Surprise, Surprise… Salon Doesn’t Like “Lone Survivor”

Your Stupid Salon Thing of the Day provides what could be definitive proof that there’s some kind of outrage quota over there that all regular contributors to the site are required to meet. Andrew O’Hehir is nominally Salon’s movie critic; to his credit, he’s at times insightful and erudite in his reviews and if nothing else no one can argue that he isn’t passionate about film and film study. But every once in a while, he takes off his traditional critic’s hat — insofar as a critic is supposed to tell you whether a film is worth seeing or not based on an assessment of its quality rather than its politics — and replaces it with the big Social Justice Fighter dunce cap that Salon keeps over in the corner of the office at all times.

For a long time, hand-ringing and teeth-gnashing over the latest pop culture sensation to supposedly promote and glorify war and America’s military was strictly the beat of David Sirota, a guy who, as you know, manages to be such a perfect, serially ridiculous cliché of the liberal superintendent class that it feels like he was engineered in a lab somewhere in Burlington, Vermont. But with Sirota now having so many irons in the fires of outrage, Salon is turning more and more to O’Hehir to pick up the slack. Which brings us to his column today on Lone Survivor. If you’re nodding your head right now in recognition, that’s not surprising; the second this movie was released you could’ve practically slipped on the saliva drooling from the mouths of Salon’s writers and editors, who were just waiting to call it propaganda and war porn.

Thus, we have O’Hehir’s piece titled, “‘Lone Survivor': A Pro-War Propaganda Surprise Hit,” subtitled, “Mark Wahlberg kills Taliban by the dozens in Hollywood’s first 2014 smash, a shameless war-porn spectacle.” And if you think the headline wrote itself, just wait until you dive into the actual article. (No, I’m not linking to it; feel free to seek it out on your own if you choose.)

You may already know that Lone Survivor is based on a book by former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell that tells the story of an ill-fated mission into Afghanistan in 2005 that killed 19 members of the U.S. Special Forces, including all three of Luttrell’s SEAL teammates. Only an idiot would believe that every single thing that happens in the film actually happened that way in reality — it’s not a documentary — but O’Hehir’s issue isn’t with any liberties taken in terms of the story, but rather how the film portrays combat, the military members involved and, seemingly, the fact that it was made at all. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that while it honors those who died on the mission, it’s apolitical in terms of the necessity of the mission itself and there’s no way in hell it makes war look glorious or glamorous. It’s excessively violent and often undeniably heartbreaking, painting a very vivid picture not of why our highly trained special forces chose to fight in the first place, but how they can somehow go on fighting and why, once in battle beside men they consider their brothers, they’ll go on fighting in the name of getting them all home.

But of course that’s not how O’Hehir sees it:

Time and time again, we see Afghan fighters in “tribal gear” brought down with a single shot, Whack-a-Mole style. Boom! They’re gone. American soldiers, it appears, can be shot three times, five times, a dozen times without dying. No, that’s not true – eventually they do die, we all know it’s coming. And every time that happens, it’s an operatic, slo-mo Christlike agony, with sweat and bone and blood and bits of flying gristle, Chevrolet-commercial flashbacks to some comely wife waiting somewhere and closeups of Sears photo studio snapshots of the moppets whose dad is coming home in a body bag. Is it dramatically effective? Yeah, absolutely. But it also conveys the unmistakable impression that American suffering and death is qualitatively different and more profound than the death of some dudes from an Afghan village about whom we know nothing. With those guys, there is no possibility of grieving wives or children, or a complex back-story with many motivating factors. They just keep coming like ants for the Coca-Cola ham at the Fourth of July picnic, and keep getting squashed just as easily… (Lone Survivor is) trying to reclaim the discredited realm of the Iraq-Afghanistan conflicts as a zone for macho tragic fantasy, for the dream of American greatness. It’s trying to tell us that whatever we may think we think about what our country did over the past dozen years – this SEAL team was based at Bagram Air Force base, where some of the worst acts of CIA or military torture were committed – dying for the red, white and blue is still a holy enterprise. That people want to see a competent action picture in the depths of winter isn’t all that depressing, but the fact that they’re swallowing the disgusting symbolism of this one definitely is.

