By Matthew Nankin
One of the more noteworthy movies this summer is "Seabiscuit," the story of an unlikely underdog in the form of a 1930's racehorse that brought together a down and out, depression-era country. Unfortunately for technical communicators, the story is another sad example of how Hollywood has turned its back on some of our most important professional principles.
One of the first characters we meet is Johnny "Red" Pollard (Tobey Maguire) who must leave his Irish immigrant family to earn money at his one natural talenthorseracing. In spite of his innate abilities, we never witness "Red" take any courses, read any journals, or join any professional organizations that would undoubtedly make him a better jockey. Although he improves to become of the sport's best and most widely known talents, we are never provided with any details of how he excels. Instead, we are left with typical movie anecdotes about overcoming personal adversity in a world with few friends and no family. Red's lack of academic skills soon becomes very important.
In 1938, Seabiscuit's owner, Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), challenges the owner of Triple Crown winner War Admiral in a match race to determine which is the better horse. Shortly before the race, Red, the only jockey Seabiscuit has ever known, is severely injured and is unable to ride his most important race. From his hospital bed, Red recalls to his replacement everything he has learned about riding the world's most beloved racehorse. Sadly, at no point has Red taken the time to document precisely how to handle Seabiscuit.
The replacement jockey, George "The Iceman" Woolf (real life Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens in his motion picture debut), follows the same sorry path. George never bothers to record or write down any of the valuable information Red provides to him. Instead, he just listens as his subject matter expert describes years of experience. As technical writers, we are painfully aware that George will in no way be able to recall and use all the information. However, the filmmakers lead the general audience to conclude that the proper application of this information is the difference between victory and defeat in Seabiscuit's most important race.
In the film's most poignant moment, Charles Howard asks his injured jockey, "What are you so mad about?" We can only hope that Red finally realizes that an opportunity to showcase the value of technical communicators has been sacrificed for a horseracing legend.
Matthew Nankin is a senior member of the STC and movie critic. You can reach him at .