This is what happens when popular culture meets a complex issue head on. For the sake of a public, that doesn’t wish to think too long or too hard about a subject they would much rather be force fed their opinions about. Popular culture has a nasty habit of over simplifying an issue,to make it black and white, you’re either with us or you’re against us. In reality the majority of us are able to appreciate the nuances and complexities of life, but such subtleties have long since vanished from the art of American movie making.
I was aware of, but had been intentionally avoiding this topic. From what little I’d heard, it just sounded like another dumb American movie glorifying another banal military campaign. But a friend kept drip feeding me links, at first I showed the poise and clarity of mind to ignore them, but then, like a Frenchman living next door to a brothel, I couldn’t resist.
I thought this was going to be simple, to use a fitting simile, like shooting fish in a barrel. War hero writes book (probably badly), Hollywood make a bad movie of a bad book. Conforms to the status quo, nothing new or unusual there. Now believe it or not I do endeavor to lace my rants with some facts, and it was whilst looking for these so called “facts” that I quickly came to realize that this story goes far beyond the movie.
Reaction to the movie has been strongly divided with the movie seemingly representing the dividing line or watershed between liberals and conservatives, below are some of the responses to the movie including links:
Americans showed up en masse for a patriotic, pro-family picture
The New York Timeshttp://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/19/movies/sniper-rules-weekend-box-office.html?_r=0
Bill Maher refers to Chris Kyle as:
He’s a psychopath patriot
A former US intelligence officer was less than impressed when he made a visit to a ‘clubhouse’ for snipers, he recounts:
‘the barroom walls featured white-on-black Nazi SS insignia, and other Wehrmacht regalia. The Marine shooters clearly identified with the marksmen of the world’s most infamous killing machine, rather than regular troops.”
Dennis Jett from the New Republic ran the following title for his report on the movie:
The Real ‘American Sniper’ Had No Remorse About the Iraqis He Killed
And perennial windbag Michael Moore weighed in with the following bizarre tweet:
What Would Jesus Do if he could be a sniper & save soldiers lives by shooting “savages” in the back?
Jesse Ventura Calls American Sniper‘s Chris Kyle a Liar, Not a Hero
A more positive view was put forward by Republican senator and former Navy Seal Ryan Zinke:
My view on Kyle is he’s kind of a warrior and a hero. I think (director) Clint Eastwood did a spectacular job of telling (“American Sniper” co-author) Scott McEwan’s story of Chris Kyle with a twist.
And Clint Eastwood believes:
“The biggest antiwar statement is what it does to the families left behind,”
Which leads me to where I am right now. With so many conflicting opinions there was nothing else for it. I would have to undertake something I hadn’t done for a long time. I was going to have to go behind the enemy lines and into the heart of popular culture and eyeball this bastard for myself. So feeling like a complete idiot I went to buy my first cinema ticket in over two years and promptly discovered I couldn’t do it. You see when I last went to the cinema you bought a ticket from a person, now I was being forced to interact with a touchscreen. This quickly caused me to hyper ventilate, break out in a sweat and just when I was about to find a place to hide whem a member of staff operated the device on my behalf, which to me seemed to rather negate the benefits the cinema were hoping to gain from having the devices installed, but with a ticket and a shred dignity I made my way towards the cinema. I digress, as I dared to delve into the deep, shady, subversive film genre of American propaganda, I armed myself with a vat of coke and a silo of popcorn, setting me back the deficit of a small African country. I knew from what I had read this was a story far complex to experience without popcorn, or through eyes of film reviewers, to use some army vernacular, this needed some eyes on the ground, and I was goin’ in hot.
So I watched it, I survived, but I’m confused(but before I go on, is it only me who gets really nervous whilst holding a gallon of coke and fumbling in the dark for the cup holder? I had visions of drowning the people sat in the row in front of me, would it have caused an evacuation of the cinema? It was a biblical sized cup of coke.) You see, I really don’t like America, its culture and particularly its movies, I find it crass, tacky, superficial and just downright mindless at times. So going into the the movie I was primed and ready to be disgusted by an obscene display of jingoism and patriotism. The disturbing and peculiar thing is, I wasn’t. Now I’m liberal, I’m pro choice, anti-gun, I believe anyone can marry anyone else provided they are of age and I support the voting rights of minorities. I was supposed to have been offended by this movie, for it failed to include a single lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or trans-gender love scene, but I realized early on that this wasn’t that kind of movie. Other liberals may not have picked up on this and had been expecting the protagonists of war to cuddle and kiss one another into submission. This is a war movie and as such people do really bad things, these people don’t appear to be that nice to us because they are doing really bad things. Now it’s another question entirely as to whether or not those people should have been sent there to do the really bad things, but sent there they were and I believe they would have done their best under the extreme conditions they found themselves in.
