Posts Tagged ‘writers’

I think I have a problem with this: American Sniper

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

I read the book American Sniper shortly after it came out. I have also read several other memoirs of Navy SEALS. Chris Kyle, the author of American Sniper, as you probably know, retired from active service and was later killed by a mentally disturbed man at a shooting range Kyle owned. Now there’s a movie about the book.

FYI: I have now added a paragraph at the bottom to address yet another controversy about this movie.

The controversy I’ve heard around the movie goes like this: Kyle killed people and talked about it. He was callous and unfeeling, and possibly not a very nice person. I have seen comparisons between success of the movie with things that are unrelated that imply that Americans of the sort who would see American Sniper are terrible people. Example, juxtaposing the movie’s successful opening with people who gave Bill Cosby a standing ovation.

Today, after writing a draft of this post, I went to see the movie because, one, I wanted to see it anyway, and two, since I was so bothered by some of the conversation, not seeing the movie would leave my opinions and thoughts less informed than they should be.

The Review Portion

Clint Eastwood is a very good director. There’s no doubt about it. Great material to work with, and yet I often felt that if I’d not read the book, I couldn’t have followed the movie as well. In fact, several times, I thought, oh, right, that’s [some character] from the book, because those roles were not clear to me. Alas, and probably no surprise, Kyle’s wife was sadly one-dimensional. I don’t mean the actress, I mean the screenplay and the directorial decisions. More than once I whispered “eff you.” Because of course the woman is shown as unable to understand the man she married. So, you know, the eff.

More important, I did not see this movie as a glorification of killing or an endorsement of the war in Iraq; at times quite the opposite. One of the strengths of the movie was showing moments of internal conflict and Kyle’s (as he was shown to us on the screen) refusal to acknowledge that even his brothers-in-arms had times of profound doubt.

Frankly, though I enjoyed the movie, and though it made me as sad as ever about war in general, and Iraq in particular, it’s not Eastwood’s best work. It’s a bit uneven and might have been better served by spending slightly less time on shooting and explosions and more on demonstrating the brotherhood of the soldiers. Thus ends the review portion of this post.

On War And the Warrior Trope

Here’s a fact, there are branches of the military, the SEALs being one, that have achieved a mystical standing. By definition, these men are extraordinary. They embody everything we glorify about warriors. I find it odd not to acknowledge the power of that trope and the reality behind it. Spartans. Athenians. Amazons. Roman Gladiators. Alexander The Great. Picts. Scots. The history of humans includes the history of war and warfare. Setting aside issues of the elision of women and minorities from history and warfare, this is us. As humans. We can recognize and admit the power of the warrior trope without also elevating war to heroic status.

Story vs. Truth

The movie represents Kyle at three removes. Kyle, the person, is gone and unable to speak for himself. His memoir is a writing and all writing is a remove from the person who is the writer. More, when there is a co-writer, there is yet another remove. What’s on the page are the words that convey words spoken, not the actual experience.

Writers are tricky people. They understand how and when to manipulate with words. It behooves us all, when we are reading a text, to remember that fact. It’s even more important when the writer of a memoir isn’t the subject of the memoir. And even so we cannot represent or assume the words on the page are equivalent to Kyle. They are a representation of him. And now we have a movie of the book; a representation of a representation.

The Thing that Bothers Me

It bothers me that there seems to be a conflation of Kyle, the movie, and its viewers that suggests that because Kyle killed people for a living that all the viewers of the movie are ascribed bloodthirsty motivations for seeing the movie. Further, suggesting there is some relation between a SEAL sniper doing his job and the alleged actions of Bill Cosby is offensive. How is a soldier doing what his country pays him to do anything like Cosby?

Whatever you may feel about the role the US is playing in the world, we should not be denigrating the men and women who serve in our military nor should we be making sly or not so sly insinuations about the moral worth of members of the military because we might disagree with US politics or decisions to send our military into war. Kyle, personally, did not set US policy. He did not commit crimes.

It is entirely possible for someone to read and see American Sniper while maintaining an ability to separate the actions and culpability of a White House Administration that put our country at war in Iraq under less than truthful circumstances with the actions of the soldiers who were sent to fight.

Bill Cosby is alleged to have committed several crimes. Assaults against women whom he allegedly drugged so that they could not object or consent. It is offensive to me that anyone would conflate the part-of-the-job actions of a member of the US military with actions that are a crime and suggest that viewers of the movie must also support Cosby.

