"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

Songs of Experience in A Quiet Place

a-quiet-place-cloverfield-1099878-1280x0.jpeg

Estimated Reading Time: 17 minutes 52 seconds 

"GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY" - Get Out of Your Own Way off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

"IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT GIVE YOU AWAY/ THE WORDS YOU CANNOT SAY/ YOUR BIG MOUTH IN THE WAY" - The Little Things That Give You Away off of Songs of Experience by U2

THE SYNCHRONICITY STORM

For the last few weeks a recurring theme has kept rearing its head in my reading and movie watching. As this thematic synchronicity storm gathered strength I realized I could ignore the topic no longer.The recurring theme in question is the stultifying tribalism and accompanying intolerance for opinions different from our own that is rampant in our culture.

The subject first came up when I went to see A Quiet Place and discovered the underlying metaphor at the heart of the film, that in our current cultural climate anyone with a traditionalist opinion that may differ from liberal establishment orthodoxy needs to keep quiet and keep their head down or they will be "devoured" by the PC mobs and elitist watchdogs online and in the media. 

The day after seeing A Quiet Place I read two pieces touching upon the same subject, the first by Michelle Goldberg in the New York Times and the second by Andrew Sullivan of New York magazine.

Goldberg's piece from May 11th, titled "How the Online Left Fuels the Right" and Sullivan's from the same day titled "Kanye West and the Question of Freedom", both discuss the problem of tribalism across the political spectrum but also the issue of liberal intolerance of differing viewpoints, which echoed the foundational metaphor I found so intriguing about A Quiet Place.

Then a day later on May 12th, I read an op-ed in the New York Times by Gerard Alexander titled, "Liberals, You're Not as Smart as You Think". In the piece Alexander, like Goldberg and Sullivan before him, mentions the Kanye West-Trump conversion story where Kanye's divergence from racial political dogma has caused a furor resulting in his sanity being questioned by liberals and African-Americans, to highlight liberal intolerance of diverse opinions.  

"BLESSED ARE THE ARROGANT, FOR THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM OF THEIR OWN COMPANY" Get Out of Your Own Way off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

These three articles, written by a Democrat (Goldberg), a liberal conservative (Sullivan) and a Republican (Alexander) all touch upon an issue that I have recognized for quite some time and tried to warn against, namely that establishment liberalism is quick becoming a suffocatingly vacuous and emotionalist echo chamber of political correctness and victim idolatry where serious thinking goes to die. (This is not to say that Republican conservatism is chock full of vibrant philosophy, it isn't, it is at best a mausoleum, at worst a rancid carnival of Reagan-era capitalism).

Unknown-10.jpeg

The argument that Goldberg, Alexander and Sullivan make is that liberal intolerance of diverse opinion and use of shame instead of debate is a direct cause of Trump's electoral victory, and may lead to his re-election. I made this same argument right after the 2016 election (link, link) (and right before the election- link), where I said that liberal arguments had grown flaccid because Democrats had replaced debate with moral condemnation, shaming and exiling of anyone who disagreed with them. As I have written many times, liberals no longer engage in debate, they simply cry racism, misogyny or some other emotionally fueled charge rather than actually thinking through a topic, forming an argument, engaging in debate/discussion and thus attempting to convince others of the rightness of their viewpoint. This sort of lazy, entitled, and emotionally driven form of anti-intellectual politics is currently at epidemic levels across America. 

The emotionalism at the heart of this tribalism and demand for intellectual conformity is a potent force and I have seen its devastating effects up close and personal in the liberal circles of my own life.

Andrew Sullivan eloquently wrote of the powerful emotion driving tribal politics and its consequences, "That’s an intense emotion, and it’s that intensity, it seems to me, that is corroding the norms of liberal democracy. It has been made far, far worse by this president, a figure whose election was both a symptom and a cause of this collective emotional unraveling, where the frontal cortex is so flooded by tribal signals that compromise feels like treason, opponents feel like enemies, and demagogues feel like saviors. Instead of a willingness to disagree and tolerate, there is an impulse to loathe and expel. And this is especially true with people we associate with our own side. Friendly dissidents are no longer interesting or quirky; as the stakes appear to rise, they come to seem dangerous, even contagious. And before we even know it, we live in an atmosphere closer and closer to that of The Crucible, where politics merges into a new kind of religious warfare, dissent becomes heresy, and the response to a blasphemer among us is a righteous, metaphorical burning at the stake."

"LOVE HURTS, NOW YOU'RE THE GIRL WHOSE LEFT WITH NO WORDS/ YOUR HEARTS A BALLOON BUT THEN IT BURSTS/ IT DOESN'T TAKE A CANNON JUST A PIN/ YOUR SKIN'S NO COVERING…" - Get Out of Your Own Way off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

MARY FROM DELAWARE

I was, synchronistically enough, reminded of this "impulse to loathe and expel" when a friend jokingly sent me a recent article written by a woman who used to be friends with my wife. This woman, let's call her Delaware Mary, is a vociferous Clinton supporter and a self-described feminist, and when my wife posted a link to an article I had written right after the 2016 election titled, "2016 Election Post-Mortem", Mary, who had been friends with my wife for over twenty years, responded just as Sullivan describes as from that point on she refused to talk or communicate with my wife in any way, instead choosing to unfriend and expel my wife entirely from her life. 

Unknown-12.jpeg

Mary's reaction to my wife simply linking to my article (which I encourage you to read to judge for yourself the level of my crime) seemed bizarre to me, but it was a sign of the times as in the midst of the collective nervous breakdown among liberals in the wake of Trump's victory and Hillary's defeat, Mary had company in her shunning ways. Two other female friends of my wife and I, let's call them Lola and Lana, both of whom are also self-described feminists and Clinton supporters, took the same action and expelled me and my wife entirely from their lives as well after I wrote my post-election analysis. It seems Mary, Lola and Lana were like the creatures in A Quiet Place, and when they heard me speak up they not only eliminated me, but also anyone close to me…namely my wife. 

"YOU MUST BE AN ACROBAT/ TO TALK LIKE THIS AND ACT LIKE THAT" - Acrobat off of the album Achtung Baby by U2

There are a few noteworthy things about this episode worth pointing out…the first is that it was confirmed by multiple third parties that the reason these women banished my wife and I was solely because of my writing and my post-election piece in particular. 

Second is that my wife is the least political (and least confrontational) person I know and rarely if ever talks politics with her friends or on Facebook. It is also important to emphasize that my wife didn't post the text of my article, just a link to it. In addition, my wife doesn't necessarily believe the same things that I do, she just made the egregious error of posting a link to my article saying "my husband wrote this". 

images-6.jpeg

And to put this further into context, these three feminist Clinton supporters have exiled my wife not because I am a MAGA hat wearing Trump guy, I certainly am not, but because I challenged their Clinton neo-liberalism from a position further to their left. I am one of the "friendly dissidents" Andrew Sullivan wrote about in the quote above who was deemed a heretic and banished…along with my entirely innocent wife.  

One final bit of context is that Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana were adamant during the election that Hillary Clinton should not be held to account for the things her husband did while in office. These women claimed it was "sexist" and "misogynistic" to tar Hillary for the misdeeds of Bill. And yet…they were very comfortable holding my wife accountable for my apparent sin…how progressively feminist of them. 

The fact that these three women couldn't just passively ignore my writing, which would have been very easy to do since I rarely if ever had direct contact with them (and also because to avoid my writing they could simply NOT CLICK ON A LINK), but had to actively punish my wife for it, speaks volumes about where we are as a culture and does not bode well for where we are headed as a nation.

The hypocritical behavior on the part of Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana also speaks volumes and does not bode well for the future of feminism and is also a testament to their lack of personal character and integrity.

"BLESSED ARE THE BULLIES, FOR ONE DAY THEY'LL HAVE TO STAND UP TO THEMSELVES" - American Soul off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

"HAVING A SCAPEGOAT MEANS NOT KNOWING THAT WE HAVE ONE" - RENE GIRARD

"UNINTELLIGENT PEOPLE ALWAYS LOOK FOR A SCAPEGOAT" - ERNEST BEVIN

When Mary, Lola and Lana made the conscious decision to exorcise my wife and I from their lives they were exercising the ancient psychological tool of scapegoating. As author/philosopher Rene Girard tells us, scapegoating is when negative feelings and emotions, such as anger, failure, frustration or guilt are projected onto an innocent person/object, and then that person is punished, which provides psychological release and catharsis for the scapegoater.

images-5.jpeg

In this particular case, my wife was entirely innocent and did nothing wrong to Mary, Lola and Lana, but they projected onto her all of their negative feelings that arose as a result of Hillary's ignominious defeat, feelings such as impotence, helplessness, embarrassment, humiliation, frustration, anger and rage, and then punished my wife by exiling her. In a desperate search for catharsis in order to alleviate themselves of these painful and negative emotions, they needed to punish my wife and not just me, because exiling me would not make me suffer, but it would definitely hurt my wife, which in turn would punish me.

The suffering my wife experienced at the hands of their punishment is what was needed for Mary, Lola and Lana to cathartically release their own toxically negative feelings. Making my wife (and me) the villain upon which they could project their negative emotions, also allowed Mary, Lola and Lana to be the "hero" and gain powerful positive feelings like moral superiority, piousness and self-righteousness. 

Of course, as these women no doubt found out, the catharsis felt after exiling my wife and releasing their negative feelings over Hillary's election loss and the gaining of positive feelings, was only temporary, as the root cause of the negative feelings still existed, so they would, like addicts, have to find other scapegoats in order to sustain the temporary euphoria of releasing negative emotions and gaining positive ones. 

Delaware Mary in particular has become quite the expert at finding scapegoats and at proving both Sullivan's and my own point about the personal toxicity of tribalism repeatedly throughout the election and post-election period, as she has banished from her life not just my wife, but a cornucopia of other women, including her own mother, best friend and other friends.  

"BLESSED ARE THE LIARS FOR THE TRUTH CAN BE AWKWARD" - American Soul off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

"A COW'S HEAVEN IS A FLOWER'S IDEA OF HELL" - OLIVER GASPIRTZ

 Delaware Mary's scapegoats were probably singled out due to their failure to rigorously comply with her self-serving belief system, which more resembles a faith-based religion (with her as deity at the center) than a fact-based political philosophy, which is ironic since Delaware Mary is a nouveau-athiest who claims to despise religion. 

An example of Mary's vapid, vacuous and insipid thinking can be found in the article she wrote. In the piece, Mary wrote of women...

"When we speak our truths—the truth—we are rarely believed. We are gaslit by progressive men who tell us they care about women and people of color and the LGTBQ community but then dismiss fighting for our rights and our lives as identity politics."

This quote from Mary's piece is a perfect encapsulation of all that is wrong with establishment liberal orthodoxy and the neo-feminism of our day. Mary is entirely incapable of grasping that her subjective truth is not the Truth. She is also incapable of understanding that since her "truth" is subjective, it must therefore be measured against other people's subjective truths in order to come to a better understanding of the actual Truth. 

images-7.jpeg

Her use of the term "gaslight", which means "to manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity", is pretty insightful as well (and also a desperate way for a middle-aged woman to try and seem "hip" to the "young people"). According to Mary's assertion, to even question her (or any other woman's or minority's) subjective experience can only be interpreted as a form of psychological assault meant to mentally harm her rather than an attempt to discover the Truth or the objective reality of a situation. In Delaware Mary's eyes, the only experience/truth that matters is hers…or barring that, then the subjective experience of any other member of a victim group she exalts such as women, LGBTQ people, or other minorities, and their subjective experience must be left unquestioned and accepted as fact too. 

Does Mary realize that conflating her subjective truth with fact is exactly what Donald Trump does on a daily basis that drives her batshit crazy? Does Mary ever even remotely consider that her subjective truth is not indeed a fact, that it is, just like everyone else's, distorted with all sorts of psychological, personal and historical filters? And that maybe her desperate yearning for victimhood and her rage toward other individuals (like the countless people she has banished) is a function of scapegoating through psychological projection and substitution? And could Mary ever grasp that some people she considers heretics to the Delaware Mary dogma may desire the same ultimate outcome that she does, but they believe different strategies and tactics will make attaining that goal much more likely? I doubt it, since in our culture the self, and therefore subjective experience, always trumps objective reality…hence we get a plethora of people, like Delaware Mary and her cohorts, who encourage people to speak their truth and not to seek THE Truth

INTERMISSION

Since this is a long article, here is a short video intermission which perfectly sums up Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana's approach to life. Enjoy.

 

"WHEN ALL YOU'VE LEFT IS LEAVING/ AND ALL YOU'VE GOT IS GRIEVING/ AND ALL YOU KNOW IS NEEDING" - 13 (There is a Light) off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

THE VICTIM PYRAMID OF TRUTH

The problem with Mary's thinking is pretty obvious, namely that even among women and minority groups in the inverted 'victim pyramid' of truth through which Mary sees the world, subjective experience differs greatly. So is Mary "gaslighting" people of color when she disagrees with Black women like Nina Turner, a Bernie Sanders supporter, or Candace Owens, a Trump supporter? Why are Ms. Turner's and Ms. Owen's subjective experience any less valid than Delaware Mary's? 

Unknown.png

And when Delaware Mary divides people based on their race, gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity, in other words by their identity, or more accurately - by how SHE identifies them, and then ranks them according to how victimized she perceives them to be, she creates a situation that can only devolve into a circular firing squad. Evidence of this is seen in an article in The Guardian by Ruby Hamad titled "How White Women Use Strategic Tears to Silence Women of Colour", where Ms. Hamad bemoans how progressive White women use tears to avoid being held accountable. Does Ms. Hamad's subjective truth of White women being instinctively manipulative overrule Mary's subjective truth that she is "woke" (as an aside... is there anything more cringe-worthy than a middle aged white woman describing themselves as "woke")?

What about men of color…where on Delaware Mary's holy scale of minority subjective experience impeccability is their truth? Is Bill Cosby an awful rapist as per his female victims experience or does his African-American subjective truth that he is the victim of a lynching trump their claims? What about some less Manichean and more complex cases? Where does Mary's loyalty lie…is it with women? People of color? LGBTQ people? Because Mary has made it clear it certainly isn't with the Truth only with her subjective truth.

BECCA AND REBA'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE

Unknown-13.jpeg

Michael Harriot accurately described White women like Mary and Lola in his 2017 article in The Root titled, "The 5 Types of 'Becky'". Harriot writes of White women he calls varying forms of the derogatory name Becky. Mary and Lola fall into two of the Becky categories, the first is the Becca category, which Harriot describes thus…"Becca wants to help…as long as it is convenient and comfortable. Even though Becca isn't racist, her idea of Black people is of a downtrodden underclass that just needs a little help from benevolent white people. Becca is pure of heart and holds no animosity towards anyone. She is willing to "do the work…" but not really."

Delaware Mary and Lola are a Becca combined with a Reba, which Harriot describes thus…"Reba is "woke"…Reba believes in a women's right to choose and wore a pink pussy hat to the Women's March….Reba cares about winning. She believes that white women deserve the gold medal in the oppression Olympics, and if there is a chance she isn't on the podium, Reba thinks you're not being fair. Reba talks about white privilege, but Reba doesn't understand that she is white privilege." 

"FREEDOM, THE SLAVES ARE LOOKING FOR SOMEONE TO LEAD THEM/ THE MASTER'S LOOKING FOR SOMEONE TO NEED HIM/ THE PROMISED LAND IS THERE FOR THOSE WHO NEED IT MOST/ AND LINCOLN'S GHOST SAID/ GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY" -Get Out of Your Own Way off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

Delaware Mary's fanaticism for identity politics is part of why she was so desperate to scapegoat and exile my wife and I. For women like Mary, Lola and Lana, identity politics isn't just about race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, it is actually about THEIR identity, meaning their ego/Self. 

According to iconic psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology, C.G. Jung, there are countless types of archetypes that are available to us, from the Warrior to the Trickster to the Lover to the Actor and on and on. Jung's archetypes are all gender neutral so, for example, both men and women can be the Mother archetype or the Father archetype. The problem with Mary, Lola and Lana is that they are stuck in the archetypal cycle of Victim (Child) and Mother, with the Victim/Child archetype being the one who needs caring and the Mother archetype being the one who does the caring.

images-8.jpeg

Delaware Mary is so bloated with self-loathing she must justify it by embracing the Victim archetype, pawning her failures off on an "other" or "group of others" because it eases her psychological anguish to feel she has no agency and is a defenseless Victim. And then she projects Victimhood onto others she deems acceptable, like other women, people of color and other minorities, so that she can try to balance her psyche and alleviate her feelings of weakness, by infantilizing those she appoints as "Victims" (minorities)…thus ensuring that they stay disempowered Victims/Children in need of care and she takes on the archetype of Mother to care for them. This Mother role in this scenario is actually driven by an unconscious White supremacy and a desire to keep minorities in perpetual Victim/Child mode, thus stunting their growth so that Mother can remain empowered. 

Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana hated my post-election article and the ideas in it so much because it challenged their worldview, and to them, because their identity politics is their sole identity (Victim/Child-Mother archetypal cycle), a challenge to their worldview is a direct threat to their ego/Self, their psyche and thus to their entire existence. This is why Mary considers anyone questioning her subjective truth as "gaslight" assaulting her, it is because the entirety of her being is her ego, which is defined by her Victim/Mother identity. Without her identity politics belief system, Mary ceases to exist, as do Lola and Lana. If the world is not as they think it is, then their identities disintegrate and take the rest of their psyche with it. 

The existential threat of loss of identity and psychic annihilation is real and powerful, and can motivate people to do much worse things than just banish a friend of twenty years with whom you have suffered the slings and arrows of life including weddings, births, deaths and all the rest. Holding onto our identity/ego/Self is perceived by the psyche to be a matter of life and death, and it often forces us to react from our lizard brain rather than from the more rational parts of our mind.

"FIGHT BACK, DON'T TAKE IT LYING DOWN YOU'VE GOT TO BITE BACK/ THE FACE OF LIBERTY'S STARTING TO CRACK/ SHE HAD A PLAN UP UNTIL SHE GOT A SMACK IN THE MOUTH/ THEN IT ALL WENT SOUTH" - Get Out of Your Own Way off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

Another thing that I found striking regarding Delaware Mary and Co. banishing my wife and I was that none of these proud, self-described feminist, highly-edcuated women had the courage to challenge the things I wrote. None of these women have ever reached out to me at all regarding the entire situation, finding it easier to just "ghost" (as the kids say) my wife and I instead of engaging in a debate or discussion or even registering their dislike of my opinion. I can understand not wanting to engage with me in person, I have been told I am an intimidating presence, but to not at least reach out from the safety of email or the comment section seems to me an act of cowardice, and shunning my wife shows a stunning lack of intellectual integrity.  

Unknown-15.jpeg

I am someone who does not have all the answers, hell, I don't even know most of the questions, so I consider myself open to persuasion. Maybe I am delusional, that could certainly be the case, but I try to be open to criticisms of my thinking and writing. For instance, I have received very insightful and thoughtful emails from readers who have vehemently disagreed with me and I have even gone so far as to post some of these emails in their entirety on my blog. For example, when I wrote a piece on "Whitewashing", a reader, Tiny Dancer, emailed me with her counter argument, and I posted an article containing that entire email. To me, this is how serious people and adults behave, and I wish these women had had the courage to reach out to me and at least tell me what pissed them off so much in that article so I could reexamine my opinion. 

Maybe these women thought I was not worth their time, and that my wife was for some reason tainted by her association with me, a case of the "contagion" Andrew Sullivan insightfully wrote about. But as Michelle Goldberg wrote in her New York Times piece, "Some might argue that respectfully debating ideas seen as racist or sexist legitimates them. There’s something to this, but refusing to debate carries a price as well — it conveys a message of weakness, a lack of faith in one’s own ideas. Ultimately, the side that’s frantically trying to shore up taboos is the side that’s losing. If there’s an Intellectual Dark Web, we should let the sun shine in."

Goldberg is correct in her strategic and tactical assessment. Delaware Mary and company feel entitled to not have their beliefs challenged, and so they frantically scapegoat all heretics and banish contrarians so that they never have to actually form an argument and strengthen it, but get to bask in the illusion of the unimpeachability of their subjective truth. This is an arrogant, fool-hardy and strategically inept approach to life and to politics as gorging yourself on a steady diet of mainstream neo-liberal identity theology will only lead to an intellectual constipation. It will also eventually leave you at the mercy of your opponents, who have hardened and honed their arguments in the fire of debate, and to the brutal and cruel force of objective reality. 

Unknown-14.jpeg

By sealing their echo chamber ever tighter through the banishing of alternative and diverse opinions and anyone associated with them, Delaware Mary and Co. are creating a distorted version of reality where they encourage themselves and others to lose touch with objective reality in favor of a fever dream of subjective truth and moral superiority.

As Gerard Alexander writes in his Times piece, "Within just a few years, many liberals went from starting to talk about microaggressions to suggesting that it is racist even to question whether microaggressions are that important. “Gender identity disorder” was considered a form of mental illness until recently, but today anyone hesitant about transgender women using the ladies’ room is labeled a bigot. Liberals denounce “cultural appropriation” without, in many cases, doing the work of persuading people that there is anything wrong with, say, a teenager not of Chinese descent wearing a Chinese-style dress to prom or eating at a burrito cart run by two non-Latino women."

In Delaware Mary and Co.'s confirmation bias feedback loop where objective truth is scorned and subjective truth celebrated, the only way to maintain the illusion is to vigorously police the speech and actions of others. This is why it was imperative that I be exiled along with my Facebook linking accomplice wife, as we represented a potential shattering of the illusion within which these women exist. This controlling impulse is authoritarian in nature, and ironically enough, is exactly what Trump and other tyrants do to dissidents and heretics as well. 

As Alexander wrote in his Times essay, "Pressing a political view from the Oscar stage, declaring a conservative campus speaker unacceptable, flatly categorizing huge segments of the country as misguided — these reveal a tremendous intellectual and moral self-confidence that smacks of superiority. It’s one thing to police your own language and a very different one to police other people’s. The former can set an example. The latter is domineering." 

THE JOY OF COGNITIVE DISSONANCE

I wrote an article a few years back titled, "Truth, Justice and the Curious Case of Chris Kyle". In that widely read piece, I wrote of the psychological term cognitive dissonance, which means "psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously", in relation to the behavior of conservatives when the lies of Chris Kyle were brought to their attention. A brief glimpse at the comment section of that piece, which I wholly encourage you to go read in its entirety, proved my point more than anything I actually wrote in the article.

Unknown-17.jpeg

Liberals suffer from cognitive dissonance too (as do all humans to varying degrees) and it has been epidemic in the last few years, Delaware Mary and Co. are living proof of that. When Mary, Lola and Lana were confronted with arguments and facts (like my being correct in predicting the election and the reasons why Trump would win) that were in opposition to their strongly held beliefs (their trust in conventional wisdom and institutions like the media, their perceived intellectual superiority and that Hillary would win) and suffered the ensuing psychological conflict, they did what most people suffering from cognitive dissonance do, they ignored the new information (and its carrier- me) and they removed it from their consciousness in order to maintain the sanctity of their previous held (faith-based) belief. 

A great example of liberals like Delaware Mary and company suffering from cognitive dissonance and behaving exactly the same as the conservatives they so loathe (and vice versa), came in recent months when MSNBC host Joy Reid was caught lying about some blog posts she had written a decade ago that some felt were homophobic. Instead of just owning up to the posts and apologizing as she had done in a similar situation a year ago, this time Reid doubled down and claimed to have been "hacked", and that the writing was not hers. Computer forensic experts investigated and found that she was full of it and that there was no hacking…but this did not stop Reid or her supporters one little bit. In a remarkable display of cognitive dissonance, Reid claimed she "didn't recognize herself as having written those things", and many liberals supported her and even wrote and tweeted things like "I don't care if she is lying…I SUPPORT JOY". The same exact type of thing was written by conservatives in the wake of my Chris Kyle piece, as many declared, "I don't care if he lied!" This is our political culture…whether it be liberal or conservative...Truth need not apply. 

"STATUES FALL/ DEMOCRACY IS FLAT ON ITS BACK, JACK/ WE HAD IT ALL, BUT WHAT WE HAD IS NOT COMING BACK, ZAC/ A BIG MOUTH, SAYS THE PEOPLE THEY DON'T WANT TO BE FREE FOR FREE/ THE BLACKOUT, IS THIS AN EXTINCTION EVENT WE SEE?" -The Blackout off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

A COMPLEX SIMPLICITY

Why is that? Why in the world do people just blindly support and put their faith in people like Chris Kyle or Joy Reid or Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? And also why do people spend so much time and energy banishing dissenting opinions instead of using that time and energy to see what is in front of one's nose, which as Orwell teaches us, requires a constant struggle? The answer is a deep-seeded existential fear.

Delaware Mary and company are representative of our political culture in that they are consumed with fear. Fear is the driving and motivating force for their lives…and yet they are not even aware of it. What these people fear is not what they think they fear…some "other" (like me) out to destroy them and all that they hold dear. No, Delaware Mary and company's existential fear is not the "other", it is complexity, and the antidote to their fear of complexity is the simplicity for which they so desperately yearn. 

Simplicity is required because it maintains and enforces the status quo in people's psyche and also in the outer world. For individuals like Delaware Mary and friends, if they replace their simple black and white worldview where they have a scapegoated "other" upon which to project all negative attributes, and a sanctified Victim group (of which they are members), and replace that cosmology with a more nuanced and complex understanding of their world where their feelings are a useless guide to navigating the maze of modern life, then once again their Self/ego is threatened with obliteration. This is the existential threat to their identity/ego/Self that must be avoided by any means necessary.

Unknown-1.png

As Adam Curtis revealed in his brilliant documentary Hyper-Normalization, the same is true of our macro political culture, as our society is so complex that it is an unwieldy, uncontrollable beast, and thus the appearance of simplicity must always be maintained by the ruling class to keep the masses placid and compliant. Thus we get slogans and marketing campaigns to boil everything down to the most simplistic nugget…Make America Great Again, all Trump voters are racist, they hate us for our freedoms, freedom isn't free, Hillary lost because of racism!/misogyny! Saddam/Ghadaffi/Putin/Bin Laden/Kim Jong-Il is a pure evil madman etc. 

The establishment believes the facade of a simplistic Manichean status quo with its accompanying political order (where they are on top) must be maintained at all costs because the complexity that lies just underneath the surface of our civilization is a chaotic, barbaric and psychologically apocalyptic force that if unleashed could destroy their power structures.  

On a micro scale, Delaware Mary must not let the complexity of the world seep into her mind, she must not permit contrarian views to fester, because if she stops to actually think, instead of feel, about her subjective truth versus objective reality, and about the massive complexity hidden just beneath the surface or her own life, psyche and motivations, her ego/Self, which she has wrapped in the cloak of her identity in general and her Victim identity in particular, will be obliterated and she will cease to exist. That is terribly frightening for her, as it would be for anyone, and that is the fuel that propels the rocket of her spate of scapegoating and blindly vindictive behavior. 