You know, when you’re asked to crank out piece after piece for an internet journalism machine that never stops, you occasionally wind up writing crap you don’t really believe in just because it fulfills an obligation. That’s a fact of life these days. Maybe this column can be filed away under that category for O’Hehir. It’s difficult to imagine anyone, even someone stridently anti-reactionary, banging out a polemic against something that attempts to both give us an idea what a real group of SEALs faced in a very real mission that went really wrong, and pay tribute to the people who fight for us, even if, occasionally, they shouldn’t have to fight.

It’s almost unfathomable, to say nothing of intellectually dishonest, that O’Hehir fails to mention the fact that what got the men portrayed in Lone Survivor killed was a moral choice to let civilians go; that an Afghan man was responsible for saving the life of Marcus Luttrell; that it’s the inhuman conditions SEALs go through in training, to say nothing of the body armor available to them, that allows them to continue fighting instead of going down “Whack-a-Mole style.” (That’s part of what the film attempts to make clear.) Yes, actually — our special forces are better warriors than the Taliban. And yes, while there’s little doubt that the fallen enemies of Lone Survivor — and the real Operation Red Wings — had lives of their own and, who knows, maybe some of them had no desire to be there, they were fighting for the Taliban. There’s no moral equivalency, and to argue that this film about Navy SEALs might have bothered to show the perspective of a Taliban fighter is ludicrous for a half-dozen reasons. If nothing else, it’s another argument of omission. Something Salon excels at.

Maybe I’m biased. My father is former Navy UDT — in other words, a SEAL. I hate to get all Colonel Nathan Jessup here, but we have an all-volunteer military in this country and somebody needs to step up and do the very difficult job that most of us would never in a million years even be able to do, much less undertake voluntarily. We shouldn’t by any means instinctively back the people making the decisions to send our men and women into battle, but we should usually back the men and women themselves, and whether Andrew O’Hehir agrees or not, there’s nothing wrong with showing these men and women some respect and with honoring their actions by making them appear noble, heroic, and larger-than-life in popular culture. The Navy SEALs are the best warriors in the world, and quite frankly I’m glad they’re on our side — even if I can’t always say I support what our government gets them into. And that’s what Lone Survivor is about: the fact that, for these men, while they may believe in what this country is supposed to stand for, in the end — in the thick of it — the real reason they go on is for the team fighting alongside them. Yes, there is actually honor in that. And it deserves respect.

But, you know — Salon.

Since we’re talking about a film critic maybe it’s best to end by paraphrasing the great Hans Gruber from Die Hard: You ask why people hate liberals — I give you Andrew. O. Hehir.

  • Emily Jesse

    HEY VT is the state with the least gun laws in the country and laws in general for that matter. We are home to the Army Mountain Warfare School, our ANG is one of the first bases to receive F-35’s. Just because we are independent of corporate interests, grow are own food and take care of our environment don’t compare us to NYC, or LA or SFO. Most Vermonters own M4’s.

    Otherwise good article.

  • http://www.gunsafetyblog.com HG Pro

    Chez,

    PROTIP: Your dad (Ralph Page) was not a seal or a UDT.

  • http://drangedinaz.wordpress.com/ IrishGrrrl

    And that’s what Lone Survivor is about: the fact that, for these men, while they may believe in what this country is supposed to stand for, in the end — in the thick of it — the real reason they go on is for the team fighting alongside them. Yes, there is actually honor in that. And it deserves respect.

    I saw Lone Survivor and that was my take away as well. I have heard the book does have political commentary and some negative things to say about the supposedly liberal media but I didn’t let that stop me from seeing the film. Because it isn’t about politics. It’s about the men and women who volunteer to fight and sometimes die on our behalf. War is horrible and the film does a very good job of showing that. But it also shows how human beings and their love for one another can be transcendent even in the midst of that horror.

  • Sean Richardson

    Well, this article and the comments on it are certainly an unpleasant surprise from a generally thoughtful website.

