Monday, February 2, 2015
Politics and Poking: Critics and "American Sniper"
I haven't seen "American Sniper" and I'm certainly not going to comment on a movie I haven't seen; what I'm interested in is the official reactions to it, and the underlying politics thereof -- which can get pretty blatant. I remember when I was in 9th grade and came across an old issue of Readers' Digest, which contained an article denouncing that "communistic" and "misrepresentative" movie "The Grapes of Wrath"; I remember laughing my @ss off at the obvious political bias of the author, so visible at that remove of history. I'm seeing the same kind of bias in the reactions to "Sniper" today, only in a different political direction.
For starters, there's Matt Taibbi's review in Rolling Stone where he complains at great length about how the movie is too shallow and superficial, because it concentrates on the hero's experiences and "panics at the idea of embracing more than one or two ideas at one time". He goes on at great length about how the film doesn't mention "the insane moral morass that is/was the Iraq occupation", or "the failed WMD search" or "Abu Ghraib" as if these were facts that everyone accepts. Now in fact it's known that Hussein did have WMDs -- Sarin gas, specifically -- because he used it on the Kurds, as the witnesses attest. It also turns out that the Abu Ghraib photos, as both the army and the Red Cross determined, were a hoax. Both of these could be subjects for whole movies by themselves, and the morality of the war is a subject for a documentary mini-series, at least.. Just how much political back-story does Taibbi expect to cram into a single 2-hour movie? If he wanted to see film get seriously into the moral philosophy of politics, he should have watched the Atlas Shrugged trilogy. Ah, but those three pretty obviously have the wrong sort of moral philosophy for him!
Seth Rogen won better than 15 minutes of fame for his Tweet comparing "American Sniper" to the fictional movie about a German sniper within the movie "Inglourious Basterds". This is interesting, because less than five minutes of that fictional film actually appear on screen, and "Inglourious Basterds" is a blatant fantasy about a World War Two that never happened. This is a rather off-base criticism, seeing that "American Sniper" is a biographical film about a real shooter in a real war. Rogen seems to be implying that the film is pure government pro-war propaganda, when in fact the Obama administration has been trying to disentangle itself from Iraq and the whole developing Jihadi war, and "Sniper" -- as no less than Michelle Obama noted -- is at least partly about "the stresses of balancing love of family with love of country, and the challenges of transitioning back home".
And then there's Michael Moore's now-famous Tweet: "My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot u in the back. Snipers aren't heroes. And invaders r worse." He went on to add: "But if you're on the roof of your home defending it from invaders who've come 7K miles, u are not a sniper, u are brave, u are a neighbor." This reveals much more about Moore than about "American Sniper". He overlooks the fact that in World War Two the American troops were invaders, such as at D-Day, and that if you're shooting from "the roof of your home" -- or any other building -- you are a sniper. If indeed he was "taught that snipers are cowards", this reveals something about the logical capacities of his teachers. In modern (post 1600) warfare, 99% of all killing is done from a distance: with bullets or artillery or (in the last 100 years) bombers. If anything, the sniper is more selective than the artilleryman, let alone the bomber. The complaint about fighters who shoot and kill at a distance probably began with the first cave-man who was hit by a thrown rock instead of a swung club. In fact, how "brave" or "neighborly" is the fighter who disguises him/herself as a civilian, hides among harmless civilians or uses them as human shields, and plants hidden bombs to be set off with a radio signal? There's no logic in Moore's claims except "Americans bad, Arabs good". This is particularly ironic when one considers that Moore has never served in any kind of real combat.
Frankly, I think these criticisms are motivated mainly by plain old jealousy. "American Sniper" has proved hugely popular, and since its release a little over a month ago it has raked in a whopping $248 million. None of Moore's or Rogen's movies have ever done anywhere near that good (and Taibbi's name isn't even known outside of Rolling Stone). Rogen, who doesn't have total control over his movies, might be forgiven, but Moore -- who runs his whole show -- has no such excuse. Moore's films have no plot, little continuity, indifferent or worse camera-work, flatly dishonest editing, and themes that are entirely preaching to the choir; his success is due entirely to flattering the egos of those who share his political views. Frankly, he couldn't convince anybody who knows anything real about his subjects. As somebody who has studied and occasionally performed political propaganda, I can tell you that Micheal Moore is a lousy propagandist.
Whether or not "American Sniper" was even intended to be political propaganda, it has done a fine job of winning over far more of the audience than its critics ever have. For that alone, it's worth seeing -- and I'll do that little thing first chance I get. Only then will I venture to write a review about the movie itself.