False Narratives in "American Sniper"
Views 419 | Time to read: 4 minutes | Uploaded: 1 - 28 - 2015 | By: Samuel Muthiah
“American Sniper” is a fantastic movie fraught with emotion. It compellingly portrays the story of Chris Kyle, “the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history.” Yet it is that compelling portrayal that makes “American Sniper” such a dangerous movie.
“American Sniper” makes it easy to get caught up in a rush of nationalism. It is easy to rejoice when Kyle finally kills Mustafa, his nemesis throughout the movie. It is easy to hate the bad guys.
“Bad guys” may sound simplistic, but the phrase accurately captures the starkly black and white moral system in the movie. The movie masterfully portrays the complexities Kyle faces while trying to balance his duty to his country with his love of his family, so it is shocking that it reduces Iraqis to simply being bad.
The movie seemingly condones the bigoted notion that equates Middle Easterners with terrorists. The best treatment the movie gives any Iraqi character is to make a man demand $100,000 in return for information. You could explain why a man would make such a demand, but nuance does not fit well within a black and white view of the world.
In lieu of a nuanced view of Iraqis, they are simply referred to as “f---ing savages.”
“American Sniper” is dangerous because the viewer can easily get so caught up in the emotion of the story that you buy into the false narrative that Iraqis are all the same. You easily buy into the false narrative that things are either right or wrong. You easily buy into the false narrative that it is all right to not give “a flying f--k about the Iraqis,” as Kyle writes in his book.
There is no room, particularly from a Christian perspective, for such stances that are at best ignorant and at worst malicious. Even if you believes that killing fits within Jesus’ call to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” surely such a commandment ought to give you pause before glorifying a man who, in his book, calls killing “fun” (Matthew 5:44, NRSV).
Yet there is no room for such pause in “American Sniper.” Kyle does not regret a single one of his kills, so that ends the discussion.
“American Sniper” is dangerous because it subverts what it means to protect the weak and to make peace.
In the movie, Kyle’s father explains that there are three types of people in the world: sheep, wolves and sheepdogs. The sheep are the weak, the wolves are the predators, and the sheepdogs are the protectors. Kyle sees himself as a sheepdog so he joins the army.
But this model is built more upon inflicting violence upon the wolves than caring for the sheep. When Kyle is in Iraq it is difficult to discern whether his main goal is to kill savages or protect his fellow soldiers.
However, the most dangerous part of “American Sniper” is how patriotic it is. The patriotic overtones of the movie make it much more difficult to reject the ideas laid out above. Speaking out against the ideas “American Sniper” promotes can feel like speaking against freedom or disrespecting American soldiers like Kyle.
Under such pressure, the path of least resistance is to agree with the simplistic, overgeneralized narrative presented by “American Sniper.” Yet such a path should not be taken.
You can respect American troops while decrying the idea that all Iraqis are savages or while believing much of the world is gray rather than black and white.
Some may disagree that “American Sniper” promotes such false narratives. Some may say that even if it does, the dangers of buying into the narratives are not so high.
Unfortunately, such claims are refuted by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). The ADC has reported that the rate of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim threats it has received has tripled since the release of “American Sniper.” This increase in threats has been directly linked to the movie.
Saying that “American Sniper” promotes dangerous false narratives is not merely rhetoric. You can see it in the ADC’s findings and you can see it in the multitude of tweets like this one: “American sniper makes me wanna go shoot some f---ing Arabs” (sic).
By all means, go see “American Sniper,” but sit in the theater aware that you are being sold a dangerous narrative that is perfectly patriotic to reject.