  • RilesSD

    Incredible. There was nothing in the film that glorifies war. He did notice that all but one of the SEALS dies right? And the montage in the opening scenes that showed just how fucking hard these guys train, mentally and physically, just to become a SEAL?

  • Lady Willpower

    Since when is it bad to kill Taliban? These guys treat women like dogs, and treat gays even worse than that. What would they do to someone like me? You’d think this would be the kind of stuff that pissed off the good progressives over at Salon, but no.
    Sheesh.

    • dbtheonly

      LW,

      It’s all about the shades of gray. Salon & other LWMO & the RWMO are in the business of seeing only black or white. Goes to the whole concept of political polarization as well.

      And just for it, I’d like to think that I (we) can protect you without necessarily killing someone else. I’m just glad that I don’t have to make the decisions on who lives & who dies.

    • John Larson

      Since when is it bad to kill anyone?

  • CL Nicholson

    Chez, the real question is – What does Mr. Sam Doloncot about such pernicious and problematic cinema which imposes American patriarchy?

    • http://vermillionbrain.blogspot.com/ Vermillion

      I think Doloncot is passed out at his computer with his pants around his ankles after reading that Salon piece.

  • JozefAL

    Hmm. I wonder what Chez’s reaction would be if a RIGHT-WING, PRO-WAR website were to walk away from “Lone Survivor” thinking, “You know. That’s the right kind of attitude we need to be taking with the war. But no. We’ve got that namby-pamby, Muslim-in-sheep’s-clothing in OUR White House, trying to make friends with the enemy.”

    In other words, what would Chez think if such a website actually chose to view it AS a documentary? And how would Chez react if a group of safe-at-home-never-risking-THEIR-sorry-asses Teabaggers or even “moderate” Republicons (such as John McCain and recent Presidential candidate Mitt Romney) felt we need to “amp up” the war effort in Afghanistan so it would match “Lone Survivor?”

    Something tells me Chez would suddenly be a little more sympathetic to the Salon review.

    As for the point about “And yes, while there’s little doubt that the fallen enemies of Lone Survivor — and the real Operation Red Wings — had lives of their own and, who knows, maybe some of them had no desire to be there, they were fighting for the Taliban.” Really? Really, Chez? Their own personal political or religious or even moral convictions are irrelevant simply because “they were fighting for the Taliban”? Do you REALLY want to be THAT guy? Because that comment “they were fighting for the Taliban” is just a step away from the kind of lizard-brain thinking that led to American Sikhs and Muslims being targeted by “good ol’ boys” here in the States after 9/11. Yeah. Let’s have more movies where the “bad guys” are faceless hordes who need no motivation other than “Kill Americans.”

    And you know what is truly absurd about that particular comment? The fact that you felt you had to explain YOUR personal life. To tell us about YOUR dad. In the VERY NEXT PARAGRAPH. Why did we need to have that? We didn’t need it. At least not according to your rant about “they were fighting for the Taliban.” If you felt the filmmakers didn’t need to explain anything about the “bad guys” and you felt that strongly enough to bash O’Hehir about his take, then WE didn’t need to know anything about your father. It really didn’t do anything to add to your article, after all. Other than to give you a REASON (or “motivation”) to bash O’Hehir’s article.

    How about practicing what you preach, Chez?

    • formerlywhatithink

      Because that comment “they were fighting for the Taliban” is just a step away from the kind of lizard-brain thinking that led to American Sikhs and Muslims being targeted by “good ol’ boys” here in the States after 9/11. Yeah. Let’s have more movies where the “bad guys” are faceless hordes who need no motivation other than “Kill Americans.”

      Yeah, that phrase alone pretty much exposes you for the concern troll you are. Pulling a play straight out of the Salon playbook, you try to tie two separate things together to justify your “moral” outrage. There is a world of difference between people fighting for the Taliban and innocent Sikhs and Muslims being targeted by bigots here at home. The fact that you can’t see the difference is pretty sad and completely undercuts your argument.

