The Sociopath as Hero


Prefatory Note: Revisiting a misguided cultural phenomenon

The growing number of Hollywood films and TV outings singing the praises of our military at a moment when the utterly deranged (or corrupt, take your pick) US ruling class and its vassals seem on a collision course with two nuclear powers in their own right, prompts us to revisit this discussion, essentially about the deliberate normalisation of sociopathic behaviour and attitudes in our armed forces and the public at large.

In this context, no examination of Hollywood’s shameless and nonstop pro-imperial propaganda can fail to note Clint Eastwood’s contributions to this insalubrious canon, starting with his 2016 blockbuster, American Sniper, based on the late Chris Kyle’s story, a Texan who gained notoriety and fame as a result of his record kills in Iraq as a Navy SEAL sniper, his chauvinist flamboyancy, and his death—some said, karmic, by gunfire— at the hands of a fellow vet on a shooting range.  American Sniper certainly made Eastwood much wealthier than he already was, the man has carved up a fortune by mining the macho/chauvinist streak so prevalent in the juvenile American male psyche, a niche that other celebrities like John Wayne also exploited to great profit and acclaim.  (Sniper has now surpassed the half billion dollar mark in world receipts). Upon Sniper‘s release we published several pieces on the film, pelting it from various angles. (See here, here, and here, for example), not to mention what we might call a “prequel” critique of the movie (more on that later). In his own review, The controversy surrounding American Sniper,’s cinema critic David Walsh noted with typical astuteness,

The promotion and defense of Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper is the latest means by which the political and media establishment in the US is pursuing its militaristic agenda. Such is the ferocity of this campaign that the relatively toothless critical comments of filmmaker Michael Moore and actor-director Seth Rogen have provoked controversy and brought down upon them a torrent of abuse. The two have been denounced as “traitors,” and Moore has received death threats.

American Sniper is part of the effort to create a mythology around the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq by the US military, an undertaking that has destroyed that Middle Eastern country’s infrastructure, provoked a murderous sectarian civil war and led to the deaths of one million or more Iraqis.

For my part, as a longtime card-carrying despiser of Eastwood and all he represents, I added my own little comment. I thought this was in perfect order,  After all, in 1986 Eastwood had also had the audacity to present in Heartbreak Ridge, a typically mawkish concoction, the overwhelming imperial forces of the US as heroes while defeating the nonexistent army of Grenada, a Caribbean nation so small and insignificant that even Brooklyn could have presented a much larger military challenge.

Eastwood’s protestations about his movie beg the question whether the man is a complete hypocrite or a clueless moron unable to see the obvious sociopolitical effects of the films he so carefully crafts.

More to the point, in the spring of 2013, almost two and a half years before Sniper hit the theaters, I wrote a piece upon Kyle’s death dissenting from the wave of preposterous eulogies sweeping the country (SEAL sniper killed–not exactly an eulogy). This is an excerpt from that piece:

Like most of today’s Death Star troopers serving the American juggernaut, Chris Kyle, “America’s deadliest sniper,” never understood what he was doing overseas. Soaked from the cradle in the chauvinist Texas cultural DNA, he was thoroughly indoctrinated to believe in all the dense mythologies comprising the self-righteous national  propaganda canon, especially as it relates to foreign adventures (er, I mean crusades) to save the world or protect the homeland, no questions asked.

Obviously a gun enthusiast, war lover, upright Christian, G.W. Bush supporter, and a committed hunter, he was proud of his skill as a precision killer, and morally undisturbed by his mission in Iraq and elsewhere. Macho to caricature dimensions, by his own reckoning he killed upwards of 160 people, perhaps more. His first kill was a woman cradling a toddler, supposedly about to toss a grenade into a nest of Marines. Apparently the incident never haunted Kyle too much. Suffering from serious empathy deficiency and zero political knowledge, it never occurred to him that a mother with a toddler and a grenade only occur under very desperate circumstances, when a citizens’ irregular and vastly outgunned army is forced to repel a superpower’s mighty invading force.

In sum this publication ran more than a dozen essays debunking Chris Kyle, Eastwood’s American Sniper, and the whole chauvinist miasma that so obligingly launders the rivers of blood caused by the insatiable American empire. To this estimable body of contrarian opinion, we now add, with pleasure, the powerful critique written by Paul Edwards, a man who not only has his moral antennas pointed the right way, but who knows the movie industry like few others.—PG

The Sociopath as Hero
by Paul Edwards (First published )

Aldo Ray as Sgt. Croft, in beefcake pose for The Naked and the Dead (1958). Moral scruples is for sissies. Yea.
The box office big winner of the moment is a movie about a military man who kills people from a distance, unseen by his victims. He enjoys his “job” because he hates them, imagining an entire nation his enemy: “savages” who kill his buddies, and are collectively guilty, deserving assassination.

This point of view is not new in the psychology of men in war. Remarque examined it in WWI in All Quiet On The Western Front;  Tolstoy, before him in War and Peace; Mailer, after, in The Naked and The Dead. In Vietnam, I heard hardassed combat grunts say, “Kill ‘em all; let God sort ‘em out”.

American movie audiences have long loved violent heroes who, in morally iffy circumstances, cut through insoluble complexities of relentless evil by ending them in more or less justifiable murder.

