It’s called acting for a reason
I am an extremely non-violent person. When people post allegedly funny videos of others doing stupid stunts from which they get hurt, I don’t see the humor. Even successful daredevil stunts make me squirm. It seems stupid to me to take such risks, especially if you’re not even getting paid for it. When I heard of one person who was rendered paralyzed from a trampoline, I crossed it off my list of things I would try.
I should mention that about 15 years ago I learned that I’d been walking around all my life with a hole in my hip, which I then got fixed. So who knows? Maybe on some unconscious level my body had been telling me to be careful all those years. I have done a fair amount of backpacking in various regions of the country, and am lucky I never fell on my hip in the middle of nowhere.
I was never more alert than the few times I handled a gun. The main reason I do not keep a firearm in the house is that I am afraid it will go off my accident. I say a short prayer before I drive a car, even if it’s just around the corner, and offer cosmic thanks when I arrive safely. I never lose sight of the fact that a car can be a dangerous weapon if not handled correctly.
When there’s an ad on TV to help abused animals, I change the channel because I cannot bear to watch it. Even seeing posts for an animal that needs a home breaks my heart.
Given all this, I cannot even begin to comprehend what soldiers go through fighting a war. I am not alarmed by the high rates of PTSD; if anything, I am surprised they are not higher. Sometimes when I start to feel sorry for myself, I think about the men and women in active duty.
On the other hand . . .
I do not confuse fact with fiction. I can watch the goriest movies or TV shows without ever looking away, and marvel at the artistry that sometimes goes into creating these scenes. From a safe distance, the moral and emotional complexities of war, crime, and murder fascinate me. As a novelist, I like to include this type of stuff in my books because I think it makes for more interesting characters. It is a compelling means for observing the endless mystery of the human condition. (Though the biggest complaint I get is over my use of profanity. AlI can say is I’ve lived all over the country, and the “F” word and “S” word are alive and well. It’s how people talk.) Like many other people, I find a good murder mystery to be cozy and fun.
A novel, film or TV show doesn’t have to contain violence for me to find it interesting, though a miniscule dose of Little House on the Prairie goes a long way with me. But I liked, for example, Revolutionary Road and August: Osage County for depicting a different form of violence in humankind. I also am a big fan of many of the old black and white films, in which an actor's intensity and not special effects gives us something riveting to look at.
When I first heard about the new movie, American Sniper, my gut level reaction was: “So in other words, it has dramatic weight and substance.” I realize it is based on a true story, and, having not yet seen it, cannot comment on how it depicts Middle Easterners among other things. I read just this morning that Clint Eastwood feels he made an anti-war statement with this film by conveying a sense of what warfare is like, and what happens to the people involved in it. I also read Michael Moore’s clarification of what he meant in making a distinction between a soldier and a sniper. On balance, these and other comments make me look forward to seeing the movie and deciding for myself.
To put this issue in an historical context: Back in 1941, the film, Sergeant York won an Oscar for Gary Cooper. For those who no longer learn history in school, the real Sergeant Alvin York was a celebrated U.S. soldier of World War I who accomplished significant feats—which yes, included killing other people. He was a Christian pacifist taught to oppose war. After wrestling with his conscience he decided to serve—and kill. A highly decorated soldier from World War II was Audie Murphy, who starred in his own life story and had some success as a film actor. Honoring warriors through artistic media is nothing new.
The point I wish to make here, though, is that I find it interesting (actually, that’s a neutral way of putting it) that many people seem to object to a movie much more than they objected to the actual events that inspired it. The things that Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle says and does in the film would seem to approximate things Kyle said and did in real life. As I write this, there are people saying and doing similar things. Considering how many people claim to believe that the wars in the Middle East were/are wrong, there has been relatively little freedom of speech exercised to offer this opinion. As opposed to, say, the Vietnam War, people generally appear content to support these wars with their tax dollars, pay lip service to their anti-war stance, and worry instead if they are eating enough quinoa.
In 1988, there was a large outcry over the film, The Last Temptation of Christ, yet since 1953 the novel it was based on appeared in bookstores and libraries with no one seeming to mind (though since the film this situation has changed). I know many people who say they don’t mind reading about violence, but they don’t like seeing it in movies. Well, you know, you can’t always have your cake and eat it, too. It is my humble opinion that what is wrong with the U.S. is not that a movie got made about a sniper, but that people seem to think this movie is a bigger deal than the reality it is based on.