Thursday, January 29, 2015

Abby Zimet on How "Fabulous Media Success" of "American Sniper" Story Highights America's Moral Failings

On Tuesday, I linked to Chris Hedges's powerful statement about how "American Sniper" lionizes what is worst in American culture — "the gun culture, the blind adoration of the military, the belief that we have an innate right as a 'Christian' nation to exterminate the 'lesser breeds' of the earth, a grotesque hypermasculinity that banishes compassion and pity, a denial of inconvenient facts and historical truth, and a belittling of critical thinking and artistic expression."

Today at Common Dreams, Abby Zimet also recommends Hedges's commentary about "American Sniper," along with Ross Caputi's. She states,

For many of us, the darkest chapter of Kyle's story is happening right now. It's America's eagerness to embrace and lionize a guy who unthinkingly viewed his hundreds of victims as "savages," “confirmed kills,” "despicable," "evil," and "terrorists," not human beings facing an invading army; who repeatedly dismissed those victims using racist and anti-Islamic slurs in the name of "defending" his country; who represented the most mindless, jingoistic aspects of the wars this country persists in fighting around the world; and whose fabulous media success, thanks to enough of us eager to celebrate him, now highlights our own parallel moral failings - our numb blindness to the depravity of a culture that so glorifies guns, war, death and "manhood" that we slowly lose our capacity for pity or understanding and become, ourselves, less than human.

As I read this passage, I'm reminded of Hannah Arendt's probing analysis of how people (the Nazis were, of course, in the forefront of her consciousness) lay a linguistic foundation for genocide by beginning to speak of demonized others as subhuman, so that when the murders begin, those participating in or approving of them by complicit silence will not think of the immorality of their actions, since they're extinguishing what is not human. 

And I think of German theologian Dorothee Sölle's observation that modern warfare permits us to distance ourselves from the humanity of those we kill, since it allows us to push a button and launch the grenade, or to fly over a village and drop our bombs without ever seeing the mother, the child, the brother and sister and father, whose life we end with the bombs.

Though we Americans claimed to be the antithesis of all of this in the "good war," World War II, we are there, as a people, and because of our overweening influence in the world, we are taking the rest of the world there. In the coming months and in the year ahead, we will listen to a steady stream of poison like the poison that former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin and others just sought to inject into the national bloodstream at the Iowa Freedom Summit, where Palin said, as Steven Rosenfeld writes,

"America needs a hero again," Sarah Palin chirped before 1,000-plus attendees, almost all white, middle-aged or older, who looked like they had been diverted from a bus tour of Ronald Reagan’s birthplace in nearby Illinois. "And screw the left and Hollywood who can’t understand what we see in someone like Chris Kyle [the protagonist of American Sniper] and all of our vets."

Some of us, it seems, have long since lost the capacity for embarrassment. And woe to the whole world as a result.

The graphic: a photograph from a gun show in Houston, Texas, from the Flickr photostream of M. Glasgow, which is available for sharing at Wikimedia Commons

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