Clint Eastwood’s new film, American Sniper, opened in theaters and raked in a record $105.3 million over the long holiday weekend. Obviously, this is a pretty staggering sum, and ranked the movie alongside most of last summer’s blockbusters in terms of its initial gross. I was among the throngs who saw the film over the weekend, and to be sure, American Sniper is not a movie for children. It is filled with realistically graphic, bloody war violence, a great deal of profanity and other adult themes and is rightfully rated R for that content.
The PTC’s mission is strictly to protect children from sex, violence and profanity in entertainment. So it’s not my place to make any political commentary about the film, Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s story, or contemporary geopolitics and I will not do so here. Frankly, others are better qualified to comment on that aspect than I am, so I’ll let them do it.
However, this film and some of the reaction to it have laid bare some of the most callous hypocrisy I’ve ever come across out of Hollywood – and that’s no small feat.
News clips highlight a great deal of criticism from within Hollywood of the film, Chris Kyle and other messages the movie contains. Some are critical that the film glorifies a “hate-filled killer.” Others take issue with how the political issues behind the story are addressed (or not).
But the reaction by some within Hollywood itself is particularly hypocritical:
But Academy members seem to be paying attention to the criticism that Eastwood and star/producer Bradley Cooper shouldn’t be celebrating a man who wrote that killing hundreds of Iraqis was “fun.”
“He seems like he may be a sociopath,” one Academy member told TheWrap, adding he had not yet seen the film but had read the article, which is being passed around.
That seems like pretty harsh criticism of a story about a member of the U.S. military. But even if you accept the premise that Chris Kyle was a “sociopath,” how would that make him any different from many of the lead characters that appear on television night after night? Did the same critics wring their hands about the drug dealing, meth-creating Walter White of “Breaking Bad?” Have these critics not seen the impact of the sociopathic Hannibal Lecter on the eponymous show on NBC? What about the serial killer Dexter, which aired for years on Showtime and even CBS for a time? Were these critics not around when “Sons of Anarchy” featured some of the most intense violence and graphic sex ever put on television?
My point is not to defend American Sniper or the life of Chris Kyle. It is to highlight the very simple fact that media content does indeed have an impact on its audience. That’s the very purpose of creating art, but with that opportunity comes responsibility. The entertainment industry does a lousy job of accepting responsibility for the material that it produces and distributes, so why is it only now, in this context that we hear concerns from within Hollywood about the impact of the material it produces?
Hollywood cannot have it both ways. It is intellectually dishonest to decry the impact of one film for its violence and “glorification of a killer” while streaming enormous amounts of violent content into every living room in the country. If Hollywood moguls are going to trash a film like American Sniper for “glorifying violence,” then they have every right to do so. But where is the similar concern about the overwhelming amount of violence on television, night after night? If Chris Kyle was a “sociopath,” then where is Hollywood’s concern about shows like “Hannibal” and “Dexter?”
You’ll be hard pressed to find it.