American Sniper gives me the opportunity to talk about the politics of art. First I’ll let you know that I have not seen the film and probably won’t see it any time soon. I am not that interested in the film.
However it seems that a lot of people are interested in the film, indeed very interested. It is setting box office records. That says something. But the talk about the film says even more. It has caused quite a stir, causing people to express opinions in favor and against. That discussion has spun off into a metadiscursive chatter about the politics of the film. Is it political or not? Or is it “just a film”?
I don’t have to see the film to answer the question. Clearly, the film is political. I would argue that all art is political to some extent or another. Some art more heavily vested with political intent than others, but you cannot escape it. And of all art, I would further argue that films are the most political of all. So, yes, I would suggest that the film is political.
In the case of American Sniper you can confirm that it is more than “just a film” without seeing it by paying attention to the pull that gravitates around it, kind of like “discovering” a distant planet by seeing the pull it has on celestial objects around it.
It is very simple, in fact, to do this. The very statement that the film is not political itself entails and betrays the fact that it is political. If it has become necessary to say it is not, that in itself reveals that it is. I am relying on a sort of a deconstructionist argument. Hidden in the claim that a film is just a film is precisely its opposite, the truth that a film is more than a film. The more vigorously this claim is made, the more intensely the opposite exists. The simple existence of debate about whether it is or is not is itself an expression of political opinion, is it not?
I think it is naïve and perhaps a little defensive to say otherwise. In general the people arguing that the film is just art or just a story take this stance to answer criticism. If they say it is merely a movie, they can try to evade defending it. (That, too, I would say is a political position.)
So, yes, American Sniper is political. The fact that it has been divisive illustrates the point. The fact that people say it is not political confirms the fact. In fact I think one could argue all films are divisive. So when we start criticizing the critics, stop listening to the concerns, I feel like we are enabling bad habits that might make us more vulnerable to the politics of art.