By now, I am sure some of you have seen Clint Eastwood's movie blockbuster, American Sniper with actor Bradley Cooper. Watch the preview. There has been a lot of controversy about the movie and its content, not to mention anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments by thoughtless leftists and conservatives. The main issue is that we not make this about one particular party line, because in doing so, it distracts us from what is hiding in plain sight: America's love of war.
There is a list of over 1,000 war movies over at the Internet Movie Database. Do you notice a trend? Most of them are either made by Americans, about America or in relationship to America. Not that that's a bad thing. But it does reiterate the fact that somehow patriotism, nationalism and identity have seemingly come together in such a way that most Americans don't know how to separate themselves from these ideas. There is a religious zeal to American nationalism and its relationship to foreign policy.
The pop-culture phenomenon of American war movies subconsciously instructs us to adhere to a spiritual framework that justifies our behaviors under the banner of nationalism (i.e., we're just protecting our country; God bless America!) Those that do not agree either get attacked, libeled or are seen as traitors. Why is there so much aggression present? Because, we have been made to believe that nationalism and who we are, are the same thing. This is also the same issue with Muslim terrorists -- they have tied religion to identity. Just because some are terrorists, does not mean all are terrorists, and we need to get that lie out of our heads -- our inability to separate one from the other is what we did as children. It's time to grow up!
If you get a chance, watch the movie Borat with actor Sacha Baron Cohen, where his character interviews several Americans across the country. There is one particular scene that demonstrates a typical (not everyone!) conservative American response to "foreign" others. Borat is singing his national anthem, and the camera pans across the stadium as Borat is singing to show the disdain and anger towards Borat's claims, as if to make a silent claim that America is the best country. This comical approach to exposing the cracks within American ideology actually demonstrates the other terrifying aspect of nationalism -- that of the claim of being native to a land, as if we were here first. Now, we all know that's not true. Our history is filled with the blood of the First Nation. This is why blind nationalism is dangerous; it justifies the brutality toward the outside, or in the case, the native.
But, let's be honest, the overall response to the movie should not be about where the politics of director Clint Eastwood lay, or even Bradley Cooper's politics, but where our own politics lay. Some of the controversy didn't stem from the stereotypical conservative response, but surprisingly from the leftists.
But, in a direct sense, the movie is a valorization of the military industrial complex and the American propaganda machine (a.k.a the media, i.e., it creates, justifies and employs mass logic to defend its attacks on other countries and people groups). We must resist the temptation to heroize or demonize either affected parties -- but see that they both share the same structure of ideology, in that, they each share an envious spirit of wanting freedom from controlled and directed desires.
America loves war. Isn't that how someone who isn't American might see us if they saw how many movies were dedicated to war, nationalism and patriotism? Also, what is love if not taking something mundane and lifting it up high above ourselves and objectifying its role in our life (like a god). This is not about how each American views war; that's going to be variegated. However, its about how America is viewed by other countries, and secretly by itself. Movies play a role in presenting back to us our own fears, wants, desires, dreams and nightmares. Whether they are given to us on our own is the question we should be exploring. Is nationalism for America necessary so one can be called American? Does nationalism have to mean that America is always right? Does it mean that we have to invade other countries and try to impose or force democracy down their throat? I think we have to be serious about these inquiries rather than becoming casual parodies of ourselves.
See CNN Writer's Dean Obeidallah's perspective on the movie from a Muslim standpoint.