Yes, I am trying to defend this movie and Chris Kyle (as much as we know about him). For the life of me I struggle to understand what people found shocking or propaganda like about this movie. Any movie about an army at war is likely to side with one set of combatants. A movie focusing on the life of a soldier will probably make a note of that persons patriotism, after all soldiers tend to be patriots. In the movie and the book (I have yet to read) Kyle refers to the enemy as savages. I find this neither surprising nor insulting. When your having to kill people dehumanizing them is pretty common coping strategy to make it easier, it’s not pretty, but then again neither is shooting people for a living.
Mistakes, Inconsistencies, Lies, Lies and more Lies
“The first casualty when war comes is truth”
Hiram Warren Johnson (1918)
Eastwood’s movie and Kyle’s book undermine their own credibility through factual inconsistencies and overt lies. Johnson’s quote could be easily corrected so that it read “The first casualty when war or Hollywood comes is truth”. Firstly let’s cover the mistakes in the movie.
- Chris Kyle and his wife watch the Twin Towers being hit by passenger planes on the news, the date of this September 11, 2001. The next scene we have Chris Kyle in Fallujah, Iraq 2004. No mention of the war against the Taliban or the search for Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan, instead erroneously implying that Iraq had involvement in the September 11 attacks.
- Mustafa the sniper that plays the adversary of Chris Kyle and a central part in the movie only appears Kyle’s book for one paragraph. The movie has Mustafa fighting first for Sunni insurgents and the Shia. This is a ridiculous proposition given that at the time the Shia and Sunni Muslims were actually fighting one another.
- The movie tries to humanize Kyle by making him appear to have a sense of regret. This is not evident at any stage of the book, in fact he admits to his time being a Seal as ‘it was fun, I had the time of my life being a seal’.
These are three poorly thought out, or lazy mistakes made in the movie. Unfortunately Chris Kyle himself made a litany of lies and preposterous statements, after becoming aware of these it throws the whole Chris Kyle, American Sniper phenomena into a tail spin. Chris Kyle claimed the following:
- First appearing in his book and subsequently removed, the lie Kyle is most famous for is ‘punching out’ Former governor of Minnesota Jesse Ventura after Ventura had said Seals ‘deserved to lose a few over there’. Ventura started the action against Kyle whilst he was alive and then took the unusual action of continuing with it after Kyle was murdered, suing Kyles wife successfully for $1.8 million.
- Kyle claimed to have shot two men in Texas as they tried to steal his truck. There are no police records of any such event but his full story/lie/ schizophrenic/psychotic episode can be read here: http://frontburner.dmagazine.com/2013/02/08/confirmed-american-sniper-chris-kyle-killed-two-men-at-a-gas-station-in-2009/
- You have to leave the absolute whopper to the end. What would motivate a man to claim he had done this is far beyond my reasoning. Chris Kyle claimed to have gone to New Orleans and ‘picked off’ dozens of looting bad guys. Again a story Louisiana state police called ‘preposterous’,for source read: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/07/30/the-complicated-but-unveriable-legacy-of-chris-kyle-the-deadliest-sniper-in-american-history/
Like I said I left the cinema confused, the movie wasn’t fascist nor overtly nationalistic, but then again it wasn’t factually accurate and it told the story of a compulsive liar or someone suffering from psychotic hallucinations.
The only thing I feel pretty certain about is that American Sniper is about America’s most deadly sniper, it also happens to be about one of America’s most preposterous liars and directed by a senile old fart with not respect for the history or causality of events. Based on these facts alone I’m guessing American Sniper will go on to pick up most of the 6 Oscars for which it has been nominated.