It takes very little to create a controversy in our country. One only needs to look at the hullabaloo involving the New England Patriots and whether footballs were properly inflated to realize we have our priorities all screwed up. We have become a nation more focused on the “water-cooler” banter as a source of debate than of a nation committed to knowing when substantive dialog should occupy our time and efforts.
This past week, when some in the media and general public decided to spend almost every waking hour talking about the latest Patriots scandal, events of real substance occurred. Yemen’s government fell to Iranian-backed rebels, exposing a major weakness in our country’s diplomatic efforts. One of the most powerful players in the global economy and Islamic relations, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, passed away, leaving a potential power vacuum in an already chaotic region. President Obama delivered the State of the Union Address to the lowest audience in almost 20 years.
Some believe our individual and national priorities are subjective, but as people complain about money in politics and a detached relationship between those who govern and the governed, have we become nothing more than a disconnected nation, committed to the frivolous and indifferent, avoiding or ignoring the reality of the actual world in which we live? This week’s news cycle is an example of what I am talking about. We clearly have lost our ability to prioritize or concentrate on those things that require our attention. How can we be expected to affect change when most choose to “look the other way,” or see controversy in the most inconsequential areas, even in a movie.
Last weekend, the movie “American Sniper” opened to box office records. Contrary to what some believe, American Sniper was not a glorification of war or a propaganda piece for military recruitment. The movie was based on the real life story of U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, documented as the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. The movie was an unflinching look of modern battlefield conflict. While some like Michael Moore, who choose to characterize snipers as cowards and their efforts as unheroic, and Seth Rogen, who tweeted that American Sniper “kind of reminds me of the movie that’s showing in the third act of “Inglorious Basterds” (Rogen’s misspelling),” referring to Quentin Tarantino’s film that shows clips from a fake propaganda movie about a skilled Nazi sniper, others looked at American Sniper much differently.
Many who viewed American Sniper walked away with a much clearer understanding of what those who serve in the military experience, both in combat and returning home. However, the “water-cooler” mentality again diverted our attention from the lessons that could have been learned from the pivotal points of the movie, to the 140 characters or less mindset that seems to formulate our modern conversational style. Movies such as “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “Red Badge of Courage,” “Deer Hunter” and “Coming Home,” served to educate our country on the effects of those that served our nation in combat and the impact on their families.
American Sniper was an opportunity to talk about the black and white world that our soldiers live in while serving in combat, but the gray and indifferent world they return to when they come home. American Sniper should have been the foundation of a conversation about PTSD and our country’s responsibility to assist military families. American Sniper is not everyone’s type of movie, but the themes and the message were much deeper than just a “war movie.” Sadly, maybe because the content was too subtle for our nation’s short attention spans, or that fact some celebrities want to make themselves the story, America has missed another opportunity to engage in a thoughtful discussion.
For the next two weeks many Americans will engage in the folly that is the inflation level of a football used in an insignificant sporting event (as it relates to the issues that require our attention and assistance). The conversation will not make us a better world or a more enlightened society, but it will distract us just enough until the next shiny object grabs our attention.