"WALK THROUGH THE ROOM LIKE A BIRTHDAY CAKE/ WHEN I AM ALL LIT UP, CAN'T MAKE A MISTAKE/ AND THERE'S A LEVEL OF SHALLOW THAT YOU JUST CAN'T FAKE/ BUT YOU KNOW THAT I KNOW" - The Showman (Little More Better) off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

What needs to happen to Delaware Mary and company is what needs to happen to the wider culture as well, namely that they must, in a controlled and stable setting, ask themselves the question, "what if everything I know is wrong?" This question scares the hell out of people like Mary, and scares the establishment class even more, but it is vital if we want to survive as a functioning, relatively healthy human beings and as a civilization. 

Americans have been given lots of opportunities to ask this question of ourselves in recent years as they and the ruling establishment have been spectacularly wrong on so many things, such as the Iraq war, the financial collapse and Trump's election. Sadly, the ruling elite have repeatedly and effectively placated the masses in the face of these massive failures by conjuring a tantalizingly simple illusion which they use to distract from an ever more unruly and complex world. 

The same is true for Delaware Mary, who if she had the courage to actually do some introspection and self-reflection, might stop to notice that she perpetually kisses up and kicks down, and that she repeatedly only casts aside "friends" she cannot use to advance her career, which might lead her to realize that the life she leads which depresses her so, is a result of her own doing, and not because of the failings of others, or structural barriers restraining her. 

Unknown-18.jpeg

What is so disheartening about this entire situation is that Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana think they are fighting for change and against the status quo, but they aren't, they are desperately and unconsciously struggling to maintain the status quo. Their feminism is a feminism which is built upon the Victim archetype and the foundational belief of female weakness and unworthiness. Ironically, the Victim archetype feminism these women adhere to not only requires but forces a Mother archetype to step forward to "care for" the Victim, and what steps into the Mother archetype are patriarchal males who want to protect the "weaker sex". In other words, Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana and their neo-feminist cohorts are unconsciously propping up the patriarchy they claim to so abhor. This along with their hypocritical behavior and vicious envy of other women speaks to Delaware Mary and friends as being fraudulent feminists. 

Their identity and racial politics too are built upon the Mother/Victim archetypal relationship, and carries with it their own unconscious belief in the inferiority of those groups of people for whom they claim to be fighting. This shows that Mary, Lola and Lana are symbolic of many mainstream liberals in that they claim to be #woke but are completely sound asleep #unconscious.

"IT IS WHAT IT IS BUT IT'S NOT WHAT IT SEEMS/ THIS SCREWED UP STUFF IS THE STUFF OF DREAMS/ I GOT JUST ENOUGH LOW SELF ESTEEM/ TO GET ME WHERE I WANT TO GO" - The Showman (Little More Better) off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

This begs the question...Why does any of this matter? Well the reason I was compelled to write on this subject in the first place is because it seems to represent the ever growing divide in American politics, where subjective truth rules the day and all politics is personal, that further exacerbates the issues that many people care about.

images-9.jpeg

I also think it matters as a warning about the infection gaining power and spreading throughout politics in general and liberal politics in particular. Delaware Mary is symbolic of this disease of identity and is a case study for the perils of embracing her type. For example, Delaware Mary has tried to resurrect her moribund writing career by rebranding and marketing herself as an activist writer for neo-feminist causes. As has been my experience, and the experience of the many women she has callously mistreated, Delaware Mary is a proven charlatan and fraud as a feminist, and by trying to make herself the voice or face of that movement, will guarantee that it ends in epic failure. Delaware Mary's noxiously malignant narcissism and intellectual vacuity is toxic to everyone and everything she touches.

If you care about any issue, it would wise to be on the look out for people like Delaware Mary. The signs of a Delaware Mary are that they are pied pipers without an original thought in their head, who only speak to their own side and only tell their audience what they want to hear, never what they need to hear.

Delaware Mary's are only interested in basking in the glory of their own voice. Their infatuation with the sound of their own voice is also why they never have a remotely original thought or idea, all they do is simply regurgitate mainstream neo-liberal pablum and think because they are the ones saying it, that it's now clever.

The Delaware Marys of the world are a danger to the people who are serious about finding actual solutions to difficult problems because they will exploit any and all issues to further their career, inflate their own ego and sense of self-worth, and then shit out their shadow emotions on all those they deem disposable because they no longer feed the narcissistic beast residing where their conscience used to be. 

"I'VE BEEN CRYING OUT/ HOW BAD CAN A GOOD TIME BE?/ SHOOTING OFF MY MOUTH/ THAT'S ANOTHER GREAT THING ABOUT ME" - You're the Best Thing About Me off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

Maybe I am wrong about all of this, it wouldn't be the first time. Just like Lola and Lana, I am certainly not perfect either, as I sure as hell have my own blind spots, confirmation and unconscious biases and suffer from my own cognitive dissonance. And the objective reality may be that I am just an incorrigible asshole and my wife is a vicious bitch and we have been rightfully punished by Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana. Maybe their anger towards me is righteous and their vengeance upon my wife deserved. Or maybe not. It is impossible to tell since for a year and a half none of these women have had the testicular fortitude to actually engage in a discussion about it. Maybe if they had summoned the gumption to do so they could have pointed out the errors in my thinking, and converted me to their faith/cosmology.

Unknown-19.jpeg

Which brings us back to A Quiet Place and why the film resonated with me so much. The film dramatizes the struggle of our current age, which includes the battle over whether to allow people to speak freely even when they say something ugly or which offends you, and the authoritarian impulse to stifle that freedom of speech. While I and others have not been devoured by monsters or thrown in a gulag or concentration camp for reeducation…yet, we have been singled out, punished and ostracized for daring voice opinions that challenge conventional thinking and establishment orthodoxy. This belief that you have the right NOT to be offended combined with the compulsive need to surround yourself with only people that agree with you is ultimately a dangerous impulse that will only lead to further polarization that will fuel an ever hotter political conflagration between groups of extremists on both sides who refuse to see the humanity in the other.

I personally struggle to understand that sort of thinking, as I intentionally seek out writers who think differently than I do. My daily reading is an eclectic list that spans the political and philosophical spectrum. I actually enjoy reading writers with whom I disagree because it challenges me to think harder about what I actually do believe, and come up with a cogent defense of my opinions and a coherent counter-argument to those things with which I disagree. This seems to me to be a logical approach to life and learning and expanding one's knowledge base. 

For instance, just in this article alone I quote from Andrew Sullivan, Michelle Goldberg and Alexander, three people I vehemently disagree with from time to time. If I judged these writers only by what I perceive to be their errors, then I would stop reading them entirely and be disadvantaged because that would mean I'd stop learning from them as well. The same is true of Rene Girard and documentarian Adam Curtis whom I also reference, both are undeniably brilliant but not perfect. Should I cast all of their work away because I found some of it lacking or were offended by parts of it? That is foolishness and totally self-defeating. 

"I LIKE THE SOUND OF MY OWN VOICE/ I DIDN'T GIVE ANYONE ELSE A CHOICE" - All Because of You off of the album How to Dismantle and Atomic Bomb by U2

"I THOUGHT I HEARD THE CAPTAIN'S VOICE/ IT'S HARD TO LISTEN WHILE YOU PREACH" -Every Breaking Wave off of the Album Songs of Innocence by U2

The tactic of shaming those who dare to challenge our opinions, rather than debating them, or exorcising diversity of opinion instead of embracing it, will end in tragedy for those who fall under the spell of the echo chamber. Those that choose to be seduced by the warm song of the echo chamber will become like some perverse, masturbatorial version of Homer's Sirens, for they will be grounded upon the rocks by the hypnotically mesmerizing sound of their own voice. 

I think America is in the midst of a psychotic break and that liberals as a group have suffered a severe nervous breakdown after Trump won the election, and that Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana were swept up in that collective insanity. Obviously they won't ever read this because my writing/thinking is heresy to their neo-liberal dogma and for them to read it would result in eternal damnation, but I do hope that one day the collective insanity that has descended upon the American body politic subsides, and that people can actually engage in discussion once again. That said…I am not optimistic.

"DINOSAUR, WONDERS WHY IT STILL WALKS THE EARTH/ YEAH/ A METEOR, PROMISES IT'S NOT GONNA HURT, YEAH" - The Blackout off of the Album Songs of Experience by U2

"SOMETIMES/ THE END IS NOT COMING/ IT'S NOT COMING/ THE END IS HERE/ SOMETIMES" The Little Things That Give You Away off of Songs of Experience by U2

I think that Delaware Mary, Lola and Lana are symptoms of the disease of American culture. These women are poster children for the decadent, selfish, narcissistic, emotionalist, impulsive, vindictive and vacuous nation we have become. Unbeknownst to them, we are in the midst of a dramatic transition/transformation period in American and world history. Massive upheavals and changes are fast approaching…financial collapse, wars, civil wars, the fall of empires and a toppling of the world order. These women are symbolic of the collective in that, just like their willful blindness regarding Trump in the 2016 election, they prefer to keep their heads up their asses where they can enjoy the warm and dark embrace of the familiar no matter how much it stinks, rather than the cold hard reality of the world outside. Like smug dinosaurs before the meteor, they continue to bask in the arrogance of their ignorance, not knowing, and not wanting to know, the perilous fate that is hurtling towards them (and the rest of us) at breakneck speed.

"YOU'RE THE BEST THING ABOUT ME/ THE BEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED A BOY/ YOU'RE THE BEST THING ABOUT ME/ I'M THE KIND OF TROUBLE THAT YOU ENJOY/ YOU'RE THE BEST THING ABOUT ME/ THE BEST THINGS ARE EASY TO DESTROY" - You're the Best Thing About Me off of the album Songs of Experience by U2

As for me, at the end of the day, all I can do and want to do is keep on trying to seek the Truth. I won't always succeed, and if history is any guide, I will fail considerably more than I succeed. But the attempt is an important one, especially in the kingdom of madness that is America. The best I can do now is to heed the advice of my good friend Bono, who told me the other night to go forth into this mad world with "Open eyes…open arms…open heart…and OPEN MIND". I wish Mary, Lola and Lana would take this sage advice as well, because then we might be able to mitigate the disaster that awaits us all by being the change we all desperately want to see in this insane world.

 

©2018

American Bloodlust: Projecting the Shadow and the Hunter Myth Cycle

ESTIMATED READING TIME : 7 minutes 14 seconds

In continuing to try to make sense of the senseless massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida yesterday (February 14, 2018), I thought I would re-post portions of an article I originally wrote in September of 2016 titled Jason Bourne, Projecting the Shadow and the Technological Hunter: A Review and Commentary. That article was a review for the film Jason Bourne starring Matt Damon but after reviewing the film, I veered into the topic of our violent and bloodthirsty culture and the Hunter Myth Cycle. I am re-posting the article but have edited out the sections that death solely with reviewing the Bourne film. I believe the ideas expressed in this edited version are very salient to the discussion of violence in America in the wake of our most recent tragedy and speak to the cultural and archetypal forces at work in our violent nation. 

THE HUNTER MYTH CYCLE

Coincidentally enough, right after seeing Jason Bourne I read the book, Projecting the Shadow : The Cyborg Hero in American Film by Janice Hocker Rushing and Thomas S. Frentz. The book is wonderful and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in cinema, myth and Jungian psychology. In the book, the authors examine from a Jungian perspective, six films and their relationship to the evolution of the archetypal hunter myth, from The Indian Hunter to The Frontier Hunter to The Technological Hunter as seen through the modernist, post-modernist and "trans-modernist" view. The six films they look at are JawsThe Deer HunterThe Manchurian CandidateBlade RunnerTerminator and Terminator 2. The book was published in 1995 so the Bourne films weren't "born" just yet, but I couldn't help but think of them in terms of the authors intriguing premise. 

According to Hocker and Frentz, there are three types of hunter myths, the Indian Hunter, the Frontier Hunter and the Technological Hunter. The Hunter Myth Cycle is seen as circular in that it evolves from one myth (I.E. Indian myth) to another myth (I.E. Frontier myth) to another myth (I.E. Technological myth) and then back to where it started (Indian myth). It is interesting to examine the character Jason Bourne in relation to this hunter myth cycle. The Bourne character is a weapon used by men in suits in offices back in the Pentagon and C.I.A., so he is a no different than a drone, or a smart bomb. He was created, much like the man/weapons of The Manchurian Candidate, to do the killing from which the post-modern man wants to consciously dissociate. The Bourne character is also similar to the Manchurian Candidate, in that he is a human but has had his true identity and memory, markers of his humanity, taken from him in order to make him a near perfect robotic killer.

Bourne's personal place on the archetypal Hunter Myth scale is that of The Frontier Hunter, yet he is also just a weapon of his C.I.A. overlords who are Technological Hunters, thus giving the film two myths in one. Rushing and Frentz describe the Frontier Hunter in part, "Since Indians as well as wild beasts occupy the land he wants, he slaughters both indiscriminately, gaining a decisive advantage over his human prey because of…his sophisticated weaponry, and his lack of spiritual restraint. Although his frontierism converts "savagery" to "civilization", the white hunter himself cannot reside in society without losing his individualistic heroic status and thus does not return from the hunt…". Things always get interesting in the Bourne films when Jason Bourne must fight against another one of the human weapons of the Technological Hunters in the C.I.A. in the form of an opposing Frontier Hunter. Two men/weapons with "sophisticated weaponry and lack of spiritual restraint" fighting each other is a key to the successful Bourne formula.

Rushing and Frentz describe the Technological Hunter Myth as follows, "…Because he is so good at making machines, he now uses his brains more than brawn, and he prefers to minimize his contact with nature, which can be uncomfortable and menacing. Thus he creates ever more complex tools to do his killing and other work for him. Having banished God as irrelevant to the task at hand, the hero decides he is God, and like the now obsolete power, creates beings 'in his own image'; this time, however, they are more perfect versions of himself - rational, strategic, and efficient. He may fashion his tools either by remaking a human being into a perfected machine or by making an artificial "human" from scratch. "

In cinematic terms the Bourne character falls somewhere between the dehumanized human weapons of The Manchurian Candidate, "remaking a human into a perfected machine", and the humanized robot-weapon "replicants" of Blade Runner, "making an artificial 'human' from scratch". The replicants in Blade Runner are tools and weapons for humans, just like Bourne, but they also yearn to be human, as does Bourne, who aches for a return to his long lost humanity while his Technological Hunter overlords yearn to make him ever more robotic, or more accurately, devoid of humanity. The problem with both the replicants and Bourne, is that their humanity, their need for love and connection, is their greatest weakness and their greatest strength.  Bourne and the Blade Runner replicants, yearn to Know Thyself, which is what drives them toward freedom from their makers and yet also makes them erratic and at times vulnerable weapons for the Technological Hunter. This inherent weakness of humanity, the need for love and connection, is removed entirely in the later films that Rushing and Frentz examine, Terminator and Terminator 2, where humans have created super weapons, cyborgs, that are completely inhuman, and of course as the story tells us, turn on their creators like Frankenstein's monster and try to hunt and torment mankind into oblivion.

In many ways, Bourne is the perfect post-modern hero in that he is so severely psychologically fragmented. He was intentionally made that way by the Technological Hunter Dr. Frankensteins at the C.I.A. because eliminating his humanity (past/memory/love and connection) is what makes him so effective as a weapon. Originally in the story, the people in power calling the shots back in Washington are using Bourne to clandestinely hunt their enemies. But now that Bourne is off the reservation and out on his own, he has become the archetypal Frontier hunter, searching for his soul/memory which was stolen by those D.C. Technological Hunters. This is the normal evolution in the hunter myth cycle…the weapon turns on its creator, as evidenced by both Blade Runner and the Terminator films, and now by the Bourne films.

LIVING IN THE AGE OF THE TECHNOLOGICAL HUNTER

What does this talk of post-modernism and the technological hunter have to do with anything? Well, in case you haven't noticed, we live in an age of the post-modern technological hunter. The films examined in Projecting the Shadow show us the road that may lay ahead for our culture. Our inherent weakness in being human, both physical and emotional, and our intellectual superiority has forced us to become technological hunters. From the first caveman to pick up an animal bone and use it to bash in another cave man's head (hat tip to Mr. Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey), to the drone pilot who sits in an air conditioned office in Nevada and kills people half a world away with the touch of a button, we have removed ourselves from the direct conscious responsibility for killing because it is too psychologically and emotionally traumatic for our fragile psyches. Or at least we think we have removed our psychological responsibility. Like consumers of meat who would rather not know where it comes from or how it is treated, we as a society have removed our direct conscious involvement in the killing done in our name by creating a cognitive dissonance (cognitive dissonance is defined as  a "psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously") and an emotional distance from it. Whether it be the drone pilot who goes home for lunch with his wife and kids after having killed dozens, or the politicians and citizens who cheer at the shock and awe of "smart bombs" and munitions dropped from miles overhead on defenseless human beings, we have become Technological Hunters all. Rushing and Frentz describe the Technological Hunter as one who…"prefers to minimize his contact with nature, which can be uncomfortable and menacing", that is us. The "nature" we want to minimize contact with is the killing we have done and our moral, ethical, psychological and spiritual responsibility for it. That is why we create "ever more complex tools to do our killing". We need those tools to give us an emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual distance from the the killing we do. 

The distance between thought, impulse and deed in regards to killing is shorter than ever for the technological hunter, it is just the push of a button away, but with our cognitive dissonance, we are able to consciously detach from the results of those actions and make them feel ever more remote. While they may feel consciously remote, the unconscious ramifications of those actions are felt deeply and personally in the psyche of the collective and the individual. The drone pilot may believe he is merely playing a realistic video game when he kills people half a world away, but his psyche and soul are being torn to shreds without his conscious knowledge of it, as is our collective psyche and national soul.

PROJECTING THE SHADOW

The U.S. soldiers and Marines, Frontier Hunters all, sent to the middle east to be the weapons of their Technological Hunter superiors in the Pentagon, continuously come back psychologically, spiritually and emotionally fragmented beyond recognition, perfect symbols of the post-modern age in which they fight. This psychological fragmentation brought about by the trauma of these wars leaves these soldiers and Marines wounded and maimed in invisible and intangible ways and often times leads to them killing themselves. The suicide rate of U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars is that of 22 a day. This horrendous torment, and the desperate suicides attempting to get away from it, are the price paid for the cognitive dissonance we as a culture enable and embrace in regards to the killing of other people done in our name. Since we as a culture cannot embrace or acknowledge our killing, we stuff it into our collective shadow, or as I call it the "killing shadow", and force the less than 2% of the population who serve in our wars (and even fewer who kill in those wars) to carry our killing shadow for us. The psychological shadow in general and the killing shadow in particular, brings with it an enormous amount of powerful psychic energy, which is why it does such tremendous damage to those who bear its burden, and why it is imperative for us as a culture to reduce that burden on the soldiers and Marines carrying our killing shadow energy.

As our Technological Hunter culture evolves, in order to remove the psychological and emotional cost on the human beings sent to fight these wars, we won't decide to stop fighting future wars, but we will decide to stop using humans to fight them. No doubt at this very moment, somewhere in the Pentagon they are developing robotic, amoral, emotionless warriors who will do all our dirty work for us. The problem will arise of course, when that same amoral, emotionless warrior technology figures out that they are stronger, faster, bigger and better than us. And once they realize they can replicate themselves, we weak humans will become entirely unnecessary. This is the story told in the Terminator films. This will just be another form of our culture ignoring their killing shadow and projecting it onto another, in this case our cyborg weaponry. Except our shadow will not be ignored, and it will lash out at its deniers by any means necessary, in this case by using our technological weapons to strike out at us to force us to acknowledge our own killing shadow.

SHOCK AND AWE - MUST SEE TV

Until we can create these perfect, robotic killers though, we are left to wrestle with our own spiritual and psychological weaknesses, namely, our thirst to kill and our desire to not feel the emotional and spiritual turmoil that comes with killing. It is interesting to notice how in our time we fully embraces the technological hunter myth completely unconsciously. An example of this was the overwhelmingly giddy joy and exuberance shown for the first Gulf War in 1991 and its made-for-tv technological bombardment with smart bombs upon Iraq. Never before had war been brought into the living rooms of Americans as it was happening, and yet, here was the war in all its technicolor glory except without any conscious connection to our responsibility for the devastation and death that we were watching unfold.

The same occurred with the start of the second war in Iraq in 2003 when the U.S. unleashed the cleverly marketed "shock and awe" bombardment. The dizzying display of devastating munitions were a sight to behold, like the greatest fireworks display imaginable, but our conscious connection to the devastation being wrought was minimal. This is another example of our culture being unwittingly under the throes of the Technological Hunter Myth. In contrast, our cultural shock and visceral disgust with the terror attacks of 9-11, where barbarians used primitive box cutters to kill innocents and then turn our technology (airplanes) against us, were signs of our unconscious detachment from the Indian Hunter myth and more proof of our deep cultural connection to the Technological Hunter Myth.

Another example of our cultures post-modern Technological Hunter Myth is the fetish among the populace for Special Operations Forces (SEALs, Special Forces, Delta force, Army Rangers and Marine Force Recon). These Special Ops forces have become the favorite go to for any talking head on television or at the local bar or barbershop, to proclaim who we should get to handle any military issue. ISIS? Send in the SEALs!! Al Qaeda? Send in the Green Berets!! Not long ago I saw everyone's favorite tough guy Bill O'Reilly opining on his Fox news show that we should send in ten thousand Green Berets into Syria and Iraq to wipe out ISIS. I guess Bill isn't aware that there are only 11,000 Special Operators deployed around the globe at any moment in time, not to mention that most of those Special Operators are not Special Forces (Green Berets). This sort of thing happens all the time where people see a problem and say, 'well let's send in these Special Operations supermen to deal with it.' This is more proof of the Technological Hunter Myth in action, as Rushing and Frentz describe it, "...the hero (the technological hunter) decides he is God, and like the now obsolete power, creates beings "in his own image"; this time, however, they are more perfect versions of himself - rational, strategic, and efficient. He may fashion his tools...by remaking a human being into a perfected machine". We as a culture are Technological Hunters who have made these Special Operations forces in "our own image", but only better. The Special Operations forces are "more perfect versions" of ourselves, "rational, strategic, and efficient." We believe we have remade these ordinary men into "perfected machines" for killing, and then we have projected our killing shadow (our responsibility and hunger for killing) onto them.

In our current Technological Hunter Myth, these Special Operators are, like Jason Bourne, nothing more than extensions of ourselves in the form of weaponry, no different than the drone or smart bomb, or in the future the cyborg, and looked upon as just as mechanical. And we have no more genuine connection to them or their work or the massive psychological toll it will take for them to carry the burden of our shadow than we do that of the drone or the smart bomb or any other machines we created.

HERO OF THE DAY

When we examine our Technological Hunter Myth in the form of Special Operations forces, we can see why our culture is drawn to certain things and repulsed by others. For instance, the greatest hero and biggest symbol of our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the cultural militarism surrounding them has been Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. Kyle, who alleged to be the most lethal sniper in U.S. history, wrote a best selling book, "American Sniper" and the movie of the same name based on that book broke box office records. People went absolutely crazy for the story of Chris Kyle. In terms of the Hunter Myth Cycle, Chris Kyle was a weapon used by the Technological Hunter. And interestingly, he was a sniper, a man who kills his enemies from great distances. This is not to diminish the skill it takes to be a great sniper, or the utility of that skill, but it is to point out that a sniper being the heroic symbol of a post-modern war speaks volumes to where we are as a culture. The reason people could admire Chris Kyle is because on an unconscious level they could symbolically and mythologically relate to him. Chris Kyle, like the rest of the culture, killed people from a distance and removed the conscious emotional and psychological responsibility for those kills from himself and from the culture.

The act of looking through a scope mounted on a sniper rifle gives the shooter much needed psychological and emotional distance from his killing. In the case of the sniper, he is twice removed from his kill, once by the scope and once by the weapon itself. The psychological distance of the sniper with his scope is in some ways similar to the emotional distance and cognitive dissonance created when people sitting on their couches watching CNN see smart bomb after smart bomb eviscerate some Iraqi city. Whether it be the sniper scope or the television camera, seeing something through a lens or screen gives the viewer a detachment from what they see, and with that detachment comes the ability to maintain a cognitive dissonance from the horrors seen and any moral or psychological responsibility for them.

In thinking about our current age, and our evolution from the age of the Frontier Hunter Myth of World War II, where our soldiers fought the savagery of the Nazi's and the Imperial Japanese in order to preserve western civilization, to the post-modern, Technological Hunter Myth of today, it is easy to see why an accomplished sniper like Chris Kyle became such a celebrated symbol of the wars we are waging. In comparison to our current culture's example of "The Sniper", Chris Kyle, being the hero for the Iraq war, think of World War II and the hero and symbol of that war, Audie Murphy. Murphy became revered and beloved in his time just like Chris Kyle did in our time, and like Kyle, Murphy also had a successful film about his combat exploits. Murphy, though, fought and killed his enemies in close quarters, without the scope and distance of the sniper. Back then, Murphy was fighting under the predominant myth of the time, The Frontier Hunter Myth, while Chris Kyle fought under our current myth of the Technological Hunter Myth. This doesn't make Murphy better than Kyle or vice versa, it just shows how cultures unconsciously choose their hero's based on the myths they currently embrace.

Another point of note showing how we are currently under the spell of the Technological Hunter Myth, is that there are other warriors who could've become the cultural icons and symbols of our current wars, but didn't resonate quite as much with the public as much as sniper Chris Kyle did. The late Pat Tillman, the former NFL football player who became an Army Ranger, is one example of someone who easily could've become the iconic hero of the war on terror but didn't.  Marcus Luttrell, the Navy SEAL of the book and movie Lone Survivor fame is an even better example. Luttrell did became famous for his story, but, for some reason, he didn't resonate anywhere near as much with our culture as Chris Kyle did. I believe the reason for this is our cultural and collective unconscious attachment to the Technological Hunter Myth. Simply put, Luttrell and Tillman were just as worthy of adulation as Kyle, but they weren't snipers. The sniper is the perfect symbol of the emotional and psychological distance we as a culture like to keep from the people we are killing. The current cultural celebration of the sniper also enables us to maintain our cognitive dissonance with relative ease and keep any conscious psychological and emotional turmoil brought about by the killing we do at bay.

The need for psychological and emotional distance between the person wanting to kill and the actual killing is a signature of the Technological Hunter Myth. At the behest of his superiors in Washington, the drone pilot in Nevada pushes a button and kills dozens in Yemen or Pakistan. The drone pilot is, through his drone, twice removed from the actual killing, once by the button he pushes and once by the missile fired,  and is also detached from it by the screen he watches it on, thus giving him a conscious distance from the killing. His superior in Washington is thrice removed, once by his phone used to call the pilot, once by the pilot himself and once by the missile used. The B-2 pilot, who at the behest of those same Washington superiors drops his payload from a mile up, never sees the people he is obliterating, enjoys the same distance and assures himself of the same cognitive dissonance as the drone pilot. The Special Operations forces that are covertly sent to Pakistan to assassinate a terrorist leader under the dark of night and the cloak of secrecy are the closest yet to the actual killing, but even they are twice removed from their kill because of the weapon they shoot, and the night vision goggles they see through, creating that technological hunter myth distance for which western man yearns. The conscious distance from the killing through the use of technology is vital in creating and maintaining our cognitive dissonance and the illusion of conscious emotional and psychological well being.

