American Sniper: A commentary on American Culture

Thursday, January 29, 2015
REEL VERSUS REAL: When cinema becomes reality

American Snipe

American Sniper, an unexpected hit

American Sniper, Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of Chris Kyle’s memoir about his Iraq War service has been an unexpected financial success. It has also become a magnetic for decidedly sharp criticism.
Some have faulted Eastwood for his lack of depth in dealing with the complexity of the subject matter. Others have seen the film as simply a chronicle of one man’s experiences. There are those who have viewed it as thinly veiled pro war propaganda.
When heroism is in short supply, one can at least find solace in the dark comfort of a multiplex.
Eastwood, who has actually held elected office, has made no mystery of his political leanings. Whenever a director becomes closely connected to politics like he has, it should come as no surprise that his work is going to be filtered through a decidedly political lens.
Are Eastwood’s efforts art of art’s sake, or is there an agenda to be found between the reels? The question automatically arises when any artist takes stances on divisive political issues. Given the subject matter here, there is really no way to avoid the question of how much is art and how much is message.
The Iraq War has still left deep wounds in the American Psyche. This is still a nation shaken by domestic and global terrorism. The fears of what is to come next cast a dark shadow.
The intricacies of Middle Eastern politics are a confounding web of ambitions, megalomania, religious fanaticism, economic inequality, opportunism, botched colonialism and extreme shortsightedness. The only reliable truth here is that when Elephants fight, ants are the first causalities.
I have yet to see Eastwood’s latest. Therefore, I am reserving judgment until I actually see his creation. I do not believe in condoning or condemning anything until I have experienced it firsthand.
Images, as well as words, are powerful tools. They are the first things tyrants squash. Censorship has always been the chief arsenal of the intolerant. In our culture of constant visual images and an always on internet, video, images and text do sway public opinion.
What has increasingly happened over time is that the world created in entertainment has become a replacement for reality. The world of carefully constructed images have become American Reality.
The proliferation of media has created a world where we judge beauty by Hollywood images and seek value in how well we stack up to those images. The brave soldier, the femme fatale, the macho man, the seductress, the pimp and the “ ho,” are all archetypes that describe a type, but omit the subtlety of detail. We have constructed an entire reality based on stereotypes that we have accepted as truth. The truth of any of these individuals is far more compelling than a simply drawn construct.
The problem with basing reality on popular entertainment is that the entertainment is not education and education is not entertainment. The two have become merged to the detriment of both.
When Television merged entertainment with news, it is as if this was a prophetic prediction of what would happen next, the blurring of reality.
Now, we all expect to be entertained no matter what we are doing. Taking time to do research, to be introspective, all of those things have been replaced.
Instead of looking at current events, world affairs and the like directly via “actual news” and looking at history form “actually history books,” we have substituted entertainment for reliable information. Entertainment, by definition, is designed to amuse. It is not always suited to be the best vehicle for accurate information, insight or the sometimes ambiguous world for reality where there may only be shades of gray.
This is the kind of problem that Americans have a lot of difficult with, and it is easy to see why.
Films, television shows, even the most insubstantial fluff, offer at the end conclusions. The hero wins. Good triumphs over evil. Hard work pays off in the end. There are always good guys and bad guys. At the end of the reel, the hard working win. Virtue is rewarded. Vice is always punished.
In a cultural zone built on so many absolutes, there is no room for truth. There is space for only confirmation. We are fed a television show reality and we expect our lives to correspond.
In the neat T.V. world, the ideal is a home, two cars, beautiful clothes, endless supplies of adventure and never a dull moment. We are given an American Dream that is simply not attainable. No one has it all. No one ever has.
Even education has been infected with the “Eduotainment’ bug. Classes are expected to make learning “fun.” Learning maybe enjoyable, fulfilling and worthwhile, but it is seldom fun in an entertainment way. Entertainment is passive. You sit back and let the “magic” happen. Learning is proactive. One has to be engaged.
In the blurring of the lines, we are looking at major Hollywood Films about the war to become accurate depictions of it. Sure, fiction can touch upon reality, but fiction is not a substitute for reality.
If you want to comprehend what the Iraq War was all about, you need more than one source of information. Seek out the historians, the politicians, even those who were actually there. Gather your facts from reliable sources, both right and left. When you look at both sides, the truth has a funny way of appearing.
One can criticize film from any number of perspectives. There is always validity in that. But, the big point to keep in mind is that ultimately American Sniper is a big budget Hollywood film designed to entertain. The objective here is to tell a story and have you the viewer walking away happy at the end. There is no stated intention of saying that this is the real war. This is not a documentary.
In the end, big budget films are created to entertain, not necessarily inform.


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