Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bill O'Reilly's straw-man argument: Of course The Expendables is (slightly) patriotic, but it's not 'NATIONALISTIC'. Altough he has one good point...

It's a common tactic brandished on the Right, and occasionally used by the Left, to create a straw-man argument and then bring on someone to validate or combat said viewpoint. Bill O'Reilly himself has been famous for his annual 'War on Christmas' series that seems to crop up every December. I know of no one who has discussed The Expendables in anything but the broadest social terms (it has no real agenda other than to entertain and make money), and certainly not a single critic has vilified Stallone for the film's content aside from its worth as an action drama. The film is subtly patriotic, but it's not NATIONALISTIC, which is what O'Reilly is defending it against. For what it's worth, the film's villain is an American imperialist tycoon, and the bad guys use water-boarding to torture a damsel in distress, and righteous Americans do battle to put a stop to it. In other words, heroic Americans do battle with evil Americans and save an indigenous populace for outside invaders because they basically want to do a 'mitzvah' for once in their greedy, soulless lives (yes, it's the same broad idea as The Wild Bunch).

Sure, Stallone is obviously a moderate Conservative, but that doesn't mean every movie he makes is an action-movie equivalent to An American Carol. Hell, I've long argued that the horrifying violent and relentless hopeless Rambo was an apology for how his prior Rambo films were interpreted as pro-war, gung-ho adventures in imperialism. As far as O'Reily preemptively defending the movie from smears it has not really received, it's the same thing as a NBC announcing that the newest episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit is 'controversial' before it even airs. It gets people to pay attention who otherwise wouldn't care and/or lets them feel righteous over their endorsement of an entertainment that they would have seen and enjoyed anyway.

O'Reilly is dead-on at one point of the interview, stating that 'these pinheads, in order to justify their column, have to go in and blow this stuff up'. Steven Zeitchik at the LA Times needed an excuse to write about The Expendables, so he basically asked a 'when did you stop beating your wife?' type question regarding the film's alleged nationalism, something which is not the least bit apparent to anyone actually watching the film (he quotes the misleading trailer, rather the film itself for evidence, which implies that he didn't see the film). And like so many on both sides of the isle, he confuses patriotism with nationalism, thus making it seem like he's bashing the act of being patriotic.

It's something I've complained about quite a bit in the last few years, as entertainment journalists or general pundits find a six degrees of Kevin Bacon-type connection between a hit movie and a social issue and attempt to tie the two together for the sake of provocation. So Jigsaw becomes Osama Bin Laden, Tony Stark becomes a conservative apologist, America's Heart and Soul becomes the conservative counterpoint to Fahrenheit 9/11, and the filmography of Sly Stallone becomes a focal point for jingoistic nationalism (you can make a case for Cobra being right-wing propaganda, but it's still a fun piece of action/horror trash).

Of course, in calling out this straw-man fallacy O'Reilly creates his own straw man argument by making the cardinal mistake that so many others do, taking the opinion of one random writer and spinning it as a barometer of critical opinion. Just like a single critically praised but otherwise ignored film (Brick) and a single praised but under-watched TV series (Veronica Mars) did not constitute a trend of 'high school film noir', one LA Times writer accusing The Expendables of being 'patriotic' (by which he means nationalistic) does not a trend make.

Scott Mendelson

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