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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
January 29, 2015

First appeared in print in The Rhino Times, Greensboro, NC.

Sniping, SAG Awards, 'Tude

If you ask any American liberal what it is that separates them from those awful Tea Party conservatives, I bet you that nine times out of ten they'll answer, "Tolerance."

Liberals have it; conservatives don't. Or so liberals believe, in their rigid, unbending, hate-filled view of everyone who doesn't agree with them.

No, no, not all liberals fit that description. In fact, in my own lexicon, "liberal" still means, or should mean, somebody who embraces the existence of many different ideas and viewpoints and beliefs and opