfriend comes off as a desperate fool with low esteem for wasting the best years of her life worrying about her brazen boyfriend. And VanDyke himself – though smart and charming – comes off as unforgivably self-absorbed and self-destructive.

If you have a daredevil son who announces that he is going to the Arab world because he needs an adventure, buy him a hang-glider or a snow mobile or a bungee cord instead. The Middle East is too darn dangerous.

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