Matt Taibbi On American Sniper, Hollywood, and War

Matt Taibbi

This is another article from the always interesting Matt Taibbi, about not only the movie American Sniper, but also the way Hollywood distorts war. 

I have read several books about how the military influences the outcome of movies and how entertainment is taking over every aspect of life.  On the first subject, a real simple fact:  The military will give access to military equipment to productions that paint the military in a favorable light.  If a production does not paint the military in a favorable light, they will not get that access, which in turn can often lead to increased budgets.  As I do not know the backstory, although it very well may pertain to this film, this is not to imply that this is the case with American Sniper.  

My point in any post is not to pass judgment on a film I have not seen, nor to present facts that I don’t know.  I simply want people to think critically when going to movies that have a political nature to them.  Movies take millions of dollars to get made.  What is a movie trying to say?  Who benefits both monetarily and ideologically from a film?  If the movie is a fictionalized version of real events, what are the distortions and why were they made?  These kinds of questions and more should be asked when seeing a movie of any political stripe. 

And yes I said I would not put up any more thoughts having to do with American Sniper until I had seen it. However, I thought this article was too thought provoking not to share. I also think that it deals with ideas and themes outside the orbit of that single film.

Propaganda at the Movies

I’m a little late on this debate, but I was watching Bill Maher last night and he briefly mentioned how Zero Dark Thirty was nothing but a piece of government propaganda.  Here is an article that talks about how the CIA manipulated the screenplay for this film:

I love Bill Maher, and feel that his show is one of the only places where you see actual real debate that isn’t just spin from talking heads.  I haven’t seen the movie in awhile though, but I don’t remember thinking the movie was as clearly pro-torture as some people said it was, though I don’t doubt the CIA’s involvement.  I would like to see it again after reading the above, and several other stories.

In the book The Brothers that I just read, again about John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles, there is a section where the CIA helps rewrite the screenplay for the book version of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.  They want to make the book completely anti-Soviet, whereas in the book both sides of animals are corrupt.  Apparently Orwell’s widow was absolutely horrified.

I’ve also talked about in the past how the military has gotten to a place in the movie industry where the film industry is basically self censoring themselves.  They do this by withholding military equipment for films if they don’t approve of a films message.  To find the equipment without the military’s help is incredibly expensive.  If the military approves of a script to the point where they see it as promoting their values, they will give filmmakers a discount on renting the equipment that they need.  There was a program that went on for awhile where these kinds of arrangements were made more explicit, but after so many years the filmmakers caught on, and the overt program was no longer needed.  I read about this in the book Reclaiming Parkland.

No one expects films to be a literal telling of the truth.  In order to tell a gripping story it is often not only important, but necessary to do things like combine real people into one character, move events around for dramatic effect, etc.  However, when a film is changed to benefit those that are actually in power, it becomes propaganda as much as art.  When you go out to see the next film based on real life events, especially if it concerns the military, you need to question if the film has aims other than to inform and entertain.

Manifest Destiny and Eating Horses

We often hear about Manifest Destiny as part of our American Myth.  Here is what Manifest Destiny meant to those actually practicing it in 1870:  “The rich and beautiful valleys of Wyoming are destined for the occupancy and the sustenance of the Anglo-Saxon race.  The wealth that for untold ages has lain hidden beneath the snow-capped summits of our mountains has been placed there by Providence to reward the brave spirits whose lot it is to compose the advance-guard of civilization.  The Indians must stand aside or be overwhelmed by the ever advancing and ever increasing tide of emigration.  The destiny of the aborigines is written in characters not to be mistaken.  The same inscrutable Arbiter that decreed the downfall of Rome has pronounced the doom of extinction upon the red men of America.”

This was said by The Big Horn Association in 1870.  This association was a group of white frontiersmen and miners.  I got all of this from Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. 

While I was reading my brother called me upstairs to watch a scene from the TV show Deadwood.   In the scene a U.S. Military leader is giving a speech to the town that is all about nobility and providence.  It is basically a composite of all of the military and political speeches that we always here with some period details thrown in.  While he is speaking a slightly deranged member of the audience is mumbling what really happened on their campaign.  He is saying things like, “We ate our horses!”

Always be aware that the myths and stories that we tell ourselves are often ancient oceans apart from the reality that went on.

Eric Snowden, Hero

I am hoping that one place the right and left can join together is on the issue of intelligence gathering within the United States.  Despite all of my ranting and raving about the new right, I actually would like to see the American people not be as divided as they are.  This can only happen through small steps.  Hopefully a small step could be the left and the libertarian right putting their foot down together, and saying that what the NSA has been doing is not Ok.

Everyone dies.  When you drive to work each morning on the highway you are putting your life at risk.  No one is ever safe.  We have much more of a chance of turning our car into a mushroom cloud than actually being killed by a mushroom cloud.  Too often we willingly give up freedoms for a false sense of security.

However, if we are going to give up freedom for security at times, we should at least have a say in that process.  What was so nefarious about what the NSA was doing was that it had completely taken the American public out of the equation in their decision making.

