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.             

 --Leslie <;)))>< 


Anonymous said...

In WWII,snipers weren't very popular with other soldiers, even on their own side. Even as late as Vietnam, I've read about a sniper with his rifle coming into a bunker, and hearing people mutter "Here comes Murder Incorporated."

Snipers, machine-gunners, and (sometimes) artillerymen often had a hard time surviving being taken prisoner.

Aya Katz said...

I have not seen the movie, either, and have been confused by the uproar about it by both liberals and conservatives.
Maybe I will go see it, just to understand what the fuss is about.

I didn't like the Grapes of Wrath, because the poor people were made to seem so child-like. The dust bowl was caused by poor farming methods and also a misunderstanding of the laws of supply and demand. If you want food prices to go up, you should grow less, not more.

Bombing of cities, whether it happened in WWII or after, was not only less courageous, but also less effective than an invasion on the ground, (e.g. London Blitz). The only time it is really effective is when you have a nuclear weapon and no one else does.

Now I am going to check the box that says "I'm not a robot" and see if that is enough to convince your spam bot that I am not a robot. (Seems a little too easy to me.)

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Aya. Don't worry about the spambot-checker; you're a registered "friend" and your posts get through okay. True, the Dust Bowl was created by bad farming methods, and also by the farmers not understanding the great 70-year weather cycle of the southern central states. Their ancestors settled Oklahoma near the height of the cycle, when there was plenty of rain, and they assumed the weather would always be like that. Of course, it took the experience of living in that land for several decades to realize that there *was* a drought-cycle, so their ignorance is at least partly excusable.

Bombing cities is effective only if they're *manufacturing* cities, and you're deliberately going after the factories. The Nazis' bombing of London did nothing but make the British more determined. The Allies' bombing of the Ploesti oil fields, on the other hand, did seriously cripple the Nazis' war effort enough for the Allied troops to make considerable gains. Precision is what makes the difference, and that's the sniper's forte.

Hi, Raven. I remember my uncle Paul telling a story about seeing some of his soldiers ragging on a sniper, and he shut them up by reminding them that machine-gunners and artillerymen were technically mass-murderers, so they had no cause to feel so superior. I never heard of Gunny Hathcock getting ragged on, but then, he was The Legend of Vietnam.

Anonymous said...

Snipers, as I've heard it (sitting around the Legion hall listening to my dad and his contemporaries spin yarns---paranthetically, if half my dad's tales of the pranks he and his buddies pulled were true, I can't see how he escaped life in Leavenworth) were resented, partly, to be sure, for being cold-blooded, deliberate killers, and partly because they were seen as prima donnas who were given extra privileges. They also were seen as trouble magnets who could skip away and leave the grunts to deal with a stirred-up enemy.

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Raven. Heheheh. There's no branch of the service where the lower ranks don't bitch about how much better the other services have it. I could quote you songs that claim "The Navy gets the gravy, but the Army gets the beans", or "The Army tromps on solid ground while we've got water all around", or "You Navy guys can get out and row, but we fly-boys up here have nowhere to go", or "We're just the shippers, the Coasties. Our ship's not much more than a barge,
But when packed to the ass with ammo and gas, the hole that we leave can be large". And of course everybody bitches about how much better the specialists and the officers have it. If that was all the gripe the grunts had about snipers, it didn't amount to much.

Ori Pomerantz said...

Here is a Dr. Seuss take on if from wwii

Paradoctor said...

We hominins have been distance-killing prudent cowards since Australopithecus threw a sharp rock. And the smarter we get, the greater the distance. This is rational, but it makes war impersonal, which takes all the fun out of it.

Paradoctor said...

The difference between prudence and cowardice is that prudence avoids real dangers; whereas cowardice avoids imaginary dangers, in ways that open up real dangers.

By that definition, snipers are not cowards, but antivaxxers are.

Snipers aren't cowards; what they are is assholes. The other soldiers rightly resent them for being too up-front about the whole damn game.

Leslie Fish said...

*Snerk* IIRC, snipers don't advertize themselves; the brass does it for them. Anyway, since our current enemy disguises himself as, and fights from among, innocent civilians, the war must be fought with increasing precision and discrimination. This is work for the sniper, the spy-drone, and the smart bomb -- and we'll be seeing a lot more of them as the war progresses. This is where America has the advantage, since Arab/Jihadi culture *doesn't really believe in science*, and therefore has produced very few scientists (compare the number of Muslim to Jewish Pulitzer Prize winners). What the Jihadis are good at is propaganda from disguised sources, which is why you can see so much supposedly home-grown propaganda against Israel, Jews in general, drones and smart bombs and (now) snipers.