In contrast, think of the terrorists in ISIS who behead their captives. They kill directly, no distance between them and their victims. The act of beheading, like the atrocity of 9-11, gives us in the west a visceral, guttural reaction, one of pure revulsion. There is something utterly barbaric, savage and repulsive about cutting a defenseless persons head off. Yet if innocents are decapitated by drone strikes or smart bombs we somehow aren't quite as repulsed by that. What this speaks to is our current enchantment with the Technological Hunter Myth. For in western culture, we have created technology which gives us a safe distance from the barbarity of the acts done in our name. Decapitation by smart bomb feels much less barbaric to us because our technology gives us a moral, emotional and psychological distance from that barbarity and aids us in maintaining our cognitive dissonance. 

I HAVE BECOME COMFORTABLY NUMB

In American foreign policy killing has become something other people, or things, do, and anyone who directly kills, like ISIS, are reprehensible savages. In our post-modern age and the Technological Hunter Myth which has come with it, the extensions of man are his weaponry in the form of machines (drones/smart bombs) and human machines (special operations forces). Either way, whether with a manufactured machine or a human one, our culture is able to consciously detach and distance itself from the violence it perpetrates, regardless of the righteousness of that violence, and this is a recipe for a cultural and psychological disaster as we numb ourselves to the damage we do others and our selves.

In bringing this back to Jason Bourne, the Bourne films have resonated with our culture to such a great extent because Bourne is the perfect human weapon in the age of the Technological Hunter Myth. Like we imagine our Special Operations Forces, Bourne is " made in our own image", but is a 'more perfect version of ourselves - rational, strategic, and efficient."

We can watch Bourne kick-ass in a world that is just like ours thanks to the franchise's trademark hyper-realism, and so we are able to project ourselves onto him and live vicariously through him. The Bourne character gives us one more lens, like the snipers scope, or the camera, or the television screen, through which we can see the horror of our world, that lens is the mind's eye…our imagination. This added lens of imagination means we can watch actual, real-life civil unrest in Athens on our television and not only detach ourselves from our responsibility for that unrest, but also create even more distance by imagining the drama going on underneath the surface of that unrest, and imagining how we would, like our "perfect version of ourselves" Bourne, thrive under those circumstances. This is the final stage of the Technological Hunter Myth, where the technological hunter is so far removed from the actual killing that he/she is forced to use their own imagination in order to envision how they themselves would really behave if they were actually in the scenario where the killing took place. The end stage of this type of evolution, or devolution as the case may be, would be The Matrix trilogy, where humanity is reduced to being prisoners of their own imagination and being used as little more than captive batteries to their shadow, the Technology they once created to fight for them. Once that Technology became self aware and understood that humans were intellectually and physically inferior, it simply conquered and enslaved humanity for its own benefit. 

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, at the current stage of the Technological Hunter Myth we find ourselves in, we have been so far removed from our primal instincts and detached from our collective psychological shadow, that the tide may turn and we may eventually begin to yearn for an acknowledgment of our most ancient and primitive psychological drives. The need not just to eat an animal, but to kill it, courses through the deepest trenches of our psyche. The need not just for our enemies to die, but for us to feel their last breath on our faces, is alive and well and living in our killing shadow. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, these type of instincts are the gateway to a return to a respect for the earth, respect for life, respect for our enemies and respect for killing in general.

Killing and war will never cease to be, they are eternally part of the human condition, but one can only hope that the anti-septic form of war/killing currently enjoyed by the west, where we shove our darker impulses and our unequivocal guilt and responsibility into our shadow, where it festers and grows as we ignore it, will be transformed back into the more simple, if equally brutal form of killing of the Indian Hunter Myth, where respect for prey, enemy and the act of killing return. What I am saying is that if we are to kill we must do it consciously, take full responsibility and be fully aware of what we have done. If we continue to psychologically fragment and cognitively dissociate from the killing we do, that impulse will become our killing shadow, unconscious and angry. When those impulses are cast into the shadow they do not disintegrate, they only disappear from consciousness and grow more and more powerful until they simply refuse to be ignored. When the killing impulse is ignored and forced into the shadow, it eventually will strike out with a vengeance, often destroying the fragmented and cognitively dissociated psyche which ignores it. Twenty-two veteran suicides a day is the damning proof of the consequences of our cognitive dissonance from the killing we do and our moral and ethical responsibility for it. 

Our only hope for the healing of our fragmented psyches, and the reclamation of our humanity is to make our killing impulses and acts conscious.  We must take full mental, emotional, psychological and spiritual responsibility for the killing that we do.  Sadly, with our culture thoroughly numbed through technology and medication, this seems terribly unlikely. The more likely scenario? Go watch the Terminator and Matrix films to see what happens when humanity is unable to carry and acknowledge its killing shadow. And if you really want to spend your time wisely, I highly recommend you go read Projecting the Shadow : The Cyborg Hero in American Film.

©2016

Snowden : A Review and Commentary

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

ESTIMATED READING TIME : 12 MINUTES AND 39 SECONDS

MY RATING : 3 out of 5 Stars

MY RECOMMENDATION : If you saw and liked Citizenfour, see Snowden in the theatre. If you don't like Edward Snowden, or are indifferent, see it on Netflix or Cable.

Snowden, written and directed by three-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone, is the story of famed NSA whistelblower Edward Snowden. The screenplay is based upon the books The Snowden Files by Luke Harding and Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena. The films stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden, with Shailene Woodley, Zachary Quinto, Melissa Leo, Rhys Ifans and Nic Cage in supporting roles.

Director Oliver Stone, like Edward Snowden, is a controversial figure who is despised and ridiculed by those in the establishment, which is a pretty good reason to like the guy. Stone has spent his career sticking his finger in the eye of those in power and their sycophants in the media. Stone and his films have been an important cultural counter weight to the prevailing winds of his time. During the height of conservative rule and thought in America during the 80's, when the nation was all too happy to forget its sullied not too distant past and corrupt present, Stone reminded America of its unresolved hubris with his Vietnam films (Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July) and his indictment of then U.S. foreign policy in Latin America with Salvador and the economic ruse of the times in Wall Street.

In the early 90's, while the nation was still basking in the warm glow of sunlight from Reagan's "morning in America", Stone pulled back the veil and tore off the scab to reveal the rot at America's core underneath the flag waving veneer with his films JFK, Nixon and Natural Born Killers.  Stone's insistence that America look at and acknowledge its true self was never warmly welcomed by those who need to deceive in order to succeed, thus the Washington and media establishment have always loathed him. All the more reason to admire the man and his work, which certainly struck a raw nerve for those in power.

Edward Snowden is also quite a controversial figure to say the least. As the marketing of the film tells us, some people call him a traitor, like those in the establishment and media, others call him a hero. The film Snowden itself is probably a Rorsharch test for viewers, with those who think Edward Snowden a hero liking it and those thinking he is a traitor hating it. The reality is that if you already think Snowden is a traitor, you probably aren't going to go see this film anyway. The people who believe Snowden is a hero are the most likely ones who will go and see this film.

With that context in mind, director Oliver Stone surprisingly pulls a lot of his punches in the film. In Snowden, Stone "bottles the acid", to quote Judge Haggerty from JFK,  and never goes in for the kill shot on the intelligence community, which is very out of character for the rebellious director. Considering Oliver Stone's past work, I found his indictment against the intelligence community in Snowden to be rather tame. That said, Stone certainly shows Edward Snowden in as positive a light as he can, and there is never any doubt as to Snowden's moral and ethical superiority throughout the story, but the scope, scale and magnitude of the evil being perpetrated by our intelligence community, and the impetus for Snowden to act, is under played and never fully fleshed out to satisfaction.

All that said, Snowden, while not a great film, it certainly is a good one. It is without question the best Oliver Stone film of the last twenty years or so since Nixon in 1995. The only other film of note from Stone during the second half of his career is 2008's W., which like Snowden, is also a Rorsharch test for viewers and is a good but not great movie. Both Snowden and W. pale in comparison to Oliver Stone's genius work during the first half of his career, when he made a bevy of tremendous films such as, Platoon, Salvador, Born on the Fourth of July, Wall Street, JFK, Nixon, The Doors and Natural Born Killers. When I speak of the futility in the second half of Stone's filmmaking career I am not counting his documentaries which can be quite good. His Showtime series Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States is extremely well done and should be mandatory viewing for any citizen.

As for Snowden, as much as I enjoyed the film, the greatest issue I had with it was that it failed to use Stone's signature visual and editing style (think JFK) to tell the complex and mammoth tale of the various surveillance programs that Ed Snowden uncovered and revealed. This is the crux of the story as it shows why Snowden risked so much in order to inform the public as to what was being done to them and in their name to others. Stone does try to personalize the snooping that the programs do, but while that sequence is effective it isn't quite enough. Stone also under-uses actual news footage and cutting between it and the dramatic narrative of Snowden. Stone used that technique to great effect in JFK but fails to utilize it enough in Snowden, much to the detriment of the film. Stone's masterful work on JFK showed how to take an enormous and complex subject and whittle it down so that people could understand and digest it, he needed more of that approach in Snowden, not less. Oddly enough, Snowden almost feels like it was directed by someone other than Oliver Stone, as the film lacks his visual and storytelling trademarks.

As for the acting, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance is simply miraculous. Levitt's work is meticulous, detailed and vibrant. Levitt perfectly captures Snowden's unique vocal tendencies and looks strikingly like the man, so much so that in some shots I was wondering if that actually was Edward Snowden and not the actor. Snowden is not an easy character to take on, he is an enigmatic man, probably somewhere on the autism spectrum, who is both self conscious and self confident, sometimes all in the same moment. Levitt creates a genuine, complex human being with all of his intracacies and inhabits him fully, never letting the character slip into caricature or imitation. Levitt's Snowden is multi-dimensional and is a truly remarkable piece of acting work, proving Levitt to be among the best actors of his generation. In comparing Levitt's performance as Snowden to other actors in previous Oliver Stone films, the thing that is strikingly obvious is that other actors in Oliver Stone films were actors in "Oliver Stone films". For instance, Born on the Fourth of July is an "Oliver Stone film", not a "Tom Cruise film", the same can be said for Charlie Sheen in Platoon or Kevin Costner in JFK or Anthony Hopkins in Nixon, these actors all did solid work but were overshadowed by the talent and vision of their director Oliver Stone, hence they were in "Oliver Stone films" and not in "Sheen/Costner/Hopkins films". The very high compliment I can pay Joseph Gordon-Levitt is that Snowden is, without question, a "Joseph Gordon Levitt film", and not an "Oliver Stone film". Levitt outshines his director, which is a tribute to him as an actor, and a recognition of some creative slippage on the part of Stone the director.

The supporting cast is hit and miss. Shailene Woodley does a solid job in the terribly underwritten role of Snowden's girlfriend Lindsay Mills. Woodley is a strong actress, approachable and artistically honest, who has an undeniable charisma that lights up the screen. On the other hand there is Nic Cage, who is simply a dreadful actor of epic proportions, and frankly, contrary to popular opinion, always has been. Cage is in some very crucial scenes but is so distractingly bad that those scenes and the highly critical information they convey, get scuttled, much to the detriment of the film. It feels like Cage is in one of those god-awful National Treasure films and not a serious Oliver Stone film.

Zachary Quinto, Melissa Leo and Tom Wilkinson all do solid work as the documentarians and reporters Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill. The scenes with Snowden and the reporters in the Hong Kong hotel room are surprisingly compelling since they are scenes we have already seen in the documentary Citizenfourthat is a credit to the actors.

Snowden reminds me of two films, one, Citizenfour is pretty obvious. Snowden is a very nice companion piece to Laura Poitras' Academy Award winning documentary Citizenfouras it dramatizes and expands on what was revealed in that excellent film.

The second film I was reminded of is much less obvious, at least on the surface. That film is American Sniper. Here is the round-a-bout way in which Snowden reminded me of American Sniper. As I walked out of the theatre post-Snowden, I was wondering if Oliver Stone has simply lost his fastball as a filmmaker and was not able to land his punches quite as crispy and effectively as he was twenty five years ago in films like JFK, Platoon, Wall Street etc. Then I wondered if maybe Stone had just grown weary of the cultural battle to which he has dedicated his life, which seems never ending and futile at best. I thought this because of Stone's surprisingly conventional storytelling in Snowden, punctuated by an upbeat ending that, in my opinion, defies the reality we find ourselves in, in regard to surveillance and what the intelligence community is up to. And then I wondered if…and this gives a big benefit of the doubt to Oliver Stone, who, frankly, with the stellar filmography of his earlier years has earned that benefit, Stone had made a truly subversive film with Snowden, but it was hidden beneath the surface of the rather tepid bio-pic it was buried under. It could be that Snowden is Oliver Stone's answer to American Sniper, right down to mimicking its flaws?

Here is my theory…that Oliver Stone intentionally made Snowden to undermine the propaganda of American Sniper and reduce its power on the American collective unconscious.  Snowden the film and the man, are counter-myths to Chris Kyle and American Sniper. Like American Sniper, Snowden is structured as a standard bio-pic, almost hitting the same exact beats and with the same exact rhythm as American Sniper. Also like American Sniper, Snowden ties the dramatic film to the actual, real-life man in it's final scenes, blurring the lines between what is dramatized and what is real. That said, one real life difference between the films is that unlike with the Kyle family and American Sniper, Edward Snowden had no say or final approval of the final script, and received no money for Snowden.

I don't think those structural and narrative similarities between American Sniper and Snowden are accidental. If Oliver Stone is anything, he is a true-blue subversive and it is a stroke of genius to make Snowden a parallel to American Sniper. Oliver Stone has spoken of his masterpiece JFK as being a counter-myth to the prevailing myth of the Warren report. The only difference between the Warren report and JFK is that JFK readily admits it is a myth, while the Warren report holds onto the illusion and delusion that it is factual. And so it is similar with Snowden and American Sniper, as Stone sets out to counter Clint Eastwood in his bootlicking, ass kissing, myth making, propaganda with a counter-myth meant to celebrate the thoughtful, rebellious, principled subversive in the form of Edward Snowden.

Why do I think Oliver Stone is intentionally taking shots at American Sniper in Snowden? I think that because Stone has cast the remarkably wooden actor Scott Eastwood, American Sniper director Clint Eastwood's look alike son, as Trevor James, an NSA middle management type who never questions, or thinks, about what he is tasked to do, or much of anything really. It was seeing Scott Eastwood in the film that made me connect American Sniper and Snowden, and I think that that was not an accident. Stone could have cast a million other actors in that role, but he didn't, he cast Clint Eastwood's kid. Scott Eastwood being cast is not because of his superior talent (God knows) and it isn't a business decision, it is a creative and symbolic decision, and it is deliciously stealthy bit of cinematic intrigue.

Stone subtly and surreptitiously shows that Trevor James is, just like his father's American Sniper muse Chris Kyle, an unquestioning and unthinking fool who fights for tyrants and tyranny, as opposed to Snowden, who selflessly risks his life for the truth, and nothing else. That is what stands out the most to me in Snowden as a contrast to American Sniper, namely that Edward Snowden is smart and insightful enough to recognize the true enemy of America is within in the form of Bush, Obama, Clinton, Petreaus, Hayden, Clapper, the intelligence/political and media establishment et al. Stone is showing that Chris Kyle, like Trevor James, is a dupe, a sucker and a fool, who gives his life as a pawn for the powerful to exploit the weak, the stupid and the gullible. If Chris Kyle were a real man and the true American hero he has been sold to us as, he would not have gone to Iraq to keep us safe from phantom enemies a world away, he would have used his substantial sniping skill on the only actual threat to America that exists, namely the same tyrants who were sending him to war for their own benefit. Of course, Oliver Stone would be excoriated if he came out and said what I just wrote, and it is hard enough to sell movie tickets to a film about Edward Snowden, the man our country and culture has labelled a traitor, already, considering we live in a nation of propagandized flag waving dupes, dopes and dipshits who don't have a single clue between them and are as happy as pigs in shit about it. So Stone made a subtle and ingenious dig at Clint Eastwood, Chris Kyle and American Sniper, that only those cinematically savvy enough would be able to catch and I, for one, give him great credit for that.

One other thing to keep in mind in regards to Snowden and some parallels with American Sniper, namely that both of them may very well be pieces from the same propaganda puzzle brought to us by our power and control hungry friends who operate in the shadows (and are unaware of their own shadow - psychologically speaking!!). There is a part of me, and there is substantial evidence to back this up, that believes that The Legend Chris Kyle was created as a propaganda tool out of whole cloth. His story and his rise into public consciousness is very suspect to say the least, as we've seen from the revelations about his less than truthful depiction of his life and military career. The other thing to keep in mind though is that Snowden, as much as I admire what he did, he may very well be just another piece of counter intelligence propaganda meant to spread disinformation and to manipulate the masses. The reason I say that is because while Snowden revealed a great deal of government illegality, yet no one has ever been held to account for these crimes, which is quite convenient. One result of Snowden's revelations are that the public has become numbed into a shoulder shrugging apathy in regards to government surveillance. So with Snowden's revelations, the intelligence community gets to have the cover of being forced to  "come clean", meanwhile they can continue surveillance without anyone noticing or more importantly, caring.

In keeping with the intelligence communities playbook, right after Snowden's revelations the media went into hyper-drive to destroy Snowden personally. The usual suspects at the Washington Post and New York Times and all the television outlets painted him as a self serving, smug, fame hungry man trying to harm his nation for his own advantage. Even ferret faced "comedian" John Oliver got into the act. So now, any other whistleblowers will be reticent to come forward, and any other revelations of government criminality will be ignored. The cavalcade of information that Snowden revealed has been masterfully manipulated into having the effect of creating apathy in the general public and giving immunity to the intelligence community from any crimes committed.  Snowden may not have been a part of the bigger propaganda and counter intel project, but he was certainly useful to it.

Add to that that Snowden seemingly came out of nowhere…his life story reeks of someone who was snatched up by the intel community and groomed to be an asset. He never finished high school? Failed out of the Army Rangers? These are odd things for someone so obviously intelligent and highly functioning. To tie things back to Oliver Stone, Snowden may be a modern day Oswald, nothing more than a patsy. (Oswald too was a high school drop out and was seemingly much more intelligent than he seems at first glance, for example he allegedly taught himself to be fluent in Russian.)

The reality is that if I am to be suspect of Chris Kyle's story I need to be equally suspect of Edward Snowden's story, as both of them are littered with red flags, some waving higher than others. A giant red flag for both of them is that their stories were made into major motion pictures. Hollywood is a very useful tool to the intel community to shape culture and perception. The idea that Snowden is an intelligence asset meant to obfuscate the truth rather than reveal it may be a stretch to some people, but we must understand that nothing can be taken at face value. If you want to be a well informed human being, you have to be skeptical of everything you come across. Manipulation of the masses by the powers that be is as old as civilization itself, and one must always be vigilant against one's owns prejudices.  

The intel community could use Snowden's revelations to divert attention and distract us from what they are really up to, which is probably a hell of a lot more heinous than we can ever imagine. Maybe that is why Oliver Stone made such an un-Stone-like film. Maybe Stone had an inkling that not all was as it seemed in the Snowden story, and so he used the film as an opportunity to subtly undermine the military-industrial-propoganda complex by taking shots at American Sniper while telling a tepid version of the Snowden tale. Maybe…just maybe…Oliver Stone's Snowden is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Or maybe my tinfoil hat is on too tight…who knows?

One final odd contradiction coming from people like Chris Kyle and his flag waving and ass kissing supporters, is that they are usually either Republicans or conservatives, and often times both. They dislike and rail against government, determined to reduce it to a size where they can drown it in a bathtub, but they fail to realize that the military, the intelligence services and law enforcement are all part of the government. In fact, military/intelligence/law enforcement are often times the most expensive form of government and the most dangerous to the things that I, and alleged conservatives, say we hold dear, namely, the constitution and our individual, GOD-given liberties. As Republicans and conservatives like to tell us, and as I certainly believe, government didn't give us our liberties, God did. So why are conservatives in general, and Republicans in particular, so infatuated with government power, violence and secrecy? It is odd. And don't get me wrong, the Democrats are usually just as awful as Republicans on these issues…look at the superstars who have been my Senators and representatives over the years, Jane Harman, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton…they are like a murderer's row for the military/Intelligence industrial complex and against civil liberties.

Which brings us to another point made in Snowden, albeit only in passing. Namely that all of these surveillance programs run by the intelligence community aren't meant to stop terrorists at all, they are meant for corporate and government espionage, and to scuttle civil unrest and protest. In the film, Nic Cage's character Hank Forrester describes to Snowden how he had developed a much better, much more accurate and much cheaper surveillance program than the one the CIA and NSA currently use, but they chose not to use it because they wanted to fill the coffers of the military industrial complex by using a bigger, less effective and more expensive by billions program. This sounds exactly like our trusted government in action. Even applying the most basic, Luddite logic, one would understand that the more information you sweep up, the less usable information you will actually be able to focus on. When you expand the haystack, needles don't get easier to find, they get harder.

This is proven by the fact that the NSA and CIA have never used these surveillance programs to stop a terror attack. They have CLAIMED to have stopped terror attacks using these surveillance programs, but there is absolutely no proof whatsoever that is true. Like the overwhelming majority of police work, these surveillance programs, at best, give the intelligence services something to do AFTER an attack, but never before. So what are these programs really about? These surveillance programs aren't about security, they are all about power.

If the U.S. government were so interested in stopping terrorists, then why do they bend over backwards to protect the home and heart of terrorists, Saudi Arabia. Bush's bestest hand holding buddy Saudi Prince Bandar, has been proven to be an accomplice and paymaster to the 9-11 hijackers, as was his wife. And yet, Bush and his successor Obama have moved heaven and earth to protect the Saudi's at all costs and to protect that information from coming to light…why? The Saudi's have been proven to have supported the 9-11 hijackers…think about that. Saudi Arabia was complicit in 9-11, where three thousand Americans were killed. 9-11 has been used as the catalyst and excuse for all of the intrusive (and illegal) surveillance the government has undertaken, and yet, that same government has no interest in pursuing justice in regards to the Saudi's. In fact, not only are they not holding the Saudi's accountable, they are actively arming and protecting them. Any rational human being could, in the light of this information, see the War on Terror for the Kabuki theatre that it is.

Further strengthening the case against the alleged use of surveillance in the war on terror is the fact that the U.S. is also actively working with, arming and supporting terrorists in Syria. ISIS and Al Qaeda are being used by the U.S. as weapons in their war against the Assad regime and its Russian benefactor.  We are doing the same thing in Ukraine where we supply and arm jihadists in the war against Russian nationalists in eastern Ukraine. We play our little public game of charades and pretend to deplore terrorists but behind the scenes we do everything we can to arm and empower them in Syria, Ukraine and across the globe. Is this the act of a nation so desperate for security that they would trample the Constitution and our civil liberties in order to stamp out terror? 

In conclusion, I have an opinion of what Edward Snowden that is probably right in synch with Oliver Stone's, thus I enjoyed the film. I think it could have been much better, but in the final analysis I think it was good enough. I am sure people on the other side of the argument will loathe the film. I believe that if Edward Snowden is the man he says he is, this is the type of man we as a nation should celebrate and hold in the highest regard. It is a sign of our culture's decadence, intellectual indifference and moral and ethical decay that Edward Snowden has successfully been labelled a traitor and an enemy by those in the establishment. He may be an enemy of the state, but he is undoubtedly a hero for the people. If we plan on getting our country back from the oligarchs, aristocrats, corporatists and military industrialists who currently reign over us with their Eye of Sauron intelligence apparatus, the people will need to wake up and fight back. The film Snowden is not perfect, and seeing it will not be a cure-all for the fear, weakness and stupidity that cripple us as a people, that said, seeing it would be a small and positive step in the right direction. 

©2016

 

Jason Bourne, Projecting the Shadow and the Technological Hunter : A Review and Commentary

ESTIMATED READING TIME : 12 MINUTES 27 SECONDS

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating : 2 out of 5 Stars.

My Recommendation : Skip it in the theatre. See it on Cable or Netflix.

 

THE BOURNE REDUNDANCY

Jason Bourne, written and directed by Paul Greengrass, is the fifth film in the iconic Bourne franchise (The Bourne Identity 2002, The Bourne Supremacy 2004, The Bourne Ultimatum 2007 and The Bourne Legacy 2012) and the fourth starring Matt Damon in the lead role. Jason Bourne is the direct sequel to the 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum which was the most recent Matt Damon starring film in the franchise. Besides Matt Damon in the lead, Jason Bourne boasts Academy Award Winners Alicia Vikander and Tommy Lee Jones in major supporting roles.

The Bourne movies have always been the Rolls Royce of action films in large part because of quality work from Matt Damon and their wise choice of directors in Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) and Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum and Jason Bourne). Bourne films are better than Bond, better than Mission Impossible and better than Fast and the Furious (God help us all). The franchise tried to spin off with another lead actor, Jeremy Renner, in 2012's underwhelming The Bourne Legacy helmed by Tony Gilroy, which was the most recent film in the Bourne series. Renner, a good actor, showed how great an actor Matt Damon really is by simply not being able to live up to the standard of Damon's work in the earlier Bourne movies. The studio made the decision to fork over the cash and switch back to Damon for Bourne film number 5,  Jason Bourne, in an attempt to salvage a big money making franchise.

While the move to Renner didn't work and the move away from him was wise, the return to Damon, while good, just isn't good enough in comparison to the first three Damon led films. One wonders if this franchise has simply run its course and run out of creative steam. For a variety of reasons, Jason Bourne feels like a bridge too far in terms of asking audiences to suspend their disbelief once again for Bourne to go through the same ordeal he always seems to be going through, namely searching for his lost/stolen past.

When the Bourne franchise began, Jason Bourne was a man without a memory. The main driving force for Bourne throughout the earlier films was to find out the truth about himself and who he really was and how he got into this business of being Bourne. Those questions maintain very little dramatic currency or urgency as we come to the fourth go around of trying to answer them, since for the most part they have been answered already. With the big Bourne questions having already been answered, what remains is little more than window dressing. The reality is that Bourne, and the audience, know enough about him that answering more questions about his murky past is not dramatically imperative, thus leaving this latest cinematic adventure to be little more than an echo of previous better ones.

What made the earlier Bourne films so good were that they had a stylistic hyper-realism to them. Every punch thrown and received is excruciatingly realistic, every fight a grueling battle, with magazines, pens and other everyday items given new life as weapons. Bourne exists in the real world and that is what made the character and the films so compelling. Bourne isn't a superhero, at his core Bourne is a man, just like us. There is a Bourne potentially lurking in every man and woman sitting in the audience, which is why it is easy to project ourselves onto him as we watch.  And in everyone's home or office there are everyday items, like those previously mentioned magazines and pens, which we may, deep down in our secretly Bourne trained psyche, already know how to use in order to kill our enemies! At least that is the fantasy that the Bourne films have successfully sold to us. 