Ever since 911 we have passed around the word hero like a cheap joint.  Were the firemen that ran into the WorldTradeCenter to save people, especially the ones that went in after the first tower collapsed heroes?  Yes.  Is someone a hero just because they choose to be a fireman?  No.  I don’t say that lightly as my own grandfather was a volunteer fireman.  My cousin is a fireman today. I am extremely proud of them.  However, some people just like jobs that have a slightly higher risk factor than others.  That doesn’t make them a hero.  They might in the course of their career eventually do something heroic, but everyone that is a fireman, or a police officer, or in the military is not a hero.  There are good and bad people in those fields like in every other profession.  Again those professions run a higher risk than the general public for danger, and because of that they might have a higher chance of doing something heroic, but that doesn’t make them heroes by default.  I believe by calling all people in certain professions heroes we devalue those that actually do something heroic.

If we are going to call someone a hero, I would be more inclined to mention Eric Snowden.  He is someone that exposed corruption at the highest level and put himself in the crosshairs of our government.  Because of his actions he had to leave all of his friends and family behind.  As most of you probably know, he now is living in exile in Russia.  This story is still unfolding, but because of him the rest of us have the chance of having less government intrusion in our lives.  He took the fall for us.

If you are a libertarian on the right how can you not appreciate this?  He took on the very government that you seem bent on reducing.  He did more to possibly reduce government than all of the House Republicans combined.  If you are on the left he took the fall for freedoms that I know many of you appreciate as well.

It might surprise some Republicans that get their news from Fox, but we on the left aren’t for all government all of the time.  We believe that government has an altruistic side when it helps those that are less fortunate and when it counterbalances the corporate world.  However, we know that government can be corrupt too and that the wrong kind of bureaucracy can crush lives just as easily as the right kind of government can help them.

So maybe those of us on the right and left can call a momentary cease fire and thank Eric Snowden for exposing the NSA.  He was a whistleblower plain and simple.  He saw something he believed was wrong and acted, against his own best interest.  The origin of the word hero comes from the Greek word heros.  One of the literal translations of this is “protector”.  Eric Snowden protected our freedom.  That is good enough for me to say Eric Snowden, hero.

In Defense of the Art of Swearing

I recently had someone tell me that there was too much swearing in my blog.  It’s not that they were personally offended; it’s just that they felt as if I was going to lose people that might otherwise agree with me through the use of vulgar language.  It’s a valid point.  They are in good company.  In Kurt Vonnegut’s Hocus Pocus the narrator makes basically the same claim.  Morrissey, known to wield the poison pen with ease, almost never swears.  In fact when he used the word shit on his You Are the Quarry album, I was actually taken aback. 

     I’ve always had an affinity for swearing.  I believe the Larry David maxim that something is always funnier with the word fuck thrown in.  Maybe I’m just being juvenile.  But while I don’t think swearing necessarily shows intelligence, I don’t believe it negates it either.

     George Carlin is famous for his Seven Dirty Words skit.  He has also talked about how words are words and nothing more.  Society tries to stop some words from being said as a way to control people.  It’s always the lower class words that are the ones that the censors have a problem with.  You can say that someone is having sexual intercourse with someone in polite company, but you can’t say someone was fucking.  Both those terms in that context have the exact same meaning.  People deem one acceptable, and the other unacceptable.  Why? 

     I am a huge fan of the show DeadwoodDeadwood is a western.  Its language is a mix of high minded Victorian language mixed with an incredible amount of swearing.  It’s the Shakespeare of our time.  It just happens to have a lot of fucks in it.  The creator David Milch is probably one of the most interesting people to hear talk on the use of language.  He talks about how in a mining camp like Deadwood that was illegally on Indian land, there were a lot of shady people.  You might not want to walk up to someone and say, “What’s your name and how are you doing?”  They might take it as you were a Pinkerton or a law enforcement official.  They might answer with a, “Who are you and why the hell do you wanna know?”  A scuffle might ensue.  Instead the simplest thing might be to walk up to someone with a shrug and say, “Fucking A.”  To which the reply, also with a shrug, would be a, “Fucking A”, back.  With those few words they have communicated to each other hello, how are you doing, I’m all right, and I don’t want to get into any of your personal business.  So much can be said with so little. 

     At the end of the day language is merely a tool to communicate something.  There is a place for flowery poetic language, and there is a place for language that is brutish and vulgar.  All that matters is if the idea that you intend gets across.  Different places require different sets of tools. 

     There are also a lot of euphemisms in our country.  Euphemisms allow us to do horrible things and put a nice spin on them.  Someone in the military might say that a target is neutralized.  What is meant by that is that someone got fucking killed.  We also might say that there has been a surgical strike.  That means a fucking bomb has been dropped on someone.  I think in those instances the vulgar gets across the idea of what actually happened way more than the nice clean language that has become the norm.  When you are doing barbaric things to people it is much better to be honest and use barbaric language. 

      I would like to close with a comparison of two different lines.  One of them is from the show Deadwood, and actually doesn’t feature swearing.  The town saloon owner, Al Swearegen, sees the local sheriff, Seth Bullock, walking by and calls down to him from his balcony:  “Quick trick suck Bullock?  Sally forth through the days events with unencumbered thoughts?”  What this means is do you want to get sucked off by a whore and put your mind at ease.  Or someone could say to someone else:  “I fucking love your shit.”  Only one of those two things would pass the test of the censors on mainstream television, but only one of them conveys the positive emotion love.