Faux outrage is nothing new on Twitter, nor are death threats which are a dime a dozen on the popular, short form social media site. Not even death threats over someone not liking a certain entertainment phenomenon are original, as anyone who dislikes Justin Bieber, One Direction or some other heartthrob sensation can say. Usually this is not news, but when that outrage is picked up by politically partisan commentators, then it is a different story. That is what is currently happening over a couple negative reviews of the new Clint Eastwood movie American Sniper which have earned the critics death threats and the approbation of Twitchy and Glenn Beck’s The Blaze. Oh, and FOX News.
To put the whole kerfuffle in perspective, negative movie reviews are common, if not downright mandatory in the entertainment world. Movie reviews are largely a matter of opinion on the part of the reviewer and no two people have the same exact taste. That is why some people enjoy action films and others comedy. It is a matter of taste, nothing more. Sending someone death threats for their personal preferences in movies is pretty stupid, even by Twitter flame standards. The death threats are not as important as the core argument being unconsciously made regarding American Sniper, the truth about war and what qualifies someone to be a hero.
American Sniper the film is based on the book of the same name, the autobiography of Navy Seal Chris Kyle, who became the most successful sniper in American history after serving during the Iraq War. The Eastwood helmed film is a largely positive portrayal, purporting to be a psychological exploration of Kyle himself as he went through the process of deciding who to kill and who not to kill. Rania Khalek and Max Blumenthal, two writers who have been critical of the American Sniper film, pointed out in their reviews that the rosy picture of a tortured soul the film throws at viewers is hardly faithful to the near psychopathic lust for killing that Kyle admitted to in his autobiography. For just a hint of the real Kyle’s mindset, the motto of the private security training company he set up is “Despite what your momma told you, violence does solve problems.”
The real Chris Kyle that American Sniper glorifies is less a hero than a military sanctioned psychopath and that is the point that Khalek and Blumenthal have made. That is what FOX News, Michelle Malkin’s Twitchy and Glenn Beck’s The Blaze have reacted to. In general, their reaction can be summed up in outrage over criticism of the person they identify as an “American hero” and they have taken the faux patriotic stance of condemning these negative reviews for being un-American. In their minds, Kyle’s kills in Iraq are enough to qualify him as heroic and nothing else matters.
That is what is at stake here: do Kyle’s kills made in service of American aims qualify him as a hero or is there something else that should be considered? For the conservative side, the kills and the American goals are enough. That is what Eastwood’s film essentially does to the story of Chris Kyle – it removes the problems of the man’s psyche that are well documented, replaces them with a more sympathetic mental and emotional portrait and wraps it all up in patriotism in order to justify a psychotic attitude towards killing. That is what Khalek and Blumenthal have pointed out and backed up with considerable evidence from Kyle’s own autobiography. It is also what the conservative pundits, Twitter trolls and the American Sniper film itself are ignoring.
So what does it mean to be a hero? That is a question which has been debated for centuries and the only thing the argument has made clear is that no answer will be agreed to by everyone. The Twitter trolling and death threats are just the most juvenile side of what is a substantive argument. The conservative pundit-sphere’s role in this is more concerning because it is so uncritical. It lacks any intellectual or moral examination and is nothing more than a facile acceptance of what they want to be true, not necessarily what is true. Critics receiving death threats for their negative reviews is concerning, but what is more problematic in the grand scheme of things is the fact that so many people who purport to be intellectual are willing to accept the rose-tinted portrayal of American Sniper as their emblem of heroism.
Opinion by Lydia Bradbury