Further, I have read American Sniper and seen the movie. I have not become a bloodthirsty, jackbooted conservative. Nor would I have given Bill Cosby a standing ovation. But then, I would also never have gone to see Cosby, knowing the allegations against him. I can deplore that the US went to war in Iraq at the same time that I support the women and men who are sent to fight on our behalves.

Idiots are Not an Excuse

Just now I saw tweets about the movie in which someone screen-capped several tweets in which people who saw the movie said they now hated Iraqis and want to kill “them” where “them” was a racial epithet. That tweet said with full ironic sarcasm: “It’s just a movie.”

Kyle was killed by an American, after his service was over. Not an Iraqi. Should the movie not have been made because there are idiots out there incapable of seeing the tragic irony of that? What should we do, give a test before the movie and refuse to admit people who we feel lack critical thinking abilities?

It is equally possible to see this movie and think, as I did, no wonder they hate us. Yes. That’s right. It’s not just a movie. The problem isn’t the movie. The problem lies in the hearts of minds of the people who see the movie.


Personality Disorders of the Creative Writer

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Most writers consider themselves introverts, and with a few exceptions *coughVictorialDahlcough* I’d say that’s true. Think about it. Where does a creative writer spend a whole lot of time? Alone. In front of her computer. And there are people talking to her that NOBODY CAN SEE. When she’s not communicating with these voices in her head, she’s probably thinking about them.

Suppose one day you’re having a perfectly normal conversation with someone you just met, or maybe someone you know in passing. In the middle of conversation she suddenly gets a vacant expression. How rude! She’s zoned out on you. And then she says:

Do you think it would be easier to kill someone with a ballpoint pen or a spork? 1

You may not need to back away slowly and then run for your life. She’s probably just an author. To test your theory, you say say this:

How many words in your MS (pronounce this “emm ess”) so far?

If the answer isn’t numeric, then you run.

This sort of thing happens to authors all the time. They spend inordinate time alone and when they are with other people, it’s pretty certain those people are not writers, too. By and large we’re a strange bunch, given to drifting off and mentally rewriting Chapter 10.

But, you might say, I go to signings (oh bless you! ThankYouThankYouThankYou!!!) and you authors are smiling like Vanna White pimping vowels. You make conversation with anyone who walks within 20 feet of where you’re sitting. You tell complete strangers about your book, you shove bookmark into my hands whether I want them or not!


This abnormally chipper behavior comes at a cost. We are introverts thrust into the world of the extrovert, and let me tell you, it’s exhausting. Draining. By the time you get home you’re ready to crawl into bed and sleep for 12 hours straight only you can’t because you have to catch up on your word count so you don’t miss deadline. For most authors, no one has heard of us. Readers are not champing at the bit to get a signed copy of a book by some weirdo person they never heard of, and we can tell most of you are sorry you accidentally walked into our gravitational field . . . (evil laugh). We only want you to try our book. Look at the pretty cover! And the words, they tell a story you will LOVE if only— no no, don’t go away. Here have bookmark. Yes, I love Nora Roberts, too. She’s a great author, I agree but my book it’s about ohgoddon’tleaveme. Mostly it only gets worse from there.

So, if, at a conference, such as RWA or what have you, there is a place for an author to go where she can assure herself of a friendly, understanding reception while she gets ready to go be an extrovert, which goes against everything in her marrow, she might just go there. To be ready. To spend a few minutes with people who know what she is and don’t expect anything. It’s an oasis. Thank goodness. For a little bit we can be our introverted selves.

There are a lot of reasons why it’s hard to be an author, and for many of us, having to be an extrovert when we’re not, is one of them.

Answer to the ballpoint pen vs. Spork question

The spork. Doh.


Just a Moment

Thursday, April 26th, 2007

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Ezra Pound

It’s still National Poetry Month. And yeah, the more I read about Ezra Pound the more I disliked him as a person. His personal politics were distasteful to say the least. But, boy, could he write poetry. I love this poem. But I like H.D. better just on principle.

In non-poetic news, today has been a wash. I had to meet with my prof and didn’t get home from that until 5:30. It was also my son’s open house, so we left for that at 6:30 after I made him get his own soup for dinner while I answered an email from a high school student who’s got some questions about writing and writers. Got home from the open house about 7:45. Get the kid to bed etc, and I’m only now sitting down to write. Or not. Because, of course, I’m doing this instead.

Tomorrow is Friday (yay!) and the beginning of my week off to finish the Master’s degree project.