Editorial: Why American Sniper Is Incredibly Awful.
(Trigger Warning: There are pictures towards the end of this editorial that
contain racist language and threats of racial violence, and there are mentions
throughout of acts of violence. Please be aware that these
throughout of acts of violence. Please be aware that these
may be pretty upsetting.)
Right. Okay. Truth be told, I'm a little nervous about writing this editorial - my feelings on this matter are very strong, and there's always a concern, when one is filled with a great and terrible loathing, that one will fail to find the appropriate balance in which both the vehement hate and the reasons for it are clearly expressed.
And my loathing for this film is great, let's not doubt that. I have railed angrily against problematic films before - Big Hero 6 being foremost among them - but it's always been with the understanding that they have merits that can be enjoyed even with an understanding of their problems. In the case of American Sniper, it is its problems: They are its foundation, its meat and bones, its decoration, its everything. There is nothing there except the dishonesty, the racism, the propaganda, and for those who do enjoy it, I must query precisely why they do so.
Let's do this as a list.
Because Chris Kyle was a repeated, possibly compulsive, liar who thrived off attention.
This much is beyond doubt, although I'm surprised by how many people try to deny it, given that if he wasn't a liar, if he was as wholly honest as people oft try to claim he was to justify buying into the several hour long sepia-toned racist diatribe that is American Sniper, then he was also a mass murderer - not in war, but on his own home soil.
Leaving aside entirely the absurd grandiosity of his claims of being the most lethal person in the history of the US military (I realise that the US' military is sub-par, but I mean really), Kyle makes several claims that are obvious falsehoods, their absurdity only matched by how deeply sinister they are.
Firstly, he claims that he murdered carjackers in Texas. Secondly, he claims that he killed more than thirty people in New Orleans. If either of these claims are true - and they aren't, because god knows that murder is a crime that rarely goes unnoticed, especially when the culprit publishes their confession on the mass market - then that would make him a spree killer and a criminal under common law.
(A racially motivated spree killer, even, as the barely veiled implication in his lies is that all these people he killed were black.)
His other claims include that he donated the proceeds of his autobiography to charity (only around two percent of the proceeds were donated, a frankly tiny proportion for a man who trumpeted so loudly about being a champion of veterans), that protesters called him a 'baby killer' (despite the inevitable controversy that would cause, one can find literally no evidence that this event ever took place, bar Kyle's word), and that France and Germany supplied Iraq with chemical weapons (if you need me to explain why that's ridiculous, then I'm genuinely questioning your intelligence right now.)
Of course, the reason that American Sniper's supporters so determinedly attempt to defend his honesty is because if he's lying about these things, what else is he lying about that we cannot so easily prove false? How much of Chris Kyle's autobiography, on which the film is based, is true, and how much is self-aggrandising, racist tripe?
Well, Chris Kyle was certainly not without an agenda, which leads me neatly onto ...
Because Chris Kyle was just generally a terrible human being.
In addition to his rampant dishonesty described above, Kyle also had a marked tendency to brag about what a generally unpleasant person he was.
At least once he bragged about animal abuse, loudly claiming that he once punched a cow so hard that he hurt his hand. More telling, however, is the amount of times his statements in his book display either a total lack of empathy or outright glee at killing people.
Let's be clear here, the job of a standing army is not a pleasant one, and it is a violent one, and everyone understands that. By and large, there is the understanding that it is an unpleasant, soul-destroying job that often leaves the people with physical and mental scars for years to come - but that it's also not personal, that these are not acts of passion but the fulfilment of orders necessary to achieve a specific goal.
Yet Kyle, by his own account, was definitely personal and passionate about killing. "We went in and killed all the bad people," he writes at one point, and if that doesn't sound like a five year old describing their play adventure, I don't know what does. "Savage, despicable evil," he describes Iraqi insurgents, many of which - indeed at least one of the people he killed, as he talks with no small amount of smugness about shooting a fifteen year old to death - were children as. "The world is a better place without savages out there taking American lives," he added later.
(He also said that he thought ball caps look cool. They didn't, Kyle. They didn't.)
Because it's tremendously racist propaganda.
Both these things must, by their very nature, put a film based on the man's autobiography under a harsh light. Yet even without knowing these things, it's not difficult to see that the film itself is ridiculously racist - that, indeed, it is a propaganda film.
In the film's dichotomy of good and evil, American soldiers are always good (and struck with crippling questions about their morality despite the fact that they only ever encounter people who are pure evil - these questions only ever serve to underscore how fundamentally good these Americans are, as the answers to them are meant to be clear) and Iraqis are always evil, even when they seem not to be. One memorable scene has a man invite the SEALs who have just invaded his house and held his family at gunpoint to eat a meal for Eid with him - an act of extraordinary kindness that could have been the one redeeming light in a film that was otherwise disturbing dross.
But it's not to be, as our intrepid hero discovers quickly that this seemingly gentle man is in fact a moustache twirling villain stockpiling weapons in his house. Because of course he is. Of course he is.
Time and again, the film pushes a single idea: That so long as you are wearing a US uniform, no action you do is incorrect - the universe will always find a way to make you right again, a sentiment that has its roots as much in desperate wishful thinking as it does in the US' bizarre obsession with being God's chosen. Killing a woman as she walks out into the street? Well, she was a terrorist, and a five minute crisis will absolve you. Invading a man's home and holding his family hostage? You will later find out that you were entirely correct to do so.
It resembles less a Hollywood action film and more a propaganda film from mid-1900s Germany, hissing at you that you shouldn't trust any of 'the enemy' and that they are inherently untrustworthy, evil, rapacious and predatory.
Which I think people are well aware of, they just don't want to admit it.
Because it has reinforced and reaffirmed people's bigoted views.