In the more intelligent, ethical versions, these heroes are good men, trying to do the right thing until they run out of options and have to kill. It ends for them, not in triumph or exaltation, but in an emotional downdraft that looks much like regret or remorse. Gary Cooper grimly leaves the town that betrayed him; Shane, called back by a heartbroken boy, knows that boy’s world is forever spoiled for him by what he had to do, and rides away.

In the simple-minded, morally ugly varieties, the dynamic remains the same but the nature of the hero is completely altered. The key change, obvious but unclear to, or intentionally ignored by, the ethically obtuse, is that the hero’s character is vicious. All that matters is that revenge and retribution are ferocious and absolute. In other words, in an infantile mutilation of the idea of the classic hero’s journey, the whole game turns here on brutal, sadistic and complete destruction of “evildoers”. (A phrase of our erstwhile imbecile President, not used otherwise since the days of Cotton Mather.)

The kind of film-making that uses this latter formula–simplistic, cartoonish, and vacuous–is far more appealing to people of lower intelligence and undiscriminating taste, which is to say, the majority of moviegoers. The list of examples is long but Dirty Harry movies clearly define the category.

Eastwood in one of his signature roles, Dirty Harry. Complex problems, simple solutions that any 6 year old can understand.

Clint Eastwood–film’s Sociopath Emeritus–chose in American Sniper the perfect vehicle to manifest his intelligence, his politics and his character.

Perfect because what it displays–besides a retailing of baldly ridiculous ideas long universally discredited, and a politics rooted in deep, indomitable ignorance and a form of stupidity that prides itself on denial of irrefutable reality–is the sleazy depravity of a mind that can craft a mawkish, fawning tribute to a diseased serial killer from a biography in which the killer himself spells out in appalling detail his own disgusting sickness.

So much has been written about this paean to a subhuman monster– much of it on whether or not it is moral and heroic to murder people wholesale for flag and country–that the only truly important thing about its success has not been articulated. That is the grossly ugly fact that such a huge number of Americans jubilantly support this morally dirty film and its message.

Of course, an audience that embraces films featuring all kinds of vicious, repulsive, sadistic murderers–cannibals, necrophiles, zombies, vampires- -can be expected to flock to any flic that promises to satisfy its craving, and promotion for American Sniper puts it right in their wheelhouse.

Bradley Cooper as Kyle. Do actors ever ponder what their roles signify? Looking at roles as if they existed in a moral and historical vacuum is for fools.

What is profoundly disturbing culturally but should not be surprising is that, unlike goofy trash about chainsaw maniacs, anthropophagous esthetes, and midnight bloodsuckers, American Sniper glorifies a real self-confessed serial murderer, and its supporters don’t care. It makes no distinction, that is, between imbecile fantasy and appalling truth. The fact that the “hero” and much of his story was real only enhances his glamour in their eyes.

What gives the film its fierce attractive power for them is that the relentless propaganda of “the Global War on Terror” has imbued them with the same hateful, furious, kneejerk, Nazi-style “patriotism” that Kyle embodied.

As long as the tag-team of our “news” media and the Hollywood War Porn industry continues, the fan base for U.S. military ubermensch horror films will grow. As Germany learned in the deadly 1930s, there is nothing quite so dangerous to a nation’s liberty as a furious, stupid, violence-addicted, enemy-fixated underclass. The monster that a culture creates and keeps in its basement can sometimes break its chains, to rend and dismember it.

Paul Edwards is a genuine Renaissance man, gifted with many talents and participant in many events and struggles of our tormented times. Our colleague Jeff Brown, who did a fine interview with him, sums it up thusly: “Paul’s life story is worthy of a biography: a rebel youth growing up, traveling and working around the world and then a long career as a Hollywood writer. Through it all, he has never lost his lifelong wrath against US imperialism and global capitalism, while seeking social and economic justice for humanity’s 99%…”

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Things to ponder

While our media prostitutes, many Hollywood celebs, and politicians and opinion shapers make so much noise about the still to be demonstrated damage done by the Russkies to our nonexistent democracy, this is what the sanctimonious US government has done overseas just since the close of World War 2. And this is what we know about. Many other misdeeds are yet to be revealed or documented.

Parting shot—a word from the editors
The Best Definition of Donald Trump We Have Found

In his zeal to prove to his antagonists in the War Party that he is as bloodthirsty as their champion, Hillary Clinton, and more manly than Barack Obama, Trump seems to have gone “play-crazy” — acting like an unpredictable maniac in order to terrorize the Russians into forcing some kind of dramatic concessions from their Syrian allies, or risk Armageddon.However, the “play-crazy” gambit can only work when the leader is, in real life, a disciplined and intelligent actor, who knows precisely what actual boundaries must not be crossed. That ain’t Donald Trump — a pitifully shallow and ill-disciplined man, emotionally handicapped by obscene privilege and cognitively crippled by white American chauvinism. By pushing Trump into a corner and demanding that he display his most bellicose self, or be ceaselessly mocked as a “puppet” and minion of Russia, a lesser power, the War Party and its media and clandestine services have created a perfect storm of mayhem that may consume us all. Glen Ford, Editor in Chief, Black Agenda Report

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One thought on “The Sociopath as Hero

  1. Video game violence as “entertainment” for our young, clueless amoral psychopathic murderers as our movie “heroes,” and the five wealthiest capitalists owning as much as entire bottom one-half of earth’s human population. What could possibly go wrong in such an amoral militarized neoliberal paradise?

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