      Second, this:

      And you know what is truly absurd about that particular comment? The fact that you felt you had to explain YOUR personal life. To tell us about YOUR dad. In the VERY NEXT PARAGRAPH. Why did we need to have that?

      is utterly pathetic. Everybody views everything through the prism of their life experiences. That includes influences from a lot of different sources, but most especially from their parents (or whoever raised them). And you apparently (and I’m going to say intentionally since the entire tenor of your post gives the impression that you were grasping for anything you could use to fuel your “outrage”) skipped over the part where Chez admitted “Maybe I’m biased.” which preceded to explain why he might be biased.

      Save your “outrage” for something real and not just some imagined slights visible only to yourself. Either that or go read some Sirota. It seems to be right up your alley since both of you seem to revel and wallow in faux and vapid expressions of indignation which do nothing except stroke your own egos.

      To paraphrase Chez’s paraphrasing of Hans Gruber: You ask why people hate liberals — I give you JozefAL.

      • bbiemeret

        Someone’s gunning for COTW… JK

    • dukesirius

      You have to be kidding the shit out of me, dude. The fact of the matter is that if you want a movie that’s going to take into account the feelings and motivations of the people who are attached at the hip to al-Qaida, you can catch it playing for about one night at your local art house.

      The Taliban, Nazis, Jeffrey Dahmer, these are people who you just don’t need to delve into; they’re evil fucks, even if some may not want to be (Dahmer in particular comes to mind).

      But the most facepalm-worthy part of your incredibly stupid comment is in the idea that wingers would walk out thinking that we need to escalate the war in Afghanistan so it matches a movie ABOUT AFGHANISTAN. They don’t need to amp it up, since the events in the movie actually happened.

      Jesus, get it the fuck together.

  • Jason

    Pffft…everyone knows the Australian SAS are the best warriors in the world. Your Navy SEALs should be thankful they are on their side.

  • Arcnor

    Dear Salon: it’s a movie.

    Say it. A movie. No, say it. Yes, based on real events. Say it anyway: a movie. It is not a documentary. It is not an instructional film strip on tolerance. It was not produced by Joseph Goebbels. There are no mind control rays contained therein.

    If society was only allowed to release movies and television shows and video games and books and other forms of fiction — even fiction based on real events — that represented everyone’s views equally, that made no judgements, explicit or implicit, about the validity of a given cause or group, that allowed the authors or scriptwriters or directors absolutely no leeway but to be entirely objective, and to present everyone as equal… There would be nothing left. Shakespeare would fail to clear that kind of bar, to say nothing of the average bottom-of-the-food-chain Hollywood scriptwriter.

    More than that, for a website seemingly dedicated to the proposition that every human is worthwhile and noble (and how dare we, the filthy atavistic remnants of those bits of society who still bother to have a sense of humour, refuse to pipe down and act respectfully!), Salon seems to have an incredibly low opinion of the unwashed masses who are still lowbrow enough to watch movies for, you know, entertainment.

    If I watch this film, I am not immediately going to start listening to Toby Keith twenty-four hours a day and chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” at the top of my lungs. For one thing, living in Canada, I’d get some very strange looks for doing that sort of thing. For another, believe it or not Salon, I can actually watch a movie and walk away from it without having every portion of my identity and all my opinions shaped by that experience.

    For people who crusade so zealously on the premise of increasing the respect people have for each other, Salon really does appear to think I’m some kind of malleable pinhead who needs to be lead by the hand to the “proper” and “correct” opinions. My theory of the universe, therefore, remains intact: it is not gravity that makes this planet spin, it is irony.

    • http://vermillionbrain.blogspot.com/ Vermillion

      You are just gonna win Comment of the Week from now until eternity, aren’t you?

      • bbiemeret

        HAHAHAHAHA!

    • http://drangedinaz.wordpress.com/ IrishGrrrl

      Are you Charlie Pierce in disguise? Seriously, your comments rule.

      • Arcnor

        Curses. Revealed! To the Esquire-mobile!

        No, I’m not Mr. Pierce, I’m just an unemployed Canadian hillbilly mental case who’s very flattered to be mentioned in company that august. Thank you.

        • http://drangedinaz.wordpress.com/ IrishGrrrl

          I honestly didn’t know that hillbillys existed in Canada…I thought they only came from my neck of the woods. ;)