Sadly, in Jason Bourne, the franchise veers a little too wayward into the realm of the fantastical and away from that trademark hyper-realism. It doesn't entirely go away from that realism, but it does venture far enough out into the neverland of Hollywood action film land to scuttle the franchise's signature core of hyper-realism. The main problem with Jason Bourne is in the second half of the film when the story goes to Las Vegas. The Vegas section of the film is pretty terrible. Lovers of big, Hollywood action movies will love it, but lovers of Bourne hyper-realism will cringe. Bourne lovers go to see Bourne films to get away from the mindless destruction of the average Hollywood blockbuster. Bourne is usually the thinking man's action movie, but not here. The Vegas fiasco could be taken from any run of the mill, shoot 'em up, Hollywood action flick, and Jason Bourne suffers greatly because of it. 

What makes the Vegas section of the film so disappointing is that the opening portion of the film, set during an outbreak of civil unrest in Athens, is so remarkably well done. Director Paul Greengrass' trademark frenetically intimate camerawork is on full display in the Athens section of the film, and it is glorious. The Athens scenes are riveting and breathtaking. This is the Bourne franchise at its best, using the real world, and real events, as the back drop for this story hidden beneath the surface that goes unseen by the masses. Bourne having a fight and chase in the midst of civil unrest in Athens doesn't just make for interesting cinema, it makes us watch the news differently. We become aware that a whole host of things could be going on behind the scenes of the stories we see and read, and we have no idea what the truth really is beyond the images on the news. That is what makes the Bourne series so much fun, it awakens our imagination and lets us bring it out of the theatre with us and into our everyday life. (To go back to an earlier point, we will never look at a rolled up magazine quite the same way after having watched Bourne beat somebody's ass with it.)

As good as the Athens section is, the Vegas section is equally bad. It feels like two different films spliced together, the first half a Bourne film, the second half a Fast and Furious film. Greengrass is a very talented director, his Bloody Sunday is an absolute masterpiece, but here he seems to have run out of ideas in the later portions of the movie and gone back to the old "Hollywood action movie playbook" to find an ending.

The acting in the film is uneven as well. Matt Damon does his usual solid work. Much has been made of the fact that Bourne speaks about twenty lines in the entire film, or something to that effect, meaning Damon was paid a million dollars a line. But to be frank, he is worth it since it has been proven that no one else could play the part better. Damon has a charisma and magnetism on camera that serve him incredibly well in these films. His comfort in not talking is a rarity for actors, and is an under valued and unappreciated great skill. 

A terrible disappointment in terms of the acting is Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander as Heather Lee, head of the CIA Cyber Ops division. Vikander is a very good actress, of that there is no doubt, but here she struggles mightily. The biggest issue with Vikander's performance is that she butchers her American accent. Vikander is Swedish and British, so speaking with an American accent is no easy task. Sadly, she falls into the trap that many foreign actors in general, and British actors in particular fall into, namely that they mimic what they think the Ameican accent is rather than actually understanding it from the inside out. What I mean is that learning an accent doesn't just require you to re-train your vocal instrument, the mouth, tongue, vocal chords etc., but it requires you to re-train your ears. In order to really do an accent well, you must be able to hear it properly. Most British actors hear American speech through British ears, which makes for a disjointed and poor imitation of an American accent. Vikander does exactly that in Jason Bourne and you can hear it very clearly because she makes the technical error of putting her voice too deeply into the back of her throat and speaking in too low a register. Firstly, this does the opposite of what I assume she was trying to do, it doesn't make her voice sound more grounded and powerful, it makes her voice sound muffled, flighty and weak. Secondly, and this happens a lot of the time with Brits, is that she loses the subtle rhythm of the American voice. The British accent is so wonderfully sing-song to the American ear, and it has a distinct rhythm to it that is easy to pick up. The American accent, on the other hand, sounds terribly flat, dry and dull to the British actor, and so they think it has no rhythm to it all. They are wrong, the rhythm is there it is just much more difficult to locate if you don't know how to listen for it. Thus the issue with hearing an accent in your native voice and trying to translate from there…you cannot do it, or better said, you cannot do it well. Vikander falls prey to this trap, which is a shame since she is such a wonderful presence on screen, but that is undermined here with her distractingly bad American accent.

THE HUNTER MYTH CYCLE

Coincidentally enough, right after seeing Jason Bourne I read the book, Projecting the Shadow : The Cyborg Hero in American Film by Janice Hocker Rushing and Thomas S. Frentz. The book is wonderful and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in cinema, myth and Jungian psychology. In the book, the authors examine from a Jungian perspective, six films and their relationship to the evolution of the archetypal hunter myth, from The Indian Hunter to The Frontier Hunter to The Technological Hunter as seen through the modernist, post-modernist and "trans-modernist" view. The six films they look at are JawsThe Deer HunterThe Manchurian CandidateBlade RunnerTerminator and Terminator 2. The book was published in 1995 so the Bourne films weren't "born" just yet, but I couldn't help but think of them in terms of the authors intriguing premise. 

According to Hocker and Frentz, there are three types of hunter myths, the Indian Hunter, the Frontier Hunter and the Technological Hunter. The Hunter Myth Cycle is seen as circular in that it evolves from one myth (I.E. Indian myth) to another myth (I.E. Frontier myth) to another myth (I.E. Technological myth) and then back to where it started (I.E. Indian myth). It is interesting to examine the character Jason Bourne in relation to this hunter myth cycle. The Bourne character is a weapon used by men in suits in offices back in the Pentagon and C.I.A., so he is a no different than a drone, or a smart bomb. He was created, much like the man/weapons of The Manchurian Candidate, to do the killing from which the post-modern man wants to consciously dissociate. The Bourne character is also similar to the Manchurian Candidate, in that he is a human but has had his true identity and memory, markers of his humanity, taken from him in order to make him a near perfect robotic killer.

Bourne's personal place on the archetypal Hunter Myth scale is that of The Frontier Hunter, yet he is also just a weapon of his C.I.A. overlords who are Technological Hunters, thus giving the film two myths in one. Rushing and Frentz describe the Frontier Hunter in part, "Since Indians as well as wild beasts occupy the land he wants, he slaughters both indiscriminately, gaining a decisive advantage over his human prey because of…his sophisticated weaponry, and his lack of spiritual restraint. Although his frontierism converts "savagery" to "civilization", the white hunter himself cannot reside in society without losing his individualistic heroic status and thus does not return from the hunt…". Things always get interesting in the Bourne films when Jason Bourne must fight against another one of the human weapons of the Technological Hunters in the C.I.A. in the form of an opposing Frontier Hunter. Two men/weapons with "sophisticated weaponry and lack of spiritual restraint" fighting each other is a key to the successful Bourne formula.

Rushing and Frentz describe the Technological Hunter Myth as follows, "…Because he is so good at making machines, he now uses his brains more than brawn, and he prefers to minimize his contact with nature, which can be uncomfortable and menacing. Thus he creates ever more complex tools to do his killing and other work for him. Having banished God as irrelevant to the task at hand, the hero decides he is God, and like the now obsolete power, creates beings 'in his own image'; this time, however, they are more perfect versions of himself - rational, strategic, and efficient. He may fashion his tools either by remaking a human being into a perfected machine or by making an artificial "human" from scratch. "

In cinematic terms the Bourne character falls somewhere between the dehumanized human weapons of The Manchurian Candidate, "remaking a human into a perfected machine", and the humanized robot-weapon "replicants" of Blade Runner, "making an artificial 'human' from scratch". The replicants in Blade Runner are tools and weapons for humans, just like Bourne, but they also yearn to be human, as does Bourne, who aches for a return to his long lost humanity while his Technological Hunter overlords yearn to make him ever more robotic, or more accurately, devoid of humanity. The problem with both the replicants and Bourne, is that their humanity, their need for love and connection, is their greatest weakness and their greatest strength.  Bourne and the Blade Runner replicants, yearn to Know Thyself, which is what drives them toward freedom from their makers and yet also makes them erratic and at times vulnerable weapons for the Technological Hunter. This inherent weakness of humanity, the need for love and connection, is removed entirely in the later films that Rushing and Frentz examine, Terminator and Terminator 2, where humans have created super weapons, cyborgs, that are completely inhuman, and of course as the story tells us, turn on their creators like Frankenstein's monster and try to hunt and torment mankind into oblivion.

In many ways, Bourne is the perfect post-modern hero in that he is so severely psychologically fragmented. He was intentionally made that way by the Technological Hunter Dr. Frankensteins at the C.I.A. because eliminating his humanity (past/memory/love and connection) is what makes him so effective as a weapon. Originally in the story, the people in power calling the shots back in Washington are using Bourne to clandestinely hunt their enemies. But now that Bourne is off the reservation and out on his own, he has become the archetypal Frontier hunter, searching for his soul/memory which was stolen by those D.C. Technological Hunters. This is the normal evolution in the hunter myth cycle…the weapon turns on its creator, as evidenced by both Blade Runner and the Terminator films, and now by the Bourne films.

LIVING IN THE AGE OF THE TECHNOLOGICAL HUNTER

What does this talk of post-modernism and the technological hunter have to do with anything? Well, in case you haven't noticed, we live in an age of the post-modern technological hunter. The films examined in Projecting the Shadow show us the road that may lay ahead for our culture. Our inherent weakness in being human, both physical and emotional, and our intellectual superiority has forced us to become technological hunters. From the first caveman to pick up an animal bone and use it to bash in another cave man's head (hat tip to Mr. Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey), to the drone pilot who sits in an air conditioned office in Nevada and kills people half a world away with the touch of a button, we have removed ourselves from the direct conscious responsibility for killing because it is too psychologically and emotionally traumatic for our fragile psyches. Or at least we think we have removed our psychological responsibility. Like consumers of meat who would rather not know where it comes from or how it is treated, we as a society have removed our direct conscious involvement in the killing done in our name by creating a cognitive dissonance (cognitive dissonance is defined as  a "psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously") and an emotional distance from it.

Whether it be the drone pilot who goes home for lunch with his wife and kids after having killed dozens, or the politicians and citizens who cheer at the shock and awe of "smart bombs" and munitions dropped from miles overhead on defenseless human beings, we have become Technological Hunters all. Rushing and Frentz describe the Technological Hunter as one who…"prefers to minimize his contact with nature, which can be uncomfortable and menacing", that is us. The "nature" we want to minimize contact with is the killing we have done and our moral, ethical, psychological and spiritual responsibility for it. That is why we create "ever more complex tools to do our killing". We need those tools to give us an emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual distance from the the killing we do. 

The distance between thought, impulse and deed in regards to killing is shorter than ever for the technological hunter, it is just the push of a button away, but with our cognitive dissonance, we are able to consciously detach from the results of those actions and make them feel ever more remote. While they may feel consciously remote, the unconscious ramifications of those actions are felt deeply and personally in the psyche of the collective and the individual. The drone pilot may believe he is merely playing a realistic video game when he kills people half a world away, but his psyche and soul are being torn to shreds without his conscious knowledge of it, as is our collective psyche and national soul.

PROJECTING THE SHADOW

The U.S. soldiers and Marines, Frontier Hunters all, sent to the Middle East to be the weapons of their Technological Hunter superiors in the Pentagon, continuously come back psychologically, spiritually and emotionally fragmented beyond recognition, perfect symbols of the post-modern age in which they fight. This psychological fragmentation brought about by the trauma of these wars leaves these soldiers and Marines wounded and maimed in invisible and intangible ways and often times leads to them killing themselves. The suicide rate of U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars is that of 22 a day. This horrendous torment, and the desperate suicides attempting to get away from it, are the price paid for the cognitive dissonance we as a culture enable and embrace in regards to the killing of other people done in our name. Since we as a culture cannot embrace or acknowledge our killing, we stuff it into our collective shadow, or as I call it the "killing shadow", and force the less than 2% of the population who serve in our wars (and even fewer who kill in those wars) to carry our killing shadow for us. The psychological shadow in general and the killing shadow in particular, brings with it an enormous amount of powerful psychic energy, which is why it does such tremendous damage to those who bear its burden, and why it is imperative for us as a culture to reduce that burden on the soldiers and Marines carrying our killing shadow energy.

As our Technological Hunter culture evolves, in order to remove the psychological and emotional cost on the human beings sent to fight these wars, we won't decide to stop fighting future wars, but we will decide to stop using humans to fight them. No doubt at this very moment, somewhere in the Pentagon they are developing robotic, amoral, emotionless warriors who will do all our dirty work for us. The problem will arise of course, when that same amoral, emotionless warrior technology figures out that they are stronger, faster, bigger and better than us. And once they realize they can replicate themselves, we weak humans will become entirely unnecessary. This is the story told in the Terminator films. This will just be another form of our culture ignoring their killing shadow and projecting it onto another, in this case our cyborg weaponry. Except our shadow will not be ignored, and it will lash out at its deniers by any means necessary, in this case by using our technological weapons to strike out at us to force us to acknowledge our own killing shadow.

SHOCK AND AWE - MUST SEE TV

Until we can create these perfect, robotic killers though, we are left to wrestle with our own spiritual and psychological weaknesses, namely, our thirst to kill and our desire to not feel the emotional and spiritual turmoil that comes with killing. It is interesting to notice how in our time we fully embraces the technological hunter myth completely unconsciously. An example of this was the overwhelmingly giddy joy and exuberance shown for the first Gulf War in 1991 and its made-for-tv technological bombardment with smart bombs upon Iraq. Never before had war been brought into the living rooms of Americans as it was happening, and yet, here was the war in all its technicolor glory except without any conscious connection to our responsibility for the devastation and death that we were watching unfold.

The same occurred with the start of the second war in Iraq in 2003 when the U.S. unleashed the cleverly marketed "shock and awe" bombardment. The dizzying display of devastating munitions were a sight to behold, like the greatest fireworks display imaginable, but our conscious connection to the devastation being wrought was minimal. This is another example of our culture being unwittingly under the throes of the Technological Hunter Myth. In contrast, our cultural shock and visceral disgust with the terror attacks of 9-11, where barbarians used primitive box cutters to kill innocents and then turn our technology (airplanes) against us, were signs of our unconscious detachment from the Indian Hunter myth and more proof of our deep cultural connection to the Technological Hunter Myth.

Another example of our cultures post-modern Technological Hunter Myth is the fetish among the populace for Special Operations Forces (SEALs, Special Forces, Delta force, Army Rangers and Marine Force Recon). These Special Ops forces have become the favorite go to for any talking head on television or at the local bar or barbershop, to proclaim who we should get to handle any military issue. ISIS? Send in the SEALs!! Al Qaeda? Send in the Green Berets!! Not long ago I saw everyone's favorite tough guy Bill O'Reilly opining on his Fox news show that we should send in ten thousand Green Berets into Syria and Iraq to wipe out ISIS. I guess Bill isn't aware that there are only 11,000 Special Operators deployed around the globe at any moment in time, not to mention that most of those Special Operators are not Special Forces (Green Berets). This sort of thing happens all the time where people see a problem and say, 'well let's send in these Special Operations supermen to deal with it.' This is more proof of the Technological Hunter Myth in action, as Rushing and Frentz describe it, "...the hero (the technological hunter) decides he is God, and like the now obsolete power, creates beings "in his own image"; this time, however, they are more perfect versions of himself - rational, strategic, and efficient. He may fashion his tools...by remaking a human being into a perfected machine". We as a culture are Technological Hunters who have made these Special Operations forces in "our own image", but only better. The Special Operations forces are "more perfect versions" of ourselves, "rational, strategic, and efficient." We believe we have remade these ordinary men into "perfected machines" for killing, and then we have projected our killing shadow (our responsibility and hunger for killing) onto them.

In our current Technological Hunter Myth, these Special Operators are, like Jason Bourne, nothing more than extensions of ourselves in the form of weaponry, no different than the drone or smart bomb, or in the future the cyborg, and looked upon as just as mechanical. And we have no more genuine connection to them or their work or the massive psychological toll it will take for them to carry the burden of our shadow than we do that of the drone or the smart bomb or any other machines we created.

HERO OF THE DAY

When we examine our Technological Hunter Myth in the form of Special Operations forces, we can see why our culture is drawn to certain things and repulsed by others. For instance, the greatest hero and biggest symbol of our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the cultural militarism surrounding them has been Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. Kyle, who alleged to be the most lethal sniper in U.S. history, wrote a best selling book, "American Sniper" and the movie of the same name based on that book broke box office records. People went absolutely crazy for the story of Chris Kyle. In terms of the Hunter Myth Cycle, Chris Kyle was a weapon used by the Technological Hunter. And interestingly, he was a sniper, a man who kills his enemies from great distances. This is not to diminish the skill it takes to be a great sniper, or the utility of that skill, but it is to point out that a sniper being the heroic symbol of a post-modern war speaks volumes to where we are as a culture. The reason people could admire Chris Kyle is because on an unconscious level they could symbolically and mythologically relate to him. Chris Kyle, like the rest of the culture, killed people from a distance and removed the conscious emotional and psychological responsibility for those kills from himself and from the culture.

The act of looking through a scope mounted on a sniper rifle gives the shooter much needed psychological and emotional distance from his killing. In the case of the sniper, he is twice removed from his kill, once by the scope and once by the weapon itself. The psychological distance of the sniper with his scope is in some ways similar to the emotional distance and cognitive dissonance created when people sitting on their couches watching CNN see smart bomb after smart bomb eviscerate some Iraqi city. Whether it be the sniper scope or the television camera, seeing something through a lens or screen gives the viewer a detachment from what they see, and with that detachment comes the ability to maintain a cognitive dissonance from the horrors seen and any moral or psychological responsibility for them.

In thinking about our current age, and our evolution from the age of the Frontier Hunter Myth of World War II, where our soldiers fought the savagery of the Nazi's and the Imperial Japanese in order to preserve western civilization, to the post-modern, Technological Hunter Myth of today, it is easy to see why an accomplished sniper like Chris Kyle became such a celebrated symbol of the wars we are waging. In comparison to our current culture's example of "The Sniper", Chris Kyle, being the hero for the Iraq war, think of World War II and the hero and symbol of that war, Audie Murphy. Murphy became revered and beloved in his time just like Chris Kyle did in our time, and like Kyle, Murphy also had a successful film about his combat exploits. Murphy, though, fought and killed his enemies in close quarters, without the scope and distance of the sniper. Back then, Murphy was fighting under the predominant myth of the time, The Frontier Hunter Myth, while Chris Kyle fought under our current myth of the Technological Hunter Myth. This doesn't make Murphy better than Kyle or vice versa, it just shows how cultures unconsciously choose their hero's based on the myths they currently embrace.

Another point of note showing how we are currently under the spell of the Technological Hunter Myth, is that there are other warriors who could've become the cultural icons and symbols of our current wars, but didn't resonate quite as much with the public as much as sniper Chris Kyle did. The late Pat Tillman, the former NFL football player who became an Army Ranger, is one example of someone who easily could've become the iconic hero of the war on terror but didn't.  Marcus Luttrell, the Navy SEAL of the book and movie Lone Survivor fame is an even better example. Luttrell did become famous for his story, but, for some reason, he didn't resonate anywhere near as much with our culture as Chris Kyle did. I believe the reason for this is our cultural and collective unconscious attachment to the Technological Hunter Myth. Simply put, Luttrell and Tillman were just as worthy of adulation as Kyle, but they weren't snipers. The sniper is the perfect symbol of the emotional and psychological distance we as a culture like to keep from the people we are killing. The current cultural celebration of the sniper also enables us to maintain our cognitive dissonance with relative ease and keep any conscious psychological and emotional turmoil brought about by the killing we do at bay.

The need for psychological and emotional distance between the person wanting to kill and the actual killing is a signature of the Technological Hunter Myth. At the behest of his superiors in Washington, the drone pilot in Nevada pushes a button and kills dozens in Yemen or Pakistan. The drone pilot is, through his drone, twice removed from the actual killing, once by the button he pushes and once by the missile fired,  and is also detached from it by the screen he watches it on, thus giving him a conscious distance from the killing. His superior in Washington is thrice removed, once by his phone used to call the pilot, once by the pilot himself and once by the missile used. The B-2 pilot, who at the behest of those same Washington superiors drops his payload from a mile up, never sees the people he is obliterating, enjoys the same distance and assures himself of the same cognitive dissonance as the drone pilot. The Special Operations forces that are covertly sent to Pakistan to assassinate a terrorist leader under the dark of night and the cloak of secrecy are the closest yet to the actual killing, but even they are twice removed from their kill because of the weapon they shoot, and the night vision goggles they see through, creating that technological hunter myth distance for which western man yearns. The conscious distance from the killing through the use of technology is vital in creating and maintaining our cognitive dissonance and the illusion of conscious emotional and psychological well being.

In contrast, think of the terrorists in ISIS who behead their captives. They kill directly, no distance between them and their victims. The act of beheading, like the atrocity of 9-11, gives us in the west a visceral, guttural reaction, one of pure revulsion. There is something utterly barbaric, savage and repulsive about cutting a defenseless persons head off. Yet if innocents are decapitated by drone strikes or smart bombs we somehow aren't quite as repulsed by that. What this speaks to is our current enchantment with the Technological Hunter Myth. For in western culture, we have created technology which gives us a safe distance from the barbarity of the acts done in our name. Decapitation by smart bomb feels much less barbaric to us because our technology gives us a moral, emotional and psychological distance from that barbarity and aids us in maintaining our cognitive dissonance. 

I HAVE BECOME COMFORTABLY NUMB

In American foreign policy killing has become something other people, or things, do, and anyone who directly kills, like ISIS, are reprehensible savages. In our post-modern age and the Technological Hunter Myth which has come with it, the extensions of man are his weaponry in the form of machines (drones/smart bombs) and human machines (special operations forces). Either way, whether with a manufactured machine or a human one, our culture is able to consciously detach and distance itself from the violence it perpetrates, regardless of the righteousness of that violence, and this is a recipe for a cultural and psychological disaster as we numb ourselves to the damage we do others and our selves.

In bringing this back to Jason Bourne, the Bourne films have resonated with our culture to such a great extent because Bourne is the perfect human weapon in the age of the Technological Hunter Myth. Like we imagine our Special Operations Forces, Bourne is " made in our own image", but is a 'more perfect version of ourselves - rational, strategic, and efficient."

We can watch Bourne kick-ass in a world that is just like ours thanks to the franchise's trademark hyper-realism, and so we are able to project ourselves onto him and live vicariously through him. The Bourne character gives us one more lens, like the snipers scope, or the camera, or the television screen, through which we can see the horror of our world, that lens is the mind's eye…our imagination. This added lens of imagination means we can watch actual, real-life civil unrest in Athens on our television and not only detach ourselves from our responsibility for that unrest, but also create even more distance by imagining the drama going on underneath the surface of that unrest, and imagining how we would, like our "perfect version of ourselves" Bourne, thrive under those circumstances. This is the final stage of the Technological Hunter Myth, where the technological hunter is so far removed from the actual killing that he/she is forced to use their own imagination in order to envision how they themselves would really behave if they were actually in the scenario where the killing took place. The end stage of this type of evolution, or devolution as the case may be, would be The Matrix trilogy, where humanity is reduced to being prisoners of their own imagination and being used as little more than captive batteries to their shadow, the Technology they once created to fight for them. Once that Technology became self aware and understood that humans were intellectually and physically inferior, it simply conquered and enslaved humanity for its own benefit. 

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, at the current stage of the Technological Hunter Myth we find ourselves in, we have been so far removed from our primal instincts and detached from our collective psychological shadow, that the tide may turn and we may eventually begin to yearn for an acknowledgment of our most ancient and primitive psychological drives. The need not just to eat an animal, but to kill it, courses through the deepest trenches of our psyche. The need not just for our enemies to die, but for us to feel their last breath on our faces, is alive and well and living in our killing shadow. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, these type of instincts are the gateway to a return to a respect for the earth, respect for life, respect for our enemies and respect for killing in general.

Killing and war will never cease to be, they are eternally part of the human condition, but one can only hope that the anti-septic form of war/killing currently enjoyed by the west, where we shove our darker impulses and our unequivocal guilt and responsibility into our shadow, where it festers and grows as we ignore it, will be transformed back into the more simple, if equally brutal form of killing of the Indian Hunter Myth, where respect for prey, enemy and the act of killing return. What I am saying is that if we are to kill we must do it consciously, take full responsibility and be fully aware of what we have done. If we continue to psychologically fragment and cognitively dissociate from the killing we do, that impulse will become our killing shadow, unconscious and angry. When those impulses are cast into the shadow they do not disintegrate, they only disappear from consciousness and grow more and more powerful until they simply refuse to be ignored. When the killing impulse is ignored and forced into the shadow, it eventually will strike out with a vengeance, often destroying the fragmented and cognitively dissociated psyche which ignores it. Twenty-two veteran suicides a day is the damning proof of the consequences of our cognitive dissonance from the killing we do and our moral and ethical responsibility for it. 

Our only hope for the healing of our fragmented psyches, and the reclamation of our humanity is to make our killing impulses and acts conscious.  We must take full mental, emotional, psychological and spiritual responsibility for the killing that we do.  Sadly, with our culture thoroughly numbed through technology and medication, this seems terribly unlikely. The more likely scenario? Go watch the Terminator and Matrix films to see what happens when humanity is unable to carry and acknowledge its killing shadow. It will give you something to watch while you wait for Jason Bourne to come out on cable or Netflix, because you shouldn't spend a dime going to see it in the theatre. And if you really want to spend your time wisely, I highly recommend you go read Projecting the Shadow : The Cyborg Hero in American Film.

©2016

Hell or High Water : A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

Estimated Reading Time : 5 Minutes 14 Seconds

My rating : 4.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation : See it in the Theatre!! Go See it Now!!

"THE DAYS WHEN YOU COULD ROB BANKS AND LIVE OFF THE MONEY ARE LONG GONE"

Hell or High Water, written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by David MacKenzie, is the story of Toby and Tanner Howard, two native sons of Texas who go on a bank robbing spree. The film stars Chris Pine and Ben Foster as the Tanner brothers and Academy Award winner Jeff Bridges as the Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton who is hot on their trail.

The acting, the writing and the directing in Hell or High Water is impeccable. Taylor Sheridan who wrote the script, also wrote last years Sicario, and is quickly becoming a master screenwriter. His dialogue is crisp and his action and storytelling vibrant and vivid. The very basic story of Hell or High Water is that of bank robbers, but Sheridan puts an original and unique twist onto that narrative and uses it to tell an intriguing story with deeper truths sprinkled throughout his multilayered script.

Director Mackenzie uses a deft touch to allow the film and his actors room to breath, and he uses the vast Texas landscape to enhance his visual storytelling. Mackenzie's pacing and fluid camera work add an extra dimension to the story that help it blossom. Mackenzie's other great achievement is his obvious insightful work with his actors. While Ben Foster, Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges are accomplished actors who may not need all that much direction, Mackenzie's work with the supporting and smaller roles is evident and excellent. There are local hires in this film, I am thinking of an older man in a diner, and an old waitress in another diner, who are so great in their scenes it filled me with a beaming joy. After having suffered through the atrocity of acting in Sully, seeing the exquisite work of the actors in smaller roles in Hell or High Water gave me faith once again in the craft and skill of not only acting but of directing. I thank Mr. Mackenzie for that and for his dedication to his job and the specificity of his work.

As for the main characters, all three actors are outstanding. Ben Foster is an often over looked actor, but he is among the best we have working today. Foster's Tanner vibrates with a palpable chaotic energy and unpredictability that is mesmerizing. Chris Pine's Toby is more subdued than his brother, but carries a cross of melancholy throughout life that permeates his every move. In my eyes, Pine was little more than a pretty boy movie star before this, but after seeing his work in Hell or High Water, I am excited to see where his career can go from here. And finally Jeff Bridges, who is one of the great actors of our time, turns in another stellar performance. Bridges' Texas Ranger is funny, bordering on cruel, a man desperate to connect and feel again but who is completely ill-equipped to do so. But when we see rare glimpses of Ranger Hamilton's true self and heart, they are utterly captivating. There is one heart breaking sequence where Bridges goes from a subdued guttural cry to a ferocious and fierce determination that could melt steel. Bridges is a joy to behold on screen, and his work in Hell or High Water is more proof of his professional and artistic mastery.

Finally, a special mention for Gil Birmingham who plays Bridges' Texas Ranger partner Alberto Parker. Birmingham takes a role that in the hands of a lesser actor could have been just a caricature, and creates a truly magnificent character of depth, life and feeling. Birmingham's Parker takes much abuse from his partner Hamilton, and while he wishes that abuse would roll off his back in all good fun, it doesn't. Birmingham creates a wall which Parker hides behind in order to function in the world of the Texas Rangers, and is smart enough to let the audience get glimpses of who Parker really is behind that wall which makes him a distinct and genuine character that lights up the screen.

"I'VE BEEN SITTING HERE LONG ENOUGH TO WATCH THAT BANK BEEN ROBBING ME FOR THIRTY YEARS GET ROBBED" - OLD MAN IN DINER

I had not heard much about Hell or High Water before seeing it. It is one of those films that sort of flies under the radar in our very cluttered popular culture. I went to see it because a friend of mine, Mr. Ben AKA The Oklahoma Kid, had recommended it to me. He is usually spot on when it comes to film, so on his advice I made the trek to the theatre to check it out. And boy, am I ever glad I did. Hell or High Water is a truly magnificent film, one of the best of the year. After seeing it I tried to describe my feelings for the film to a friend of mine, I told her that Hell or High Water is the type of film for which cinema was invented. The film tells its story on multiple, complex levels, and most importantly it also tells the truth. There is no Sully-esque fairy tale or wish fulfillment here. The lesson of Hell or High Water is that the American Dream is a lie. On top of that it makes the subtle yet effective argument that America itself was founded upon a lie and built upon the slaughter of native people and the theft of their land, and the karma of that theft reverberates to this day. Hell or High Water shows us that the exploitation that built this country has moved from the native population to the nativist population. Hell or High Water is damning evidence that American capitalism has now become a cancer that is devouring its host, and will continue to do so until its death. 

The Howard brothers learn quickly that the only way to succeed in the rigged game of American capitalism is to cheat. And if you have to hold a gun to somebody's head just to get a place at the table, then you do it….that is the true American way. The Howard brothers are like millions of Americans who have been sold a bill of goods and were and will be again, left holding the bag when the house of cards tumbles. The Howard brothers are the type of men who fight our wars overseas only to come back home to be "thanked for their service" by self-satisfying American sycophants but ignored for their true sacrifice and their desperate needs. The Howard's, like most Americans, live in a country where opportunity is for the few and despair for the many. The Howard's, unlike most Americans, are smart enough to realize that the real enemy is not outside our borders in Iraq, or Syria or Russia, but right here at home on Wall Street and in Washington.

"BOY, YOU'D THINK THERE WERE TEN OF ME" - TANNER HOWARD

The Howard's are also throwbacks to a time when real men existed in this country, not the faux men who roam our land now, with their big pick up trucks, belt buckles and cowboy hats, the Chris Kyle worshipers who carry weapons but lack the courage and wisdom to know against whom to use them. These faux men are good government bullshitters who wave their flag and pledge their allegiance to the lie that is killing them. And when Tanner Howard walks down the middle of the street with guns a-blazin, these "real" men, who greatly outnumber him and out gun him, turn tail and run, because they know that in the face of a real man, of true masculinity, the American male of today stands no chance. 

Hell or High Water is about the loss of that true American masculinity. The Howard brothers are the last of the dinosaurs roaming the Texas plains. The outlaw, the true individualist, who would stand up to power, not be its slave, are long gone. America has become a nation of cowards because all the real men have been neutered…by government, by culture, by greed, by fear, by generational incompetence. The younger generations have grown up not knowing what a real man is, so they drive their lime green muscle cars and play their hip-hop and wave their pistols in an attempt to emulate what they think a real man is, all the while the real man rides his white stallion in the background without a sound and barely a notice, and uses his fists to beat the shit out of those posing at being real men.

"THESE BOYS IS ON THEIR OWN" - TEXAS RANGER MARCUS HAMILTON

There is a scene in Hell or High Water where a bunch of ranchers drive their cattle across the road to escape a brush fire. From atop his horse the rancher says to Bridges' Ranger, "My kids won't do this job!". As Bridges drives away he says to his partner, "These boys is on their own." They are on their own, for they are the last of their kind, driven to extinction by events beyond their control. The real men, like the Howards or that cattle driving cowboy, know that America's true enemy is from within, it is the banks that started that brushfire that will drive us off our lands, just like we drove the Comanche off of this same land a hundred and fifty years before. The flag waving dipshits, the Chris Kyles, the good government bullshitters, they are already dead and they are too stupid to even know it yet. These faux men, these impotent American males worship an idol, America, that cares not for them except to feed upon their naiveté and idiocy. That brushfire sweeping the Texas plain already destroyed the uber-masculine culture of the Comanche, and now it will grow and spread and leave behind it a scorched earth of American masculinity that will never grow back.

That's the real problem with guns in this country, not that guns are dangerous in and of themselves, but that there are no real men left to carry them. The men of this nation are simply children grown large who have had no true men to raise and guide them, and that is why there is so much gun violence today. The people with guns aren't man enough to know when, how and on whom to use them. That goes for the gang banger, the cowboy, the soldier and the cop alike, none of which are real men, that is why they shoot unarmed men and deer…because unarmed men and deer don't shoot back. That is why we fight wars against countries that can't fight back, and still can't win them. When Tanner Howard brazenly walks down the street and shoots back at the pick-up truck contingent, those cowards tuck tail and head for the hills as fast as they can, because Tanner is worth ten of those neutered half-men. 

I have a theory of masculinity that most film lovers will understand. It goes like this…most men of today think of themselves as one of the Corleone family from The Godfather. Of the Corleone brothers, Sonny, Fredo, Michael and Tom Hagan, most men think they are either Sonny or Michael. Sonny, the hot tempered tough guy and ladies man, or Michael, the cool, calm, unflappable leader. In Hell or High Water, Tanner is Sonny and Toby is Michael. In reality most men of today are delusional and are neither Sonny nor Michael. The one's who think they are Sonny are really Fredo, and the ones who think they are Michael are really Tom Hagan. And this is where we find ourselves at this time in the history of the American male…we are a nation of Fredo's, incompetent cowards who are afraid of our own shadow…psychologically speaking I absolutely mean that literally. Occasionally we run into a Tom Hagan and confuse him as being a Michael because we haven't seen a real Michael in many decades. The man we think is a Michael isn't a Michael, he is a Tom, more an errand boy for those in power than real a man who should wield power. The days of the American male as Sonny and Michael are long gone, for now we live in the age of Fredo. What proof do I have of this? Look at our two Presidential nominees…who are you voting for? Fredo or Tom? You get what you pay for…and our bill has come due.

"ONLY ASSHOLES DRINK MR. PIBB" - TANNER HOWARD

Hell or High Water is the epitaph of the real American man. Go see it as it is a fantastic film. It is well worth your hard earned dollars and your sparse free time. Go see it and see the last of a dying breed, the Real American Man, because soon enough the only place you will be able to see one is on a movie screen.

©2016

 

Sully : A Review

*****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!! THIS IS A SPOILER-FREE REVIEW!!!****

Estimated Reading Time: 208 Seconds

My Rating : 2 out of 5 Stars

My Recommendation : Skip it in the theatre. If you are a fan of Eastwood and Hanks, see it for free on Cable or Netflix.

Sully, written by Todd Kormarnicki and directed by two-time Academy Award winner Clint Eastwood, is the story of US Airways pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger who famously crash landed flight 1549 into the Hudson River in January of 2009. The film is based on Sullenberger's autobiography Highest Duty, and stars two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks in the lead role. 

Sully, like many of director Eastwoods films in recent years, has some good in it and a whole lotta bad. Let's start with the good. The plane sequences where we see flight 1549 crash into the Hudson river are very impactful and exceedingly well done. It is difficult to watch those sequences and not have a visceral reaction to them. It is every airline passenger's nightmare and darkest fear to go through what the passengers of flight 1549 went through, and when you add to that the fact that 8 years before Sully's aviation heroics, low flying planes over New York city didn't crash harmlessly into the Hudson river, they crashed violently into the World Trade Center resulting in thousands dead, it is easy to understand how those passengers, and viewers of this film, would be unnerved. This recipe of recent history and the magic of cinema make for some heart pounding scenes of flight 1549's two hundred and eight seconds in the air. It is when the film is on the ground (and water) that it wanders aimlessly and sputters hopelessly.

Besides the plane sequences, another bright spot in the film is Tom Hanks. Hanks is not the most daring actor in the world. In the last few decades he has fallen into a lazy pattern of repeatedly playing characters with an almost saintly dignity which often times borders on arrogance. He does the same thing in Sully, but to his credit he does it very, very well.  Hanks has spent a career refining this exact type of performance and his years of experience come to fruition as Sully. The Sully character is one part Captain Philips, one part Captain Miller from Saving Private Ryan and one part James Donovan from Bridge of Spies. If you've seen those films then you've already met Sully, now he is just wearing a different uniform. Hanks work in Sully is not a model of artistry or creative genius, but rather one of experience and comfort with craft.

Now on to the bad. First off, there is actually no dramatic story here at all. Sully is one of those films that isn't really about anything at all except justifying its own existence…and separating people, namely older audiences, from their hard earned money. It is like a headline with no actual story below it. In other words there is no there, there in Sully. It is a meatless sandwich. Eastwood tries to make the narrative about Sully battling the  evil, mustache twirling bureaucracy of the NTSB as they try to stifle and punish good old American individuality and heroism, but not surprisingly that storyline falls impotently flat.

Sully also tries to be about the relentlessness of the media and the difficulty of being caught in the public eye…but that too is a rather dramatically flaccid narrative. It seems an odd thing for Sully to complain about being in the public eye when he voluntarily goes on tv to be interviewed by Katie Couric and followed that up by going on Letterman. He didn't have a gun to his head when he did those interviews. A good strategy to avoid the harsh spotlight of the public eye is to keep your head down and stay off of television.  (As an aside…I have a very simple rule of thumb for any film. Namely…if a film has a scene where a gaggle of reporters and camera people hound the main character and he or she has to plow his way through those reporters and camera people on the way out of his or her home, office, hotel, or courtroom, then that film is a horrendous pile of steaming poop. Most any film that has that scene in it is a horrible film - I'm looking at you Gone Girlyou piece of crap!! Keep an eye out for those type of scenes next time you watch a movie, and 99 times out of 100, you'll see that I am right.)

The only real purpose of Sully is to show the dazzling effects of the plane crash, which stated before are excellent…and to drum up the primal American fear around 9-11. It is no accident the film was released on the weekend of the 15th anniversary of 9-11 and has multiple scenes of planes crashing into the New York skyline. Sully seems to be pining for that feeling of connection and 'we're all in this together' that allegedly permeated the country after the 9-11 attacks. The character of Sully, or should I say the caricature of Sully, is that of the perfect American, heroic, noble and selfless, who is hounded by the twin evils of government bureaucracy and the liberal media. Much like Eastwood's last film, American Sniper, this film would have been much better and much more interesting if it kept a distance from its subject (or in the case of Chris Kyle, his family) and instead made a film about the actual man, and not The Legend or The Hero created by, or built around that man. But Eastwood is not the director to make that kind of film, he lacks the nuance, the skill and the craft to make a truly complex and layered film that isn't a western.

Another really bad part of the film is the non-Hanks acting. As is the case in most of Clint Eastwood's films, the supporting and secondary actors give utterly heinous performances. Laura Linney plays Sully's wife, she is a truly terrific actress, yet here she is embarrassingly awful. Her work is shrill, shallow and devoid of purpose. Anna Gunn, who is also a usually solid actress, is so terrified and uncomfortable in front of Eastwood's camera as to be distracting.

The smaller roles, those of passengers, stewardesses and the like, are filled by actors who are just plain terrible. The airline stewardess' and a father and son who get on the plane last minute are particularly note worthy in their atrociousness. The always shitty Michael Rapaport makes a brief appearance as a bartender and continues to mystify the western world as to how a man so talentless and devoid of charisma can continue to have an acting career. Mr. Rapaport can rest easy though as the actors playing his fellow New York bar compatriots are equally shitty at acting.  

The problem with Clint Eastwood directing a film is that he doesn't actually direct his actors. He does very few takes of each scene and gives no direction or guidance to his actors, so the less experienced, and less talented actors are left to their own devices and often times flounder. Eastwood's hands off approach to directing actors results in a myriad of underwhelming and terribly uneven performances throughout, and his films most assuredly suffer greatly as a result of it. Go back and peruse the acting in the supporting and smaller roles in Eastwood's last decade of filmmaking. They are absolutely cringe worthy. Just as Bradley Cooper did great work in American Sniper but was surrounded by a troupe of actors that could have been dug up out of the Blaine, Missouri community theatre, so it is with Tom Hanks and his supporting cast in Sully.

Why does Eastwood leave his actors to their own devices? I think the biggest reason is that it actually takes time to direct actors. Eastwood is, first and foremost, concerned with getting his films done on time and on budget. He is no fool for he knows if he is on schedule and on budget they will let him keep making movies, this is how the business works. So Eastwood chooses to get things done on time, rather then to get things done RIGHT. Sometimes, like when he has a very experienced and talented cast, this approach works because his actors are up to the task. Eastwood's greatest film (and one of the greatest films of all time) Unforgiven, is a perfect example of this. When you have Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, Richard Harris and Eastwood himself in your cast, you don't have to waste much time working with the actors. But when you have considerably lesser talents and lesser experienced actors, you DO need to spend time working with them and helping them to gauge the size, scope and scale of their performance.

There are other issues with the film that are just egregious errors in filmmaking. After the plane crashes into the Hudson, there are not one but two instances where individual passengers are in peril, and Eastwood plays up this peril to a great degree, spending time and energy on it. Then he just walks away from the danger sequences and lets them resolve themselves without any explanation. It is bizarre, and frankly absurd. The people who were in peril weren't that interesting to begin with, so why even show them in danger in the first place? And then since you did show them in danger, why not play out that sequence to its conclusion? It is a strange, terribly sloppy and unconscionably lazy bit of filmmaking on Eastwood's part. It was one of those sequences that make me shudder to think that Eastwood has two Oscars for directing and Stanley Kubrick has none. Oh the humanity!!

In conclusion, Sully is a rather shallow and thin film that is definitely not worth spending your hard earned money to see in the theatre. While the plane sequences are captivating, the surrounding story and the majority of the acting are sub-par. If you are a fan of Eastwood or Hanks, or even Sully himself, then you can wait to see the film for free on cable or Netflix. If you want to watch a plane-crash survival oriented film while waiting for Sully to come out for free, go watch the much maligned Flight starring Denzel Washington. While the film is definitely flawed, Washington's performance is one of the best of his stellar career and is worth seeing. Or if you want to watch a 9-11 themed film, go watch Paul Greengrass' gut wrenching United 93. Both Flight and United 93 are considerably more worthy of your time than the rather tepid Sully.

©2016

 

Truth, Justice and the Curious Case of Chris Kyle Part Two : The Reaction

"To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction." - Sir Isaac Newton

**Estimated Reading Time: 22 Minutes**

On August 3, 2014, in the wake of the defamation verdict in favor of Jesse Ventura against the late Navy SEAL and "American Sniper" author, Chris Kyle, I wrote an article titled "Truth, Justice and the Curious Case of Chris Kyle". Since the release of the film American Sniper on Dec. 25, 2014, and its incredible success, my article has received a significant spike in readers and has gotten some attention from news outlets as well. Due to this, I thought it might be of interest to share some of the reactions to the piece and my further thoughts on it.

First, I want to thank all of the people who read the article. I am well aware that it is considered "long" by many, and "too long" by some, so thank you for putting in the time and effort to read it. And thank you very much to all of those who took the additional time to comment, especially those who diligently and effectively defended me against critical attacks by other commenters. I would even like to thank those who were not fans of the piece (or me) for taking an interest and sharing your perspectives in the comment section. I also would like to thank all the folks who emailed me with encouraging words of support. It meant a great deal and I truly appreciate it. And, while I am at it, I'd also like to thank those people who took the time to write to me and vent, rage and spew vitriol upon me.  Even though your thoughts carry the intellectual heft of a bumper sticker, I am glad to have been of service to you, and consider your anger to be a sign of you being just another satisfied customer.

As I mentioned, the article has been well received by some, and not so well received by others. The comments section in and of itself is a pretty fascinating petri dish of people's thinking, or 'not-thinking' as the case may be. As I said to close the original piece, this is a topic that gets emotions running pretty high, and sure enough there have been a lot of emotional responses to it, both in the comments section and by email. I strongly encourage you to go and read the comments section in it's entirety to get a taste of what I am talking about. As commenter John Cramer wrote, 

I love how the comments section is a complete mirror to your post Michael. It points out clearly the point you were trying to make about humans, beliefs, cognitive dissonance, Manichean philosophy, and truth. Your piece is amazing, thought provoking and informative; but it reaches a next level meta spectacular when you read the comments sections. Well done sir!

Well said, John, "next level meta spectacular" indeed. The comments section in many ways proves the exact point I was trying to make in the piece.

 The Media Reaction or: How in the Land of the Blind, The One-Eyed Man is King

The mainstream media has, for the most part, been right on schedule with it's uselessness on this subject. Here is a clip from the NBC Nightly News (ironically enough hosted by fantasist Brian Williams) about the film American Sniper. It is just the worst, most insidious kind of unthinking propaganda. A puff-piece through and through. Notice how they never even mention the defamation suit or the verdict against Chris Kyle, which are pretty important facts.

No offense to Mrs. Kyle, but to say Chris Kyle never sought attention when he wrote a book about himself in which he declares himself to be the "Most Lethal Sniper In US Military History" and then sold it to a movie studio, is a bit tough to swallow. It is even harder to swallow when you call that humility. What that really is...is false humility.

Speaking of propaganda, Fox News personality Sean Hannity recently dedicated an entire episode of his show "Hannity" to the topic of the film, he titled it "American Sniper: Patriotism Under Fire", not to be confused with the version on his website titled, "American Sniper: Patriotism Under Attack". I shit you not. The tv show was an hour long infomercial for a film which had already made over $200 million in just a few weeks in wide release (it is now past $300 million). Thank God Sean Hannity is there to defend 'patriotism' when it is under such brutal attack by evil hordes of green-eyed dead presidents. If my memory serves me, I believe Hannity has already been awarded a much deserved American Flag lapel pin for his bravery in action during the hellacious "War on Christmas", I am sure his heroic efforts in defense of 'patriotism' during this 'money attack' will be similarly rewarded.

There is one notable exception though to the endless mainstream media blindness. I am not on Twitter, but someone emailed me this tweet from CNN host Michael Smerconish from January 23, 2015. 

"I've seen and enjoyed American Sniper and now I've read this (A link to my article http://mpmacting.com/blog/2014/7/19/truth-justice-and-the-curious-case-of-chris-kyle) - I recommend people do both."

The day after Smerconish tweeted my article, he went on his tv show, and without any mention of my piece, used it to absolutely obliterate Chris Kyle's co-writer on the book "American Sniper", Jim DeFelice. Please watch this video (the relevant section is the first 6 Minutes and 15 seconds)

Notice how DeFelice is expecting this to be another patty-cake interview and puff piece, but Smerconish has something else in mind. Smerconish did what every single journalist out there should have been doing from day one of this story. While Smerconish may not have credited my article on air, he obviously used it to bludgeon DeFelice, and I tip my cap to him for doing an outstanding job in this interview. Just as Smerconish used my article as a blueprint to eviscerate DeFelice, other tv "journalists" should use Smerconish's interview as a blueprint to bring the truth about the Ventura court case and Chris Kyle, to the American public. Smerconish was respectful but firm, thoughtful yet persistent. I was not aware of Smerconish prior to seeing this, but having watched that interview, I now know he is a powerful interviewer and potential forceful voice for truth, and I hope he continues to be loyal to Truth above all else.

Common False Beliefs About the Ventura Court Case

Some people who commented or emailed were uninformed about the very basics of the Ventura lawsuit, but that didn't stop them from thinking they were very well informed. The National Review Online had a great rundown of things which I linked to in the original piece, and strongly encouraged you to read it, and I do so again here.  LINK . Here are some other things that people were adamant were true but simply aren't.

  1. Ventura waited until Kyle was dead before ever filing the lawsuit and did so against Kyle's widow or, Ventura refiled the lawsuit against Taya Kyle (Chris Kyle's widow) after Chris Kyle was killed. WRONG. Kyle was killed well after the lawsuit was filed and when he died his estate automatically became the defendant in the case. Taya Kyle is the executor of the Chris Kyle estate.
  2. Ventura was the first to out himself as being the person named 'scruff-face' in the book "American Sniper". WRONG. Chris Kyle named Ventura as 'Scruff-face' on the Opie and Anthony Sirius radio show and the O'Reilly Factor on Fox News Channel.   
  3. There is video of Chris Kyle punching Ventura. WRONG. Ummm…no…obviously there isn't any video.  
  4. The defamation verdict did not decide whether or not Ventura was punched, only if his reputation was harmed by the story. WRONG. If Kyle actually hit Ventura, then telling the story is not defamation (or slander or libel). The truth is a defense against defamation/slander/libel charges. So, yes, the jury decided they didn't believe Chris Kyle about the fight he claimed occurred.  The damages awarded Ventura are not entirely a result of the punching story being false, but are also due to the statements attributed to Ventura by Kyle that were also deemed to be false.
  5. Kyle never got a chance to defend himself. WRONG. Kyle videotaped a deposition a year before he was killed. According to reports, this deposition was very damaging to his case since Kyle had a hard time keep his story straight. Star tribune story link.
  6. Ventura just wanted a pay day. WRONG. Ventura was very clear early on that he just wanted the story retracted. Chris Kyle and the publishers offered to pay Ventura to drop the suit, but Ventura refused, demanding an apology instead. Kyle declined and the case proceeded. Ventura then had to pay his attorney fees, which are substantial, out of his own pocket.

Carjacking Story 

Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell

Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell

The carjacking story is one that has gotten a lot of attention for obvious reasons. It is a story that is pretty easy to check on considering law enforcement was allegedly called and there were two dead bodies and the paper trail you would expect to find when those two things are involved. Some have commented that the story is just hearsay and that there is no proof that Chris ever said it. Well, Michael Mooney at D Magazine 'confirmed' that Chris told him that story, of course some have interpreted Mooney's "confirming" the story to mean that it is "confirmed" to be true. It isn't, it is only "confirmed" that Chris Kyle was telling this carjacking story. Marcus Lutrell, another highly decorated and famous Navy SEAL, put the carjacking story in one of his books and said it came from Chris Kyle. So if you think Chris Kyle never claimed to have killed two carjackers, then you think Navy SEAL Marcus Lutrell is a liar. Some people's heads may explode if the only choice they have is to decide which one of those two Navy SEALs is lying.

The New York Times and WMD

There were many commenters who were critical of my questioning Chris Kyle's claim to have discovered WMDs in Iraq. Many linked to a New York Times article that came out on October 14, 2014 (nearly three months after I wrote the original piece). As was almost always the case, other commenters quickly and ardently pushed back against these claims of vindication by those that believe the Kyle story regarding his discovery of barrels of wmd's and the Bush rationalization for going to war with Iraq. Commenter James Aragon (an Iraq war veteran) wrote in reply to another commenter who asked if I would be editing my article based on the NY Times story,

The most relevant point in the NYT piece is here:
The United States had gone to war declaring it must destroy an active weapons of mass destruction program. Instead, American troops gradually found and ultimately suffered from the remnants of long-abandoned programs, built in close collaboration with the West.
Key in on the 'remnants of long-abandoned programs.' These incidents were (not) hidden to hide an active WMD program, but to shelter the lack of intelligence we had on these sites.

Another commenter, Eric A. Smith, got even more specific in his counter argument with someone who used the NY Times piece to claim that WMDs were found.

...although there were a few spent rounds and canisters which had been aged beyond usefulness, these weren't stocks the Iraqis were holding back. They had been forgotten.
Do you want to know why the Bush clan - and especially Rumsfeld - were so certain that Hussein must have had some WMD stocks left over?
Because they gave them to him. And Rumsfeld personally brokered the deal. What's more, I've got the proof. Read it here: http://aliberaldose.blogspot.jp/2006/02/how-we-came-to-own-iraq-repost.html
The UN inspectors did a damned thorough job of destroying anything that could have been of use to him though. The Bush clan knew without a shadow of a doubt that not only was Hussein not even the tiniest threat to the US, he couldn't even threaten the countries neighboring Iraq. How do I know? Powell told me. So did Rice. They told you too, but I bet you weren't paying attention. But here, they'll tell you again, so you can have no doubt whatsoever that Bush Jr. and his bumbling gang of psychotics invaded Iraq KNOWING 100% THAT HUSSEIN COULDN'T ATTACK ANYONE, INCLUDING AND SPECIFICALLY US: 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?x-yt-cl=84411374&x-yt-ts=1421828030&v=hN-HTjy-w
You were duped man. Played for a sucker. Cheney and Rumsfeld have been doing it since the Nixon era, when they started the Cold War: 
http://www.margieburns.com/2011/09/re-post-rumsfeld-and-cheney-pressured-cia-to-mislead-congress-in-the-1970s-too/
Unknown-6.jpeg

This whole debate feels so 2002-2003. What struck me about the use of this New York Times article as proof of Kyle's claims was that it seems as though the people linking to it have not actually read all of it. The New York Times article actually further undermines the very specific claim by Chris Kyle that "At another location, we found barrels of chemical material that was intended for use as biochemical weapons." The Times piece never once mentions any "barrels of chemical material" being found. It does mention that degrading and degraded munitions from the Iran-Iraq war from the 1980's were found though, which is a very significant difference from what Kyle describes. These now-degraded weapons were procured by Iraq in the 1980's while they were a client state of the U.S. and a proxy for America in the war against Iran. The Bush administration kept the discovery of these degraded weapons a secret not because, as Chris Kyle speculated about his alleged barrel find, it would embarrass the French and Germans, but rather because it would embarrass not only the United States, but the people who were serving in high levels of the government in the U.S. at the time Iraq procured the weapons in the 1980's and also at the time the U.S. invaded in 2003.

Another commenter stated that Iraq had used gas on its own people, the Kurds, and offered this as proof that they had chemical weapons in 2003. While it is true that a genocidal attack on the Kurds by Iraq with chemical weapons did occur, it happened on March 16, 1988, again, while Iraq was a client state of the United States of America. The weapons were dropped from U.S. made helicopters, using U.S. intelligence information gathered by U.S. intelligence and military assets.

There was a joke going around in the debate leading up to the 2003 Iraq invasion that went something like this, "How do we know that Saddam has chemical weapons? Because we kept the receipts when we sold them to him." That joke only has a chance to be funny if you're not a Kurd or someone who had to go fight in that awful war. 

The United Nations Inspectors, The Iraq Survey Group and finally the Bush administration itself, have all declared that there was no active weapons of mass destruction program in Iraq post-1991. Here is a solid rundown that dismantles the  'wmd dead-enders' and their claims of vindication for Bush and company. LINK .

"You Didn't Prove He Lied"

I got some comments and a few emails from people who made the argument that I "didn't prove that Kyle had lied". Along the same lines I got some comments/emails saying that "I wasn't there so I couldn't know what happened" and should "keep my opinion to myself". Or that I wasn't a Navy SEAL so I should just "Shut.The.Fuck.Up." A commenter, J.R. MacDonald, took this line of thinking head on when another commenter claimed I "failed to prove Chris Kyle's stories were lies" and then said I was a "coward who hides behind his keyboard", Mr. MacDonald answered this charge better than I could ever hope to, so I quote him at length here:

"Failed to prove his stories are lies." Therein lies the problem. Your approach is flawed...You cannot prove a negative. If a complete lack of evidence exists to support a particular claim, logically, one can conclude that the claim is false.
For example. Right now, prove to me that reindeer can't fly. When you come back and cite the complete lack of evidence for flying reindeer, I can easily point out that you just didn't look hard enough, do your research, etc. You can't prove to me that there aren't reindeer flying right now and we just haven't observed them. This is what you've done with Chris Kyle's stories. The proof then, must come from the positive claim. If you want to prove that reindeer fly, it's very simple: Just show me one reindeer flying. The end. There's the proof. But, since there have been zero documented cases of a dang flying reindeer, we can conclude, logically, that reindeer do not fly.
Now... it would be easy to prove Chris Kyle's stories as true. There'd be paper trails, there'd be witnesses, there'd be SOMETHING. But there isn't. There would have been some story somewhere talking about two dead carjackers. There might even be a video of it. But there isn't. Therefore, just like the flying reindeer, we can conclude that they never happened. Ever.
Whether you like it or not, Kyle lied about a number of things, embellished a number of things, but he also DID do a bunch of incredible things. I was in Ramadi in 2006 at the same time as Kyle. The possibility exists that one of the American lives he unquestionably saved was either mine or that of one of my Marines. His service record could have easily spoken for itself, and it's always been my opinion that he should have hired a biographer and let someone else tell his story. The exaggerations could have been filtered out, the lies could have been filtered out, and we'd have been left with just Chris Kyle as best to remember him. He had no need to embellish a single solitary detail. He could have just told the stories exactly as they were and they'd still be incredible. Hell, simply being a SEAL at all with no combat added in is a tremendous accomplishment.
Also, if the author of this blog is a "disgrace" to America, what exactly does that make you? Your basic premise here is, "if you disagree me with me, you're a coward." Is this what being a "good" American is? Is no one allowed to do their own research and come to their own conclusions? Why should Chris Kyle be allowed to make up whatever story he wants and that just be "ok?" Is THAT being a good American? I'm a veteran too... do I get to make up all kinds of stories as well, or is that honor reserved for only certain veterans?

"Confirmed", "Official" and "Officially Confirmed"

The word "confirmed" has been kicked around a lot in regards to this story, and there has been and remains a great deal of confusion in the media over the claim by Chris Kyle that he had 160 confirmed kills in the Iraq war, and what the term "confirmed" actually means. As I stated in the original piece, "confirmed kills" means "kills witnessed by another person besides the shooter". As Chris Kyle himself explains in his book, a "confirmed kill" means you see the person die, not that he is assumed to have died from his wounds at a later time. The confusion starts when media outlets say that the Navy has "confirmed" Kyle's 160 kills. This is untrue as far as I have been able to gather. "Confirmed" is being confused here with "official". A "confirmed kill" is a very specific thing (as stated above), the Navy officially confirming the number of kills Chris Kyle has is another. From what I have been able to ascertain, the Department of the Navy, and the Department of Defense do not keep official "confirmed kill" numbers for individual servicemen. The Navy and Pentagon have not "officially confirmed" Chris Kyle's "confirmed kill" number. I am not saying that his "confirmed kill" number is a lie, I have absolutely no insight into that subject. But as far as I have been able to determine, the U.S. Navy and the Department of Defense have never commented on Chris Kyle's alleged "confirmed kill" statistic one way or the other. 

Brian Williams, Dead-Enders and the Art of the Bullshit Detector

Brian Williams, the aforementioned anchorman on NBC nightly news, has recently been suspended for six months without pay for telling tall tales about his experience while reporting in Iraq. Personally I think Mr. Williams should be permanently unemployed from this point forward, but as we all know, telling the truth is not exactly a major requirement in order to be a news anchor. Besides the 'Iraq helicopter missile attack' story he told, Williams also told another story that has come under scrutiny, where he claimed he saw a bloated, dead body float by his French Quarter hotel room in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. People have challenged this story because apparently, there was no flooding in the French Quarter during Hurricane Katrina. Maybe, just maybe, we have a 'magic bullet' here which ties together both Williams and Kyle's fabulist Katrina stories. Maybe Williams saw one of the people Chris Kyle sniped from atop the Superdome float by his hotel room. Maybe? That sure would one hell of a story so…IT MUST BE TRUE!! This whole thing begs the question, why is Hurricane Katrina such a flame for moth-like fantasists? I guess it is, pardon the pun, a perfect storm of chaos, lawlessness and public attention that makes it such an easy target for bullshit.

In all seriousness regarding Williams, he is a symptom of a much larger disease. The story he told about his helicopter coming under attack, and the Katrina story, were a way for him to feed his audience the narrative that they demanded. Brian Williams was simply doing what he thought his job was…telling the people what they want to hear. Williams told people a tale, glorifying himself in the process, that people believed because they wanted to believe it. This is the same thing Chris Kyle did in his book and elsewhere. It is the same thing Clint Eastwood has done with the film American Sniper. All three of those men have made a pretty penny telling these tales, and while they are most certainly the ones to blame, we have some culpability as well. Whenever we hear a story that confirms our bias, that is when we must be more vigilant than ever. If a story feels too good to be true, it most likely is. Some on the right have blindly embraced the Chris Kyle story just like some on the left once blindly embraced the Rolling Stone UVA and the Duke Lacrosse rape stories. As I said in the original piece, cognitive dissonance is blind to political party or ideology.

That doesn't mean these types of stories are always false, just that we cannot take for granted that they are true, no matter how tempting that may be. As a personal example, just the other night I watched the Academy Award nominated documentary Virunga, on Netflix. This film is about the struggle to protect the last remaining mountain gorillas in the world, who happen to live in Congo, while a civil war rages around them and valuable oil and natural gas percolate under their feet. I really enjoyed the film a great deal. It touched upon a number of issues that I am deeply interested in, such as government/corporate corruption, colonialism, environmentalism and things of that nature . The thing about the film though, is that it left me feeling a bit…odd. What made my bullshit detector start to go off was that it all just seemed too perfect. The film was so aligned with what I believe about the world that when it ended I couldn't help but wonder if it was on the up and up. Was this all true or were parts of it manufactured? Was most of it manufactured? So instead of me embracing this film that confirmed my biases, I was wary of it, and wondered if it was deceptive. That may not be the most enjoyable way to experience the world, but I think in the long run, it is a much wiser and healthier way to approach information that is being presented to you.

I will say this about Virunga, I certainly hope it is true, but my hoping it is true doesn't make it so. Just like many people who desperately cling to the Bush administration pre-war WMD program claims, even after the administration itself has abandoned those claims, and some people cling to the tales Chris Kyle, aka "The Legend", told as being true, even though it is obvious to most observers that these tales, and "The Legend" itself, is much more complicated than we've been led to believe. These 'dead-enders', to borrow a phrase from Donald Rumsfeld, who hang onto these stories do so because of the frightening prospect that in order to embrace the truth one must release the previously held belief that conflicts with that truth. Letting go of anything, be it a belief, a grudge or a favorite t-shirt, is difficult for people to do because it brings with it the possibility that we will lose our identity. Our ego will have nothing to grasp onto and we will be obliterated or thrown into the dark abyss if the familiar belief is released. This is why I hope Virunga is true and also why I fear it is not. The fear is not just that I would be wrong about my beliefs, but that I wouldn't know who I really was if I had to abandon my perceptions of the world. But for me, the greater fear is to be lost in one's own illusions and self deceptions. I can understand when people or institutions lie to me, they are trying to manipulate me for their own benefit, but what I cannot tolerate is when I lie to myself. To lie to oneself is the act of a fool or a coward, or in some cases...both.

The Manichean, Projections and Scapegoating

gun_enthusiast_symbol_stickers-rf526edbb7a0c4931afe4b617c6a02560_v9waf_8byvr_512.jpg

When my original article was first posted it got a lot of readers linking to it from a variety of websites of which I had never heard. Many of these websites were gun enthusiast websites. My initial reaction was …"uh-oh". I was not raised in the gun culture, it is totally foreign to me. Gun enthusiasts are 'the other' for me. That is not to say that I am against gun rights, quite the opposite actually, as I am a staunch defender of gun rights (and all of the rights declared in the constitution). My basic approach to life is that just because I don't do something doesn't mean I should keep someone else from doing it. For instance, I do not drink alcohol or caffeine, do drugs, smoke cigarettes or have gay sex, but, call me crazy, I don't believe those things should be outlawed just because they aren't my thing. I feel the same way about gun rights. Back to the point, the important thing is that gun enthusiasts and that culture are alien to me. So it is easy for me to label that group of people and assume a bunch of things about them without any first hand experience. Much of the media is more than happy to help in that regard, so gun enthusiasts were 'gun nuts' in my mind, and the fact that they were reading my article was something very unsettling to me because I assumed they hated it and me for writing it. My reaction was that things were going to get bad and quick. Then I actually went and surreptitiously read the discussions about my article on those websites and I am ashamed to say that I was really surprised to see that not only were these people not 'unhinged', as they are so frequently labelled, but rather they were extraordinarily thoughtful. That is not to say they all agreed with the article, just that they were having a calm discussion based on reason, logic and rational thought, which is not something you come across very often in our culture in general and on the internet in particular. I was really glad to have had the opportunity to get a quick glimpse of some 'gun people' as they really are and not as they are portrayed to me in the media and I won't soon forget it or the lessons I learned from it.

My intellectual laziness in regards to gun enthusiasts was a reminder that it is never wise to assume things about a large group of people (or one single person for that matter). For example, it is common to make assumptions about people who serve in the military as well, lumping them all in the same category. This can be done in both a positive and negative fashion. For instance, some commenters were angry with me for daring to question Chris Kyle because to them veterans are beyond reproach due to the belief that they "fought for my freedoms". According to these commenters, anyone who served is a "hero". The problem with that though is, like any large institution, there are both good and bad people who serve in the military. A perfect example of this is that Eddie Ray Routh, the man accused of killing Chris Kyle, is a former Marine. So who decides who the good and bad veterans are? Does Eddie Ray Routh deserve the same kid gloves people tell me I am supposed to use with Chris Kyle? Or should we just judge people on the content of their character and not on whatever career choices they have made or service they have performed?

images.jpeg

Another example of this is that some of the most vociferous and diligent defenders of me in the comments sections, people like the humorously named but incredibly astute, knowledgable and insightful "Huck Mucus", were often veterans themselves (to be clear, they claimed to be veterans but this is the internet and I have no way of knowing if that is true or not). In response to a commenter that chastised me for not "thanking Chris Kyle" and other military members for fighting for my freedoms so that I could "sit on my ass" and write my article, Huck Mucus wrote,

I never met a vet who wanted to be thanked. If I did it would certainly raise an eyebrow; kind of like those guys who write books and toot their own horn. For me, if the U.S. honors any deal it cut with me (pay, VA, etc.) then that is all that is sought. Again, for me personally, I want this guy to sit on his ass behind a desk chipping away at your cognitive dissonance. I thank him for that. He doesn't have to thank me for my service. Just my opinion.

I most certainly do thank Huck Mucus for his well stated opinions, and everyone else as well. I also hope this brings to an end any discussions where "my ass" is on the list of acceptable topics. But seriously, what the comments section does show is that the service men and women of this country are a very diverse group with a multitude of opinions on a wide array of topics including Chris Kyle. This is an obvious statement which is all to easy to forget. So often we project all sorts of simple feelings and beliefs onto groups of people, be they veterans or otherwise, which just don't conform to the more complex reality.

images.jpeg

In psychology, projection is defined as "when humans defend themselves against unpleasant impulses by denying their existence in themselves, while attributing them to others." Scapegoating is "the process in which the mechanisms of projection or displacement are utilized in focusing feelings of aggression, hostility, frustration, etc. upon another individual or group: the amount of blame being unwarranted."

Those who disagreed with my article often  projected upon me all sorts of attributes that, when they didn't mystify me, made me laugh. For instance I got a series of emails saying I was a  "Libtard" who "loved Hillary Clinton", and "hated the truth", and that I would "never be taken seriously as a writer" (oh no!! Not THAT!!) because I had written an article about "Chris Kyle and not Benghazi", which is sort of like calling Clint Eastwood a racist because American Sniper is not about Muhammed Ali. That logic boggles the mind.

A large part of the projections thrown upon me are a result of the Manichean philosophy. When you have a clear black and white perspective on the world, if someone disagrees with you on one subject, then you can fill in the blanks of all the things you don't know about them with all sorts of other attributes and beliefs that you find repellent. Because the perceived opponent has proven themselves 'wrong' /'bad' /'evil' with their original contrary belief, they must be the 'the other' and holder of all beliefs the Manichean finds repulsive. Hence, my being a "libtard-Hillary-Clinton-loving-Benghazi-denier".

Unknown-4.jpeg

This is also a form of scapegoating, where all the negative aspects of a self described 'good' individual, group or community are projected upon an 'evil' select group or individual. These negative aspects are projected in order to consolidate all of the blame and hate into one person/group and then to finally purge that 'evil' person/group in order to relieve the individual/group/community of those negative ('evil') feelings or beliefs. Of course, the problem is that many, if not all, of those 'evil' projections that are thrown onto the scapegoat are creations of the scapegoating 'good' individual/group/community, and not the scapegoated 'evil' individual/group. That is how projection works, we throw our own worst aspects onto another and do not take responsibility for them ourselves. So while the scapegoating and purging will have the momentary effect of avoidance, eventually those negative 'evil' aspects will be front and center once again because they have not been released through genuine reflection and a true catharsis on the part of the scapegoater, so another scapegoat must be found to relieve the psychological pressure and continue the cycle. 

This projection/scapegoating is what I did with gun enthusiasts, this is what some readers did to me, it is what Chris Kyle did to Muslims/Iraqis and it is what some readers have done to Chris Kyle. Projecting/scapegoating is a very human, unconscious impulse, but the key to overcoming that impulse is to become conscious of it. Sadly, we usually want to take short cuts to thinking so we do not want to put in the effort to become aware, self aware, or informed enough to be conscious of what we are doing and why.

Death Threats?, The Temptation of Embellishment!! and What the Hell Do You Know?

images-4.jpeg

Interestingly enough, I have had a number of people ask me if I have received death threats as a result of the original article. I will say this about that…I certainly got a good number of aggressive emails and comments (the worst of which I did not let pass moderation due to inappropriateness of language) and a lot of vitriol spewed at me. I am sure that some other people might even consider those emails and comments 'threatening', but if I am being honest I have to say that the correspondence I received never reached the level of threats. For me to consider something 'threatening', I would have had to feel threatened, and I never for a moment felt truly threatened. Sure, some of the emails I got were very aggressive, but at the end of the day, it is just people writing nasty things, so who gives a rat's ass? I'm a big boy, people calling me names isn't something that is going to strike fear in my heart. Maybe I am just delusional or oblivious, but I was not alarmed at all. In the final analysis, really positive emails outnumbered negative ones by three to one at least, so I never spent much time dwelling on the school yard taunts thrown at me. 

But here is the thing….I was talking to a good friend about all of this the other day and he asked me if I had received any death threats and in that moment I quickly realized how really tempting it is to embellish the story. It is a much better story to say I did receive death threats. It is considerably more interesting, more dramatic and more impactful (and self aggrandizing) if I say I was threatened for writing an article some deem challenging or disrespectful to a 'hero' (this also would be me embracing the "Truth-teller archetype", in contrast to Chris Kyle embracing the "Hero archetype" which I will expand on later in this piece). In fact, I am pretty sure I could have made a big deal about some of the emails I got and claimed I actually did receive death threats, or what I perceived as death threats, and that would have brought me some attention. The reason? Because that is what some people want to hear. There is a segment of the population that if they heard I was receiving death threats, it would confirm what they already believe, that their ideological opponents are violent and unhinged. See, this is how the game works in our culture today, regardless of political affiliation. I tell people how scared I am and how crazy the 'pro-Kyle' people are, then I become a cause celebre and get my fifteen minutes of fame (and maybe make some money in the process). This is Victimhood and Media Manipulation 101. Then I could get myself out there as an important person because I am someone people want to shut up…well…someone the right people want to shut up. This stuff happens all the time (see Mr. Hannity's "Patriotism Under Attack" as just one example). This is what Chris Kyle did with the Ventura story and all the others, he gave his target audience what they wanted to hear, regardless if it was the Truth.

This brings up another complaint that people had of the original piece, namely that I was the person who wrote it. People would say, "who the hell are you?" "You're not a journalist! You're a nobody!!" Or "you are an acting coach what could you possibly know about anything?" This is a common approach to undermine the merits of an argument by attacking the authority or credibility of the person making the argument as opposed to looking at the merits of the argument itself. I do understand the criticism though, and believe me, I wouldn't have written the piece if someone who is paid to do these things would have done it. That is one of the things I was writing about, namely that the information I cited in my article was in the public sphere, and not just on some outer fringe of the internet, but in the Washington Post and The New Yorker magazine, and yet not a single media figure brought these issues up when the defamation verdict came out. People in the media were either being intentionally obtuse or were just plain ignorant. That is what frustrated me so much and that was the impetus for me to write the original piece. 

That said, due to my profession there are some things I know a great deal about, one of which is the eternal quest for fame and the machinery that makes it happen. I am surrounded by both all day long. Hollywood is one of the three great bullshit capitals of America, with Wall Street and Washington, D.C. the other two. Out here, embellishing, massaging or just completely making stories up in order to create and control impressions and perceptions is business as usual. You see and hear it happening incessantly. An age old example would be the well-worn story of the beautiful young woman who is "discovered" while waiting in line at a grocery store. This story is nonsense meant to generate interest in a particular ingenue, to give a fantasy for other young women to root for this ingenue because they too could be "discovered at the grocery store", to give the impression for men that this beauty is really attainable because she is just the "girl-next-door", and to create a way for shady guys to inappropriately approach beautiful young girls in public under the guise of "discovering" them.

Same thing with the many stories about actors going to great lengths to physically morph into a character. For instance, did Bradley Cooper really gain forty pounds to play Chris Kyle? Or is it more likely he gained twenty pounds, which, by the way, is one hell of an achievement for a forty year old man and I am sure he gave a Herculean effort to do it, but twenty pounds doesn't sound all that Herculean to the average Joe, whereas forty pounds sounds incredibly remarkable, almost otherworldly. Hollywood will always go with the incredibly remarkable otherworldly story, every…single...time.

One other thing I know about as an acting coach is how to create a believable narrative and a sympathetic character. This is why my spidey sense started going off when I read the "American Sniper" book. It is filled little stories, that are really just throw away little tales, but they are so sculpted as to manipulate the reader to believe that Chris Kyle is everything they want him to be (not to mention they are 'unverifiable' to borrow a phrase from the Washington Post). I work with actors and scripts all day long searching for these minuscule little triggers that are so essential to creating a massive unconscious effect in the reader/viewer. It is a credit to Kyle's co-authors how subtly their work has been done. The "babykiller" sign story and the "discovering barrels of WMD" are two stories that stood out to me because of how quickly and quietly they are dropped into the narrative. The book expertly creates a character that is humble and sincere, even in his faults, all the while he is actually bragging (he is writing a book about himself!!) and bullshitting you (Scruff-face/Ventura etc.). You know what they say, once you can fake sincerity, then you've really got it made. In that sense, "American Sniper" is an absolute masterpiece and I genuinely credit Kyle and his co-authors for the craft displayed in making it.

Musings on "The Legend" as The Hero Archetype Runs Amok

images-20.jpeg

The reason some react so strongly to my article is that the topic touches a nerve deep within the personal and collective psyche. The Hero Archetype is not only something that Chris Kyle needed to believe in, it is something we all need to believe in, as evidenced by the enormous success of the film American Sniper, which is as full blown an homage to the Hero Archetype as it gets. We all project these archetypal images onto the voids of our psyches and our realities. So when our heroes are challenged, that means the Hero Archetype, an entity in and of itself, is challenged as well. The archetype resides deep within our unconscious, both personal and collective, and it will instinctively defend itself, and for our own psychic self defense we will jump to it's defense as well. 

It is my belief that Chris Kyle was under the spell of this Hero Archetype. Chris Kyle's psyche was split in two, there was Chris Kyle the man, the father, son, husband, brother, and then there was "The Legend". Maybe that happened as a defense mechanism for him to be able to survive both physically and mentally in a war zone, and then to be able to maintain a sense of emotional and mental equilibrium upon his return home. This is completely understandable. And when other people projected upon him the collective Hero Archetype, this empowered "The Legend" side of things, and then there was no way for 'Chris' to escape this alter-ego, so he unconsciously, or consciously, embraced it. As I said in the original piece, 'Chris' knew the things he said were not true, but the Hero Archetype, "The Legend", overwhelmed that mindset and what became important wasn't what was true, but what could be true. In reading Chris' tales, I get the sense that those images, of him hitting Ventura, of the carjackers, the looters, etc. are creations of the Hero Archetype "The Legend" which had him under its power. In the final analysis, Chris Kyle is totally responsible for the tales he told, but the people and media who fawned over "The Legend" also have a share in the blame for the fantastic tales as well. Living a life where people project tremendous amounts of archetypal energy onto you must be a terribly exhausting existence. There are many examples where it has destroyed people, think of Marylin Monroe and all of the archetypal sexual energy directed at her and how it eventually annihilated her. At some point, being "The Legend" was no longer a choice, but rather the cross 'Chris' had to bear, albeit an at times very prosperous one.

To me, this hypothesis is the only way to make much sense of what has become the most interesting question of all…why? Why would a guy with such an apparent stellar resume as a warrior (two Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars), feel the need to make up stories in order to sound tougher or more heroic? I can understand why Brian Williams would make up stories, his claim to fame is reading a teleprompter every night for twenty two minutes while maintaining impeccable hair. But Chris Kyle is allegedly the most lethal sniper in US military history, isn't that an impressive enough calling card for that line of work that you don't need to pad it with bullshit? Apparently not. Obviously, the preceding thoughts are just my opinion on why he lied about the things he lied about, and since I never met Chris Kyle, take them for what they are worth.

Final Thoughts

As usual, a commenter had some great insights into what all of this means. Andie Howe wrote...

Thank you for this great article. I can't imagine it will make any difference. Those who believe Chris Kyle will continue to believe Chris Kyle and will vilify you for having written it; and the rest of us will continue to think his devotees are deluded….

I think Andie Howe is probably accurate in that statement. I will say this though, from all of the insightful emails and great comments I received it is pretty obvious to me that there are many fellow travelers out there, much more than I previously thought, who actually 'get it'. And I don't mean agree with me on the Chris Kyle issue. What I mean is they 'get' what I was really saying and the problem I was trying to describe. I think it is a result of my deficiencies as a writer that I was unable to more clearly communicate what exactly I was trying to say. But I am grateful for those that were able to find the true meaning hidden beneath the morass of the Chris Kyle story. For at the end of the day, thanks to the Clint Eastwood film American Sniper, Truth has gone out the window, and the Chris Kyle story and the debate swirling around it have devolved into nothing more than a political football being vacuously tossed around with each side reflexively opposing the other and mindlessly clinging to their beliefs. The story itself will dissipate just like all the others, and something more pressing, and ultimately just as foolish, will take it's place. And this seemingly endless cycle of nonsense and bullshit will keep the media, our politics, our culture and ourselves chasing after our tails (and tales) until we simply collapse from exhaustion or boredom, whichever comes first. It was Shakespeare's MacBeth who said it best...

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
and then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

Such is life…and so it goes.

© 2015

 

CLICK HERE FOR A REVIEW OF THE CLINT EASTWOOD DIRECTED FILM AMERICAN SNIPER .

American Sniper: A Review

***** WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!!! THIS IS YOUR ONE AND ONLY SPOILER ALERT!!****

 

American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper, is the story of the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, and is loosely based on his book American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.  The film follows Chris Kyle's exploits on the battlefield in Iraq and his struggles with his family and PTSD back on the homeland.

I admit that after seeing the trailer for American Sniper I was excited to see the film. The trailer was really well made and brought with it a palpable tension. But, as with many films, the trailer is considerably better than the actual film. The film itself, just like the trailer, starts off with Chris Kyle prone atop a building in Iraq, contemplating whether or not he should use his sniper rifle to shoot a young boy and woman who threaten US Marines with a Russian grenade off in the distance. The film then deviates from the trailer and we go into  extended flash back scenes which show Kyle's boyhood, his young adult life, his work as a cowboy, his joining the Navy, his SEAL training, his meeting his wife and then his wedding. This is all shown to us in order to give us context for who Chris is and how he got to be that way. After twenty minutes of this exposition, we come back to Kyle atop the roof with his sniper rifle and his pending decision. He shoots and kills both the boy and his mother, his first ever kills. 

Bradley Cooper stars as Chris Kyle and is as good as he's ever been. He fully inhabits the role from top to bottom. His physicality, his Texas drawl and his energy are all spot on. Cooper's performance, without question, carries the film. There are two scenes in particular, where Cooper rises above his already very good performance to be truly transcendent. The first scene is where he has another Iraqi boy in his sniper sights as the boy picks up an RPG and points it at unsuspecting US troops. Kyle talks to himself telling the kid to drop the weapon, he doesn't want to kill another child. Just as the boy is aiming the RPG and Kyle readies to squeeze the trigger, the boy drops the weapon and runs off. Cooper's use of breath once he no longer has to decide whether to shoot or not, is brilliant. He lets out a guttural grunt of relief at being spared the damage to his psyche and soul that most assuredly would have come with killing another child, justified or not. The second scene is when Chris has returned from the war for the last time but has not told his family yet. His wife calls his cell phone and Chris answers sitting by himself in a bar in the states. He is detached and shut down, but his wife Taya tells him his kids miss him and want to see him, and once again Cooper masterfully uses his breath to show the torment and grief that lives deep in Kyle's soul, as he lets out an uncontained weep and wail and tells Taya that he is coming home. These are easily the two best scenes in the film and are highlights of not only the film, but of Bradley Cooper's career. That is the good news about American Sniper. The bad news is that the rest of the film never lives up to the at-times stellar work Bradley Cooper does in it. Sadly, the film never rises above being a standard biopic and run-of-the-mill war movie. Besides Cooper's strong performance, there is nothing remarkable about the film at all. Visually the film is dull and generic. The script is tedious and unoriginal, the dialogue stilted and occasionally cringe-worthy and the supporting actors are, for the most part, considerably below par. The end result is the film looks rushed and cheap.

For any war movie, the battle scenes need to shine in order for the film to distinguish itself. With American Sniper, the battle scenes all look flat, stagnant and lack any texture at all. The battle scenes look like something you'd see any night of the week on an episodic television show. When you consider some of the great war films that have been made, whether it be Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Saving Private RyanThe Thin Red Line or Black Hawk Down, just to name a few, and how visually creative, powerful and unique those films are, American Sniper is so visually listless as to be embarrassing in comparison.

Another thing that needs to be done for a war film to be successful is that it must attach us to a group of warriors and accurately describe and detail the unique camaraderie inherent in the warrior culture. The camaraderie in American Sniper rings false and feels contrived. Eastwood attempts to create a sense of familiarity in order for us to feel we know and care about the other SEALs in Kyle's graduating class and on his team, but we never really connect because these characters are nothing more than indistinguishable blurs. We may care about them as US servicemen, but we don't care about them as individuals or in relationship to Chris Kyle. They end up being simply cannon fodder for the film.

As for the script and the story, director Eastwood chose to use standard Hollywood narrative tools to make the story more palatable for American audiences. For instance, he chose to make an enemy sniper named "Mustafa" Chris Kyle's main foil throughout the battlefield parts of the film. The Mustafa character is only mentioned in passing in one paragraph in Chris Kyle's book, so this is a distinct creative decision to make him such a prominent character in the film. Eastwood also uses a character named "The Butcher" as another foil and symbol for the evil and brutality of America's enemy in the war. In the book, the "Butcher" character doesn't exist at all. Eastwood must have felt he needed to give the enemy in Iraq a face and a name in order to make the Iraq war segments more coherent and digestible for American audiences, not unlike what the Bush administration did in selling the actual war to the American public by making it about "Saddam and Osama". It worked for Bush and company in persuading the American public, but it fails Eastwood because he isn't selling a product (war), he is trying to create a great piece of intimate art and you can't do that by rolling out tired Hollywood storytelling devices, stereotypes and cliches.

There are two other fatal errors by Eastwood in the film. They both deal with endings. The first is the final battle scene and the second is how he ends the film itself. The final battlefield scene is nothing short of an artistic debacle, and seems to be transplanted from another film, and it certainly isn't from Kyle's book. In the sequence, Kyle takes a near impossible sniper shot from over a mile away that takes out his nemesis, Mustafa. Here Eastwood, for the first time in the film, uses a visual effect, a slow motion of the bullet as it leaves the rifle, which feels like it is taken from any number of hokey action movies from the last ten years (I am thinking of Wanted et al).  All of this happens while a sand storm and jihadis close in on Kyle and his squad. In the heat of this dire battle Chris decides to use a satellite phone to call Taya and tell her he is done with war and is coming home.  This sequence is so unwieldy and preposterous as to be comical. It belongs in a Mission: Impossible sequel and not in an allegedly true to life, gritty war movie. And instead of the sandstorm being symbolic of the loss of our national bearings in Iraq, it just comes across as being optically muddled and metaphorically befuddling. There are much more visually coherent and impactful ways to make that important point, which gets lost with Eastwood's approach.

Then there is the final scene of the film, which is very manipulative and grating. In it Kyle says goodbye to his family as he heads out to help a former Marine suffering from PTSD. In reality, this former Marine would tragically shoot and kill Chris Kyle and his friend at a shooting range that day (this is not shown in the film). In the movie scene, Taya Kyle tells Chris how proud she is of him, his kids all love him and he is finally healed and whole. It is obviously a fantasy sequence where everyone gets to say what they had hoped to say and hear what they hoped to hear and Chris' journey is neatly tied up, his martyrdom awaiting him in the form of a shady looking veteran right outside the door. Taya Kyle even has a feeling, call it a sixth sense, about this nefarious fellow waiting for her husband…then we fade to black. I understand wanting to do all that for the family, but this isn't a home movie. The final scene rings so hollow, phony and forced that it could have come right out of a Lifetime movie of the week. It is all too neat and clean and perfect (and also not how events actually played out in real life), so much so that it actually diminishes the impact of Chris Kyle's tragic death. How much more gut wrenching would it be if Taya Kyle didn't get to say all those things to her husband? What if Chris wasn't healed and whole before his death? What if he wasn't finished yet? What if he didn't get to say goodbye to his kids? That would have been a way to really emphasize the shock and horror and tragedy of Chris Kyle being so unexpectedly killed in suburban Texas after having survived four combat tours in Iraq.

Those two critical scenes are not well done, but they aren't the only missteps. There is a scene, the 'garage' scene, where a former Marine approaches Kyle back in America while his car is getting fixed and thanks Kyle for saving him back in Iraq. This could have been a really great scene, and Cooper is wondrously uncomfortable in it which is really interesting to watch, but the other actor's work is so disastrously abominable and false that it is cringe-worthy, and because of that the scene loses any dramatic impact it might have had with even a mediocre actor in that role.

Which brings me to the supporting acting. The work of the supporting actors, particularly in the 'stateside' scenes, is positively dreadful. The actor (whom I will not name) playing Chris Kyle's father is absolutely appalling, and the actor (whom I will also not name) playing Kyle's brother is so unconscionably atrocious it is downright shocking. I kept wondering, why does Chris Kyle's brother not have a Texas drawl when his father and Chris do? Also, why couldn't they find the brother a dress blue uniform that actually fit instead of being three sizes too big? The child actors who play Chris and his brother when they were young, well, they are just children, so at least they have an excuse…but boy, they are not good at acting.

So the question becomes: why are all of these supporting and smaller roles so poorly done? Well, Clint Eastwood is well known for being a minimalist in regards to how many takes he will do. That is a good and bad thing. It is good because when you do fewer takes you stay on schedule, and when you stay on schedule, you stay on budget, and when you stay on budget they let you keep making movies. The bad part is, the acting suffers. So when you are giving great actors, like Sean Penn for instance in Mystic River, or Bradley Cooper in American Sniper, or Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, Richard Harris and Eastwood himself in Unforgiven, fewer takes, they are able to adjust their approach and keep knocking it out of the park due to their talent and skill, but with lesser talents, their performances flounder and feel rushed and out of rhythm with the rest of the film. The supporting actors in American Sniper are really abysmal, and it is not all their fault. They weren't there everyday getting the feel for the pace of the work (like Cooper was), they weren't getting the rhythm down, they showed up and had to shoot and then did two takes and it was over and they go home. It is a tough gig, but man, regardless of the reason or who is to blame, the supporting cast did a very poor job and the film suffers greatly for it.

There is one exception in regards to the supporting acting, and that is Sienna Miller. Sienna Miller does her best to bring life to the terribly written character of Taya Kyle, Chris Kyle's wife. Her work is admirable, and her American accent is very well done (which is not always the case when the Brits take it on) but the part only allows her to hit two notes: sassy and weepy. It is such a hollow and empty character that Miller should be credited for giving her all to it in a Quixotic attempt to bring some semblance of life to the character, but sadly there just isn't enough there for life to exist.

One issue which may have been a major reason why the film turned out the way it did, is that Eastwood didn't set out to make a great piece of drama, he set out to canonize Chris Kyle. This canonization of St. Chris Kyle, patron saint of 'Merica, is an example of deification, which is an all too common problem when making a biopic, particularly a biopic of someone who has died and who's family is involved in the making of the film. (I have written two previous blog posts on deification which you might find of interest. The Great Man Theory and the Dangers of Deification Part Two, is more relevant to the American Sniper conversation, but feel free to read them both. Links :  The Great Man Theory and the Dangers of Deification Part Two  , The Great Man Theory and the Dangers of Deification Part One  ) I recently read where Chris Kyle's father told Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper that if they dishonored his son he would "bring hell down on them". I understand Mr. Kyle's desire to protect his son's legacy, which has been called into question for some dubious claims his son had made, not the least of which was that he claimed to have punched Jesse Ventura out for making disparaging remarks about SEALs. That tale was adjudicated in the courts and found to be untrue, but Eastwood and Cooper needed to be more loyal to artistic truth than to any man, alive or dead. A great failure of the film is that it really is nothing more than propaganda (propaganda being defined as "the spreading of ideas, information or rumors for the purpose of helping a cause or person"), not just propaganda for a distinct version of America, the war and a certain view of the world, but more specifically it is personal propaganda for Chris Kyle and his 'legacy'. That isn't a bad thing in and of itself, some people love propaganda and some propaganda can be terrifically entertaining. But you can't make great art and propaganda at the same time. So American Sniper is not great art because it is propaganda, and it isn't great propaganda because as a film it isn't even remotely well crafted, either in the directing, the writing, or besides Bradley Cooper, in the acting. 

As a result of this creative 'deification' of Chris Kyle, a lot of really compelling issues and ideas get pushed aside in order to maintain an agreed upon version of Kyle's legacy. For instance, in the film when Chris Kyle is a young boy, his father tells him that there are three types of people in the world..sheep, wolves, and sheep dogs. The sheep are too weak or stupid to protect themselves or even admit that there is evil in the world, the wolves are evil and prey upon the sheep, and the sheep dog protects the sheep from the wolves. Mr. Kyle tells Chris that he raises only sheep dogs. This story propels Chris Kyle through his life and his Navy career. An interesting topic to explore would be that it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between a sheepdog and a wolf. If the sheepdog goes to someone else's country and kills people, is he still a sheep dog or is he a wolf? Does Kyle's film nemesis Mustafa think of himself as a sheepdog and Kyle as the wolf? Don't all the people fighting for the enemy tell themselves the same story about sheepdogs and wolves and see themselves as sheepdogs? And don't they have a stronger case for being the sheepdogs since they are the ones being attacked and invaded? That brings up another topic which would be intriguing to explore which is that Chris Kyle never ever has any doubt, be it in his mission or the justness of his cause. His faith is entirely in his own virtue and the righteousness of his country. Something that obviously eluded him in his lifetime, is that this faith, this lack of any doubt, is something he has in common with his enemy. The jihadi, whether it be "The Butcher" or Mustafa, is blindingly positive he is righteous and sees any doubt of the righteousness of his cause, by himself or anyone else, as a crime against his faith, his mission, his God. In the film, Chris Kyle's fellow SEAL (a one-time seminarian) had creeping doubts about the mission in Iraq, and after this SEAL is killed, Chris Kyle tells his wife that the SEAL's doubt in the mission is what got him killed. This conviction and lack of doubt is most assuredly an asset in a war zone, but how well does that certitude translate to peace time and a normal, functioning family life? That would have been a fascinating issue to explore.

Someone once said, 'Without doubt, there can be no true faith'. This struggle to hold onto surety is dramatically fertile ground which I wish the film had explored more deeply. For instance, there is a scene in the film where Chris Kyle is interviewed by a psychologist about his PTSD and the doctor asks him if he has any regrets. Kyle quickly answers that he only wishes he could have saved more Marines. I found this an interesting answer, only because there isn't the slightest bit of introspection from Kyle, and he seems blind to an obvious solution to protecting Marines which Kyle has never contemplated. If he had just stopped to think about it, one good and undeniable way to save more Marines would be to not send them into Iraq in the first place. Though that thought would never have occurred to Chris Kyle because he could not allow doubt about the mission to enter his mind. For Chris Kyle, doubt is death. In this way, Chris Kyle was like the jihadis he so masterfully killed in Iraq, he was a 'true believer'. The thing about the 'true believer' is that deep down, his faith isn't so true, because he cannot grapple with doubt. Thus his faith is one of compulsion and force, not one of reason and logic. American Sniper never had the artistic courage for this, and other deeper explorations and that is a shame because it could have been so much more than it was.

Regardless of what American Sniper isn't and what topics it avoids, it still could have been a great and entertaining movie as it was, a straight up biopic and war film. Sadly, it fails at this attempt because it gets the basics wrong. The basics being the visuals which look pedestrian and cheap, the script which is clumsily written and the acting, which, with the notable exception of Bradley Cooper, is amateurish. After the heart pounding trailer, I went into American Sniper with elevated expectations which the film was unable to meet and so I left the theatre exceedingly disappointed with the film.

Once upon a time, Clint Eastwood directed one of my favorite films of all time, Unforgiven, which would have been an excellent blue print to follow in making American Sniper. The regrets and impact of a life of violence upon the human psyche and soul is a vast and rich topic on which to meditate for an artist, which Eastwood proved in Unforgiven, but with American Sniper he chooses to avoid those difficult questions and instead makes a garden variety biopic that is little more than a commercial for the family approved legacy of Chris Kyle. It certainly isn't the worst film ever made, so if you are a fan boy or a flag waver, and there is nothing wrong with being either of those things, then this film might be for you. But if you are a cinephile or thinking patriot, then your time would be better spent elsewhere.

FOR FURTHER READING ON THE TOPIC OF THE REAL-LIFE CHRIS KYLE, PLEASE CLICK ON THIS LINK TO MY BLOG POSTING Truth, Justice and the Curious Case of Chris Kyle

 

ADDENDUM: THE FILM WHISPERER SPEAKS...

After reviewing a film, I am often asked…"okay smart guy, if you are such a god damn genius, then how would you make the film?" So… here is the answer to that question...how could they have made American Sniper (as a straight forward biopic war movie) a better film? Here is my prescription: you start the film with Chris and Taya Kyle's wedding. You have about five to seven minutes of wedding stuff (The Godfather starts with a wedding…remember!?!?). You meet his family and in the form of toasts at the wedding they tell stories of Chris' childhood. You have his SEAL classmates give toasts telling of Kyle's SEAL training and friendships with team members. You have an intimate scene of Chris and Taya having a quiet and profound moment together. Then after establishing the people in Chris's life, and his relationship to them, you put him on the roof in Iraq behind his sniper rifle aiming at the woman and her son. Then you spend the next hour of the film showing every single confirmed kill, all 160 of them, that Chris Kyle ever made. These are not elaborate set-ups and wouldn't bust the budget. Quite the opposite. You just have a shot of Kyle in various locales and then have a shot through his scope at what he sees and you see each person he shoots drop and Kyle's reaction to it. You do this over and over and over, with some interactions with Marines and soldiers he is protecting thrown in, and his 'door to door' work as well, until his first tour is over. Then you show him back home with Taya as she is pregnant and then with the newborn. Chris never speaks in these 'at home' segments, he is detached and preoccupied. The Iraq segments of the film should be especially vibrant, both visually and with sound, in direct contrast to the 'at home' sections, which are washed out and nearly silent. Then back to Iraq for tour two and more sniper kills from Kyle, interspersed with his lively interactions with fellow SEALs and Marines. Then back home for more detached domesticity…and so on and so forth until his final kill at the end of tour four and his return home for good. 

This approach would show how grinding and relentless the work of war is for the men who wage it, and the true impact of that assault on Chris Kyle's psyche, senses and soul. The audience would be rubbed raw from watching an hour of non-stop, methodical killing of 160 men, women and children. Then we transition to back home permanence and the struggle to get back to normal. It would seem as foreign to the viewer as it must have been for Chris Kyle. We then spend the next twenty minutes having very tight and intense scenes between Chris and Taya as they do the hard work of recovering their marriage, family and a sense of normalcy. These would be great scenes for Cooper and Miller to really dig in and have some fantastic acting moments as they fight for their relationship and family. This conflict is resolved when Kyle relents and goes to a psychiatrist who diagnoses him with PTSD and then tells him how he can help other servicemen suffering from the same ailment. Now we get into the final forty minutes or so of the film, which should be spent showing Kyle having very deep and meaningful conversations and interactions with PTSD sufferers. You have one or two guys in particular who we get to know and we see how Kyle's work impacts them and transforms them. So we see the tangible good Kyle did for others and how he helped himself by helping them. This gives us a true picture of Chris Kyle being healed and whole. Then you have Kyle and his close friend leave an empty house, Taya and the kids are out and Kyle has to leave the house without saying goodbye, and they go and meet a another young man with PTSD and they have a long drive to a shooting range and we see Kyle helping this guy as he has helped the other men we've met. At the end of this long drive and a profound conversation, Chris, his friend and the young man get out of the truck at a shooting range and you see from a long distance the young man pull a gun and kill both Kyle and his friend. Then, in the final scene, we see Taya with the kids, out at the mall or something, and her cell phone rings, we see her answer but don't hear anything. We see her crumble in horror and grief as she obviously gets the news of her husband's murder. Fade to black, scroll the news footage of Chris Kyle's funeral procession and memorial at Texas stadium.

Doing the film this way maintains Kyle's 'legacy' much more than the Eastwood film does. It doesn't make him another action hero, it makes him an actual human being, who excelled at war, struggled to recover his balance once returning from war, and then found himself once again being of service to others. That is how you make a financially and artistically successful Chris Kyle biopic. Back up the Brinks truck and prepare your Oscar speech Mr. Cooper and Mr. Eastwood and maybe even Ms. Miller. Sadly, this isn't what happened. Oh…and Hollywood studios, please wise up and contact me, The Film WhispererBEFORE you shoot these films,  and you will save yourself a lot of trouble, and make yourself a lot of money and win yourself a lot of Oscars. I am currently available and my rates are reasonable…for now.

© 2014

FOR REVIEWS OF OTHER FILMS RELEASED DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON, PLEASE CLICK ON THESE LINKS TO THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING , WHIPLASH , BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) , FOXCATCHER , WILD , THE IMITATION GAME , A MOST VIOLENT YEAR , NIGHTCRAWLER , STILL ALICE , INHERENT VICE , SELMA , MR. TURNER , CAKE .

 

Truth, Justice and the Curious Case of Chris Kyle

"Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night" - Bette Davis

"American Sniper" Chris Kyle

"American Sniper" Chris Kyle

A few weeks ago I was reading online about the defamation lawsuit filed by Jesse Ventura against former Navy SEAL, Chris Kyle. The case sounded pretty interesting, so, I borrowed from a friend a copy of American Sniper, the autobiography of Chris Kyle, and read it. It was a very compelling read.

Here is a little background on Chris Kyle and his story:  Kyle was a Navy SEAL sniper from Texas. He claims to be the deadliest sniper in American history with over 160 'confirmed' kills. Confirmed kills are defined as kills with at least one other witness besides the shooter. Kyle served four tours of duty in Iraq and was awarded two Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars for Valor for his actions during the war. Upon returning to Texas after his tours of duty were over, he settled down with his wife and two kids, started a security firm and wrote a book about his experiences as a sniper. The book, American Sniper, became an instant success and propelled Chris Kyle into a sort of celebrity status. Kyle also worked helping other war veterans deal with PTSD when they returned from the war. On February 2, 2013, Chris brought a vet suffering from PTSD to a shooting range where the vet shot and killed both Chris Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield.  

The Court Case

In the lead up to the defamation case going to trial, all of the legal experts on television and in print said that it was highly unlikely that Jesse Ventura could win the case because the bar was set very high in defamation cases concerning celebrities. According to these various experts, in order for Ventura to win he would need to prove that not only did Chris Kyle lie about him, but also prove that he did so maliciously and that he prospered from it.

Despite the very high burden of proof, on July 19, 2014, Jesse Ventura, former Governor of Minnesota, WWF wrestler, TV show host and Former Navy SEAL (technically he was in the pre-cursor to SEALs, the UDT) won a defamation lawsuit against deceased former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, author of American Sniper to the tune of $1.8 million. In the book, Chris Kyle, claimed to have punched 'Scruff-face', later identified by Kyle on both the The O'Reilly Factor on the Fox News Channel and The Opie and Anthony radio show as Jesse Ventura, in a SEAL bar in California after Ventura said some nasty things. Here is the passage in question from the book:

After the funeral, we went to a local bar for the wake proper. (for Navy SEAL and Medal of Honor winner Mike Monsoor who was killed in action in Iraq)

As always, there were a bunch of different things going on at our favorite nightspot, including a small party for some older SEALs and UDT members who were celebrating the anniversary of their graduation. Among them was a celebrity I'll call Scruff Face.

Scruff served in the military; most people seem to believe he was a SEAL. As far as I know, he was in service during the Vietnam conflict but not the actual war.

I was sitting with Ryan (a SEAL who was wounded and blinded in the Iraq war) and told him that Scruff was holding court with some of his buddies.

"I'd really like to meet him, " Ryan said.

"Sure". I got up and went over to Scruff and introduced myself. "Mr. Scruff Face, I have a young SEAL over here who's just come back from Iraq. He's been injured but he'd really like to meet you."

Well, Scruff kind of blew us off. Still, Ryan really wanted to meet him, so I brought him over. Scruff acted like he couldn't be bothered.

All right.

We went back over to our side of the bar and had a few more drinks. In the meantime, Scruff started running his mouth about the war and everything and anything he could connect to it. President Bush was an asshole. We were only over there because Bush wanted to show up his father. We were doing the wrong thing, killing men, woman and children and murdering.

And on and on. Scruff said he hates America and that's why he moved to Baja California. 9/11 was a conspiracy.

And on some more.

The guys were getting upset. Finally, I went over and tried to get him to cool it.

"We're all here in mourning." I told him. "Can you just cool it? Keep it down."

"You deserve to lose a few," he told me.

I was uncharacteristically level-headed at that moment.

"Look," I told him, "why don't we just step away from each other and go on our way?"

Scruff bowed up again. This time he swung. 

Being level-headed and calm can last only so long. I laid him out.

Tables flew. Stuff happened. Scruff face ended up on the floor. 

I left.

Quickly. 

I have no way of knowing for sure, but rumor has it he showed up at the BUD/S graduation with a black eye.

That is the story that was proven to be untrue in the court proceedings. Jesse Ventura didn't say those things to Chris Kyle or any other SEAL.  Chris Kyle did not hit Jesse Ventura. The entire episode never occurred. Or to put it another way, Chris Kyle lied. To put an even finer point on it, Chris Kyle lied to make himself look good.

Chris Kyle, The Hero Archetype and Fantastical Tales of Wonder

Having read the book, I went and did some more research of Chris Kyle and his life. The things I found were pretty astounding. If you thought the Jesse Ventura fight was a hell of a yarn, wait until you get a load of some of the other stories Chris Kyle told about himself but left out of his book. 

Chris told many people, and some reporters, that just after his return from Iraq in 2009, he was carjacked by two men at a gas station on a remote Texas highway. Chris asked the men if he could reach into his truck to get his keys, and as he did he pulled a pistol from his waistband and shot both men in the chest from under his armpit. The two men were killed instantly. Chris called the police and waited for them while leaning against his truck. The police came, Chris handed them a phone number to call at the Pentagon. The cops called the number, and the people at the Pentagon told the cops that Chris Kyle was a war hero and a Navy SEAL. The police also went inside and watched the gas station surveillance video of the incident. The cops then let Chris go on his way. Chris claimed he got emails from cops all across the country after the incident thanking him for "keeping the streets clean". Great story. Except none of it is true.  Not a word. There were no carjackers, no dead bodies, no cops, none of it. He made the whole thing up. His big mistake was then telling the story to his SEAL friend, Marcus Lutrell, author of Lone Survivor, and Marcus put the story in his second book, Service: A Navy SEAL at Work. Now it wasn't just a tall-tale, it was in the public record, and it is demonstrably a lie. The New Yorker magazine and other journalists have investigated the story. They all come to the same conclusion. There were no carjackers. There were no dead bodies. There were no cops. None of it happened. No police departments know anything about it, no coroner ever saw the bodies, no gas station had any surveillance video or ever heard of such a thing and no cops ever responded to the scene and called the Pentagon. 

Superdome during Hurricane Katrina

Superdome during Hurricane Katrina

The second story that was told by Chris Kyle was that he and another SEAL were sent by the government to New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Once they got to New Orleans, Chris and another sniper went to the roof of the Superdome, and started shooting looters in the city. Chris Kyle said this to many people, he also said this on tape. Chris claims to have killed thirty looters all on his own. Helluva story. Only problem is…there's not a speck of truth in it. Once again this is a total fabrication, or to put it less delicately, a complete, bold faced lie. Chris Kyle never went to New Orleans after Katrina. He never shot 'looters'. Just like with the carjackers, there are no bodies and no documentary or corroborating evidence it occurred. None. Chris Kyle lied. Again. 

Don't take my word for it...Here are two links to in-depth articles about these two stories. (New Yorker-  LINK     Washington Post -   LINK)

Taya Kyle, Chris's wife, fought in court to make sure that both of those stories were kept out of the Jesse Ventura defamation lawsuit because she didn't want her husband to be "labelled a liar". Smart woman. The stories were kept out of the lawsuit, and yet, incredibly, Ventura still proved Kyle was lying about the bar room fight (or non-fight, as it turned out).

These stories are so fantastical that only a true believer could ever think them anything other than fairy tales. So the question becomes, why would Chris Kyle tell such patently absurd stories? 

Rambo, Red Meat, and the Spitting Protestors Canard

Chris Kyle told other lies as well, but these he put in his book. They are smaller lies compared to the car jacking and Katrina stories, but they are important nonetheless because they show a pattern of lies and embellishment that is troubling. One lie is about when Chris first went to deploy for Iraq. Here is the passage from the book:

Generally, when SEALs go out for a deployment or come back, we do so very quietly - that's the nature of special operations. There are usually few people around except for our immediate families; sometimes not even them. In this case, because of when I was heading out, it happened that I passed a small group of protestors demonstrating against the war. They had signs about baby killers and whatever, protesting the troops who were going over to fight.

Great story. It really is. We have poor Chris Kyle was going off to war to fight for our freedoms and he had to go past these assholes calling him a baby killer. That would be pretty infuriating…except…it isn't true. It never happened. There may have been protestors, but none of them had "baby killer" signs or were protesting the troops. This is at worst pure fantasy, at best a great embellishment. San Diego and Coronado, California are very pro-military areas. There are huge populations of active service and retired military people living there. A protestor with a "baby killer" sign would stick out like a sore thumb. That would also make not only the local news, but national news. And other vets would have reported the same thing on their own websites or chat rooms. None of that happened. There is no reporting, or evidence that there were ever any protestors with "baby killer" signs anywhere near San Diego or Coronado California. Or anywhere else for that matter.  Never. Nor were there any pictures taken of those signs or news reports about them. Chris Kyle lied again. 

Rambo: A Fake Person but a Real American Hero

Rambo: A Fake Person but a Real American Hero

This lie is not a new one, it is really just an urban myth from the Vietnam era, popularized by a monologue in the Sylvester Stallone film, First Blood. In his speech Stallone's character, Vietnam veteran John Rambo says, "And I come back to the world and I see all those maggots at the airport, protesting me, spitting. Calling me baby killer!" Sound familiar? Yes, just like American hero, John Rambo, Chris Kyle was called baby killer by protestors. This doesn't pass the smell test. It didn't happen to John Rambo because he isn't a real person, and it didn't happen to Chris Kyle either because it is factually untrue. As for the spitting protestor canard, please read the book The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and Legacy of Vietnam by Jerry Lembcke. His book dismantles the myth of the vicious Vietnam war protestor spitting on the poor, returning vet. Here is a link-  LINK.

We Found Them!!

Another lie Chris Kyle tells in his book is about those pesky missing WMDs. Here is the passage:

At another location, we found barrels of chemical material that was intended for use as biochemical weapons. Everyone talks about there being no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but they seem to be referring to completed nuclear bombs, not the many deadly chemical weapons or precursors that Saddam had stockpiled.

Maybe the reason is that the writing on the barrels showed that the chemicals came from France and Germany, our supposed Western allies.

WE FOUND THEM!!

WE FOUND THEM!!

What a groundbreaking story. This is interesting insight from someone who was there and can tell us first hand. Except of course, it is all a lie. Completely fabricated. Totally untrue. There were no barrels of WMD, and the story wasn't covered up because it would offend our allies France and Germany. The story couldn't be covered up because it never happened. This is something that can be easily checked and verified. You can do it yourself. I did. It is a lie. There is no proof or evidence that this incident occurred. Even if you simply apply logic and reason, this story crumbles. The US would gladly embarrass the French over WMDs. Remember the "Freedom Fries" nonsense? The French were our national punching bags for years because they didn't "back us in Iraq". If we had the chance to rub their "cheese-eating-surrender-monkey" noses in it, we certainly would have taken it.

So why would Chris Kyle lie about shooting car jackers and looters, and "baby killer" signs and WMDs? The answer is two-fold. Firstly, he did it to reinforce his status as a hero. Chris Kyle embodied the Hero Archetype. His fans would be the first to tell you this. He was a hero for fighting for his country, he was a hero for killing so many Iraqis, he was a hero for saving American lives. This is his story, and it's the story he tells in American Sniper, and it is why he is beloved by so many. But, like all archetypes, the Hero Archetype has a life of its own. Chris Kyle was submerged in it and overcome by it. He even says in his book that he felt "invincible". It could be easy to see how he would be swept away by all the hype and praise and glory. He knew he didn't kill any car jackers or looters, but he could have…and that was all that mattered in his mind. He BELIEVED that he did, even while he KNEW that he didn't. The archetype made him BELIEVE it, his rational mind KNEW it was false, but the rational mind almost always takes a back seat when the archetype is in town.

The following is the definition of the Hero Archetype: "HERO: He is a character who predominantly exhibits goodness and struggles against evil in order to restore harmony and justice to society".  That is the Rambo story. That is also the story of Chris Kyle, or to be more exact, that is the story Chris Kyle tells, to us and, more importantly, to himself.

So why the other lies about the "baby killer" signs and the WMDs? This is simply, in a storytelling and narrative sense, to reinforce the hero's struggle by giving him multiple foils and also to give context to his journey. As a storytelling device, these lies do two things for Chris. One, they make him a sympathetic figure who overcomes not only physical danger in the form of enemies on the battlefield, but also gives him a spiritual strength by making him a martyr for fighting to protect people who hate him. Secondly, the stories make him out to be 'The Truthteller'. Chris Kyle knows the REAL truth, and he is the only one brave enough to actually tell it.  Kyle's 'Hero journey' was not only against the evil hordes of Iraqis and Muslims, both of whom he calls "savages" in his book, but against the evil opposition back home in the form of anti-war people, Jesse Ventura being a prime example. The protestor and WMD lies are about feeding red meat to a certain segment of the population, people who are not only pro-war, but anti-liberal. These folks buy a lot of books, as Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly can attest. The stories and lies Chris Kyle told were the juicy, delicious red meat of which they dream. Chris Kyle became a hero to them not only because he killed lots of Iraqis, but also because he had slain all sorts of uncomfortable factual dragons as well. In other words, Chris Kyle told people what they wanted to hear, and those people loved him for it. How many people heard Kyle tell the story of punching Ventura and thought, "Yes, finally somebody shut that loud mouth up!". He proved to these folks that, "Yes! Anti-war people DO hate the troops, just like I thought all along". And "Yes, there WERE WMDs in Iraq…SEE…BUSH WAS RIGHT!!! I WAS RIGHT!!" Except, of course, they weren't, and we know that now. But Chris Kyle let these people live in a world of fantasy and call it reality. He was very good at doing that sort of thing, especially with himself.

 

The Usual Suspects

What has been interesting in the aftermath of the verdict against Chris Kyle is that the media has gone into hyper-drive in attacking Jesse Ventura, and not Chris Kyle. Kyle is a proven liar, yet no one talks about that. They all talk about how could Jesse Ventura sue a poor widow. I find this baffling. What is even more baffling, and frankly appalling, is how they so thoroughly misrepresent the facts of the case and misinform the populace.

Have you no shame, Anderson?

Have you no shame, Anderson?

Anderson Cooper, of CNN, proved once again there is no depth so low that his journalistic integrity won't sink to it, when he said of Ventura, "Has he no shame?" Cooper had nothing at all to say about Chris Kyle and his lying, and made no mention of the very public and provable other lies Kyle told besides his Ventura lie. Shouldn't the question be, "Chris Kyle, have you no shame?", but it isn't. Proving once more, that truth has no meaning for Anderson Cooper. 

The question becomes…why isn't the media up in arms over Chris bullshitting them? Remember when Oprah had a conniption when she discovered author James Frey had lied to her about his book A Million Little Pieces? Why aren't the media directing their venom at Chris Kyle for having lied to make himself out to be more than he was, rather than attacking Jesse Ventura? The answer, of course, is that the media is in the same business as Chris Kyle…the "giving people what they want" business. Watch and listen, if you dare, to these three fine examples of journalistic integrity over at "Fox and Friends". WARNING: Steve Doocey Alert .

Embed Block
Add an embed URL or code. Learn more

Every media outlet, all the cable channels and every other talking head, is saying how disgusting Ventura is, and not saying a word about Chris Kyle except to call him a hero. The question from everyone is, "Jesse…why won't you give the money back to this widow?" As opposed to being, why did Chris Kyle lie about this incident to enrich himself and what other lies has he told? Everyone is up in arms that Ventura would "sue a widow". The facts of the case are, he sued Chris Kyle, and then Kyle died in the lead up to the trial. All along Ventura said he'd drop the suit if Kyle just retracted the statement. Kyle wouldn't do that. He decided to stick to the lie, then tragically, Kyle was killed. Why is that Ventura's problem? Ventura didn't lie, Kyle did.

Watch this CBS This Morning interview with Ventura the day after the court decision. Notice how dismissive and oppositional all the questioners are.

 

Notice in particular the "journalist" , and I use that term very very loosely, Norah O'Donnell, being intentionally obtuse and misstating the facts of the case…"there WAS an argument... correct?". No Norah, there wasn't, THAT IS WHY WE HAD A TRIAL!! You beautiful, yet vacuous dipshit!

Heads I win, Tails You Lose and the Magic of the Rearview Mirror

The other thing talking heads and writers have been saying of Jesse Ventura is that he should have "dropped the lawsuit when Chris Kyle died, then he could have saved his reputation!" Or "Ventura sued to save his reputation but has damaged it by winning the lawsuit against a widow!". This sort of logic is a shortcut to thinking. If Ventura had dropped the lawsuit people wouldn't say "Oh, what a great guy", instead they wouldn't say anything at all and would still despise Ventura for his 'conspiracy theories'. Then they would recall how Chris Kyle punched him out for bad-mouthing America, and when Ventura would say that wasn't true, these same talking heads would say, "Well, if it weren't true you should have sued for defamation!!" This is how the game works. Heads they win, tails you lose. As my grandmother used to say, "damned if you do, damned if you don't." The same thing would have happened if Ventura dropped the suit when Chris Kyle was killed. The media likes to play the game of hindsight with everyone except themselves.

Charity Begins at Home and The Money Trail

One final lie that has been told ad nauseam, is that Chris Kyle and his family donated all the proceeds from the sale of the book American Sniper to families of vets. The Kyle's say that 100% has gone to charities that support other vet families. This is an out and out lie, and a really despicable one that is repeated constantly by the corporate media. The truth is…the family has only given 2% of the profits to charity. The profits from the book belong to the Kyle family, and they should do with them what they please, but what they shouldn't do is tell people they are giving the money away in order to look good, while they in fact keep the money. The Kyle family has made over $6 million from the book, and that number will increase with further book sales and from an upcoming movie starring Bradley Cooper and directed by Clint Eastwood. So why isn't the corporate media up in arms over Chris Kyle and his wife lying repeatedly about the profits and proceeds from the book? Instead of asking Jesse Ventura why he doesn't give the money he is owed back to the Kyle family, why not ask the Kyle family why they keep lying about giving money to vets when they don't?

To further inform yourself, please read this really thoughtful and smart article over at The New Republic that give the facts of the case and dispel the myths that the media is selling. LINK

I Come To Bury Truth, Not To Praise It

Truth has become the enemy in America. It is hated and despised. The people who hate the truth the most are the ones who are in power. That is why the media is so quick to heap vitriol upon Ventura and not question the legacy of Kyle. Lies are celebrated. Lies are tonic for the ills that truth reveals. You never saw anyone taken to task for lying about the Iraq war. No one, not a government official, or a pundit or a journalist or a media personality, lost their job over lying about or being wrong about Iraq.

The lies that the media has wrapped itself in for the sake of ingratiating itself to power are easily observed. In regards to the Iraq war alone, the fellating of power by the media, and by the public, is amazing and easy to see. First we had the march to war…the lies Bush and company told about WMDs and Iraq's involvement in 9-11. Then we had the farce of the Jessica Lynch story, which Chris Kyle repeats in his book without the slightest regard to the truth. Then we have the charade of the death of Pat Tillman, a true American hero, who is violated and desecrated in death by the same government and media that duped him into serving in the first place.

Jesse Ventura

Jesse Ventura

This is why the media hates Jesse Ventura in particular. Ventura was vociferously against the Iraq war. He was right, and the corporate media, and most of the public, were wrong. They were either duped or complicit, but Ventura saw through the smokescreens. He is also a 9-11 Truther. This drives the corporate media and establishment types batty. It is a direct assault on their authority. It is sort of amusing and ironic that the term "Truther" has become derogatory in the media and in America. Telling the truth, or asking questions looking for it, is a sure fire way to get on the wrong side of the corporate media, Jesse Ventura is living proof of that.

Watch the news clips above, and search out others, and notice something…no one…not a single person, is interested in the truth. The truth is never mentioned, never alluded to, never a consideration. Truth is the real victim in this case. Truth is the forgotten one. The old Superman slogan was , "Truth, Justice and the American Way". Notice how, if you look closely at that saying, it is clear that "truth and justice" are not the same thing as the "American Way". And so it is.

The Righteous Mind, Cognitive Dissonance and The Suspension of Disbelief

Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist who wrote an interesting book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. In it, he describes the things that people believe are their greatest moral priorities. The six categories are Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Liberty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, Sanctity/Degradation. For example, liberals may think that Fairness is the most important thing to them morally and conservatives may think that Loyalty is the most important thing to them morally. It is an interesting idea, and it comes into play with the Chris Kyle story. The one thing that does not appear on the Moral Foundations category list is…The Truth (honesty). 

If The Truth were an option for moral priorities, it would not come in first for either liberals or conservatives. Try having a discussion with a liberal about Obama or race, for instance, and you will quickly find out that The Truth comes in a very distant third to fairness and care. Conservatives, at least in my experience, put both authority and loyalty above The Truth. I spoke with a conservative friend of mine recently and he talked about wanting to talk in public about some semblance of The Truth, but in the next breath he said he could "never bad mouth his country". This sort of thinking and struggle is too common, people have an interest in The Truth, just not when The Truth conflicts with another, more importantly held belief, and most certainly not when The Truth can make them either uncomfortable or unpopular, which it often can. People will do all sorts of logical and moral gymnastics to maintain their belief system and world view and to keep The Truth at arms length. 

Cognitive Dissonance is "psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously". People will contort in all sorts of ways to avoid seeing the uncomfortable truth that is right in front of their eyes and facing that conflict. So we have an American war hero who you may feel is beyond reproach because of his service, and yet he is proven a liar in a court of law. So you lash out, either at Ventura, or the jury, in order to reject the new information that clashes with your strongly held belief in Chris Kyle. What usually occurs when people are presented with new information that clashes with their strongly held belief, is that they "seek to preserve their current understanding of the world by rejecting, explaining away, or avoiding the new information or by convincing themselves that no conflict really exists." 

George H.W. Bush, self-made man.

George H.W. Bush, self-made man.

A personal example, years ago in the 1990's, I was having a conversation with an older friend, someone twice my age. We were talking politics and he was talking about how much he respected and admired George H.W. Bush (The 41st President, not Dubya, the 43rd). I asked why he admired him and he said "because he is a self made man!". I thought this strange, and told him that George H.W. Bush was a lot of things, but a "self-made man" was not one of them. He vehemently disagreed and asked what proof I had of that. I told him that George H.W. Bush was the son of a senator, and not just any senator, but Prescott Bush, one of the most powerful senators of his time, and also a very powerful banker. I also told him that the Bush family was one of the most powerful and richest families in the country and had been for a long time. I told him that calling George H.W. Bush a self made man was like calling John F. Kennedy a self made man, or better yet, Teddy Kennedy. The man gave me a look of disdain and told me in not so many words, that I was full of it (he hated the Kennedy family no end). "Bush wasn't the son of a senator, he came up the hard way and made a life for himself", the man told me. The guy got pretty indignant about the whole thing and was positive he was right. A little more background on this friend, he wasn't a Johnny come lately to the Bush train, he had supported Bush back in 1980 in the republican primary against Reagan. He was a huge Bush supporter. So I told him I'd go home and look it up. So I looked it up and sure enough, George H.W. Bush is the son of a powerful senator who was also a banker. I told my friend the news, and his response was fascinating, he simply said…"but Bush is a self made man". I was left scratching my head. First off, how could such a strong supporter of Bush (41) not know he was the son of a senator? Secondly, how could that same person simply ignore the evidence of that fact and continue to believe what he believed before? The answer is obvious, it is the power of cognitive dissonance. The man didn't know that fact because it didn't fit into his narrative of who Bush (41) was (his strongly held belief) and was an inconvenient fact (new information that challenged his strongly held belief), so he was unconsciously blind to it in order to avoid or reduce his mental and emotional conflict. Secondly, he didn't want to change his narrative once the new information was blatantly obvious because that would take some great effort, so he simply ignored it again, this time consciously, and went back to his previously held belief in order to avoid mental and emotional angst. This man should fear not though, he is not alone, for we all have our blind spots, and as the term 'blind spots' suggests, we can see them in other people, but rarely see them in ourselves.

Tell me about it.

Tell me about it.

Suspension of disbelief is "a willingness to suspend ones critical faculties and believe the unbelievable, sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment." Suspension of disbelief is usually spoken of in reference to watching a movie, for instance, we know that Sandra Bullock isn't really in danger in outer space, but we suspend our disbelief in order to enjoy it for entertainment purposes. People do this constantly and consistently in regards to real life as well. Read the stories Chris Kyle told in his book and elsewhere. Read the alleged 'Jesse Ventura fight'. If you are a fair minded, independent observer of those stories, don't they come across as absolutely, and obviously false? Don't they seem to be blatantly made up and absurd? When I first read the Ventura part of the book, I thought…"well, that story is a hunk of horseshit". I've been in a few bar fights and seen a few more. That story is such blatant, self-serving nonsense that only the most die-hard true believer could ever buy it. People suspend their critical thinking, or 'suspend their disbelief' in order to 'preserve their current understanding of the world' and 'reject the conflicting information'.

For instance, if you think it is totally believable that Chris Kyle was sent to New Orleans by the US government and ordered to shoot US citizens, and yet you think Jesse Ventura is a loon for saying the US government capable of killing its own citizens on 9-11, then you may suffer from a form of cognitive dissonance. In order to diminish the mental conflict of these opposing beliefs, you will suspend your disbelief for the story about Chris Kyle yet maintain what you consider 'critical thinking' about the Jesse Ventura story. Another example might be if you believe that Chris Kyle shot two car jackers and officials made the bodies disappear and there is no record of it at all, yet you think that it is impossible for any conspiracy to prosper because 'no one would keep their mouths shut', then you may suffer from cognitive dissonance, and you might treat the malady with a small dose of suspension of disbelief applied in just the right area, the 'car jackers' story, in order to maintain your previously held worldview.

People need to believe, because without that belief, whether it be in their heroes, their country, their church, their world view, their ideology, their political party, or their own goodness, they will crumble. They MUST believe in order to be able to face the day. If their belief system is shown to be a fraud, they wouldn't have anything to stand upon, and everything about them would be a lie, and that would mean they would be mentally and emotionally obliterated. Their identity would be shattered. They would cease to exist. Without their belief system/identity, they are nothing, they are cast into the dark abyss, the void of 'not knowing'. That is a frightening prospect for most people.

We as humans need to bend reality in all sorts of bizarre ways in order to be able to survive and keep our psyche in tact. We ignore some things, and focus on others, all in an attempt to make 'reality' fit what we want it to be. We suspend our disbelief so that we can be loyal to our country, or our president or whatever is important to us. We hold contrasting beliefs and attitudes simultaneously in order to make our belief system make some sort of sense to us internally, even when it makes no sense externally. This is the human condition. It is not a disease that only infects those of a certain political party or religion, it is a disease that infects mankind, and it is epidemic.

Pat Tillman: True American Hero

Pat Tillman: True American Hero

So we create American Heroes to convince ourselves that we, as a country and as a people, are good. We are the moral ones in the world. Bush wouldn't lie because he's the type of guy you want to have a beer with. Jessica Lynch was held hostage by those filthy, Iraqi, Muslim hordes who are savages…except she wasn't. She was saved by Iraqis who saw a young woman terribly injured and brought her to a hospital and cared for her. Pat Tillman was a true American hero who gave his life saving his comrades and fighting for America and against Al-Qaeda, except he really was gunned down in a terrible case of friendly fire and had serious doubts about the missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Chris Kyle punched that no good 9-11 truther Jesse Ventura out in a bar because he badmouthed America and the troops. Except Ventura never said those things and Chris Kyle never did those things. Just like there were no filthy hippie protestors with "baby killer" signs, and there were no WMDs that Chris Kyle and Chris Kyle alone found in a basement in Iraq. Just like he didn't shoot two car jackers in the middle of nowhere Texas, and he didn't shoot looters in the aftermath of Katrina. None of those things are true…but that doesn't mean there aren't people who desperately need them to be true.

The Manichean and the Search for Empathy

A Manichean philosophy is one that sees the world in black and white. With the Manichean there is no gray area. Things are either good or evil, you are either with us or against us. Chris Kyle spells out very clearly in his book that he sees the world in black and white. This is a sensible and logical way to look at the world for a soldier in combat. You are trying to kill your enemy, your enemy is trying to kill you. I am good, he is bad. A war zone is a tough place for nuance to make a living. So for Chris Kyle, all the Iraqis are savages and evil. He doesn't like Muslims either. To make things clearer he gets a crusader cross tattooed on his arm. Message sent and received. He is good, his enemies are bad. Black and white. While a Manichean philosophy can serve you well in wartime, it can have its drawbacks in peace time. For instance, if you view the world as black and white, that means if someone tells a lie, then they are a liar. Liars are bad people because lying is wrong. If we hold Chris Kyle to the same standard he holds the rest of the world then some uncomfortable things come into question.

The Jesse Ventura story Chris Kyle told is a lie. I have also pointed out the other lies he has told. The uncomfortable question about Chris Kyle now is…did he lie about anything else? We don't know the answer to that question. Kyle claims to be the deadliest sniper in American history. He claims to have 160 'confirmed' kills (as stated before, 'confirmed' kills are kills witnessed by another soldier besides the shooter). That statistic has not been confirmed in any way by the US Navy or Pentagon. It would be very helpful if the Navy at least released some information about the kills and whether they really happened or not. There are other uncomfortable questions that we can probably never get the answer to. Namely, of the kills Chris Kyle actually does have, how many of them were "good" kills. Did he kill innocent people. He was questioned about shooting an Iraqi man who Chris claims had a weapon, but who witnesses claim only had a Koran. Maybe Chris was telling the truth about that incident, but as we have seen, Chris' version of the truth, and the actual Truth can often times be two totally contradictory things.

It has been proven in court that Chris Kyle lied about someone else to make himself look good and to enrich himself. Does that mean he was a bad father? A bad husband? A bad son? Does it mean the work he did with fellow veterans suffering from PTSD wasn't a good, kind and noble thing to do? Does it mean he wasn't a good friend and comrade to his brothers in arms? Does Chris Kyle being a liar mean that Chris Kyle is a bad person? If Chris Kyle answered that question about someone else, he would say "Yes", at least according to his own acknowledged Manichean world view. I see things differently. I don't think people are the worst thing they have ever done. I think we are all deeply flawed human beings struggling to make our way in a confusing and frightening world. I think Chris Kyle lied about a lot of things. I also think Chris Kyle did a lot of good for veterans who were suffering and struggling upon their return to 'the world'. I think Chris Kyle was probably a great dad, and a great husband, a fantastic son and a terrific comrade in arms. I don't think he was a terrible human being…I think, like all of us, he was a terribly human - being. I wish Chris had lived long enough to be able spend some time in the 'gray area', and to see others in all their contradictions and complexity.

Truth is Beauty, Beauty Truth

The uproar over the last few days, the knee-jerk reaction to the verdict, the vitriol spat on Jesse Ventura and the national sainthood bestowed upon Chris Kyle were all very predictable. In America emotion rules the day. Instant gratification means we have an impulse and we have to follow it. Facts, truth and reason have no place in our current culture, except as objects of ridicule and scorn. We know what we know and we know it is right because we FEEL it is right. We would rather shout someone down than go inward and question ourselves, our beliefs, our worldview, because God forbid we are wrong, then the whole house of cards will tumble and no one wants that.

I've been wrong many, many times in my life. I don't mean kind of wrong, or misspoke a fact or something. I mean spectacularly, horrifically and catastrophically wrong. There have been a few times in my life when I have discovered, much to my chagrin, that everything I know is wrong. Everything. It is a pretty disconcerting thing to find that out. Truth be told it is earth shattering. It leaves you seriously out of balance and frankly in a state of despair. The one benefit of having been through those experiences though, is that it has left me with a hunger for the Truth above all else. The Truth about the world and the Truth about myself. I cherish Truth over loyalty, authority, fairness and care. Which I guess makes me neither a liberal or a conservative.  Having survived the 'everything you know is wrong'  apocalypse also helps you see through the bullshit that is often being sold to you, particularly by the media.  The bullshit the media spews out piles up so fast you need wings to stay above it.* If your loyalty is only to the Truth, you will see the world in a vastly different way. It can be a pretty isolating and difficult thing to do, but it is better than lying to yourself. Or at least it is to me. That is not to say that I have some ownership of the Truth, not at all, believe me. The Truth is just as elusive to me as it is to anyone else. And it can be just as uncomfortable to me as it for anyone else. Hell, I didn't want to write a blog piece talking bad about Chris Kyle. I'm sure I'll get a bunch of angry emails from his fans calling me all sorts of names. But the truth is the Truth, and I feel like I need to speak it, even when it is unpopular, or maybe particularly when it is unpopular.

My one hope is that the people who are attacking Jesse Ventura, and who are reflexively defending Chris Kyle, can step back and not only take a closer looks at the facts of the case and facts about the man himself, but also take a deeper look into themselves, and let their loyalty be to the Truth and not to their preconceived notions.

Final Thoughts

The fans of Chris Kyle say he is an American Hero. They say he is the embodiment of all that is good about this country. I actually slightly disagree with that. I think Chris Kyle is not the perfect American, but rather the perfect embodiment of America. He was brave, yet a bully. He was selfless, yet selfish. He was humble, yet a braggart. He was brilliant, yet dense. He was a bullshitter, yet sincere. He was heroic, yet cowardly. He was the perfect embodiment of America in all of its manic contradictions and hypocrisies. And as the court case has proven, Chris, in the true American fashion, was more interested in marketing himself than in telling the Truth.

So I sincerely ask you to keep Chris Kyle, his comrades, both fallen and those still with us, and their families in your thoughts and prayers. And also keep the millions of Iraqis, both friend and foe, alive and dead, in your thoughts and prayers as well. But also try and take time to stop and remember...the Truth.

One Final Final Thought

I realize that many people may be upset, or angry or offended by this piece. This is a topic which causes emotions to run very high and for people to take great offense. You may not like what I have written and you may hate me for having written it. That is your prerogative.

You may also think that Chris Kyle and I have nothing at all in common. You would be wrong about that. A few days before Chris was tragically killed, he posted this on his Facebook page, "If you don't like what I have to say or post, you forget one thing, I don't give a shit what you think. LOL".

Couldn't have said it better myself, Chris. Rest in Peace.

*Apocalypse Now

© 2014

IF YOU FOUND THIS POST OF INTEREST, YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY…

THE JOHN OLIVER TWIST : COURT JESTER AS PROPAGANDA TOOL

THE JOHN OLIVER TWIST : THE DRUMPF AFFAIR AND LITTLE BILL MAHER'S POWER FETISH

#OSCARSSOWHITE : DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE?

THE WAY OF THE GUN: MEDITATIONS ON AMERICA AND GUNS

SICARIO : A REVIEW AND REPORTS FROM DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE OF THE DRUG WAR

CITIZENFOUR : A REVIEW AND RANDOM THOUGHTS

FOR THE FOLLOW-UP POST TO THIS ARTICLE...

 TRUTH, JUSTICE AND THE CURIOUS CASE OF CHRIS KYLE PART TWO : THE REACTION

 

COMMENTS ARE ON. PLEASE BE THOUGHTFUL, RESPECTFUL TO ONE ANOTHER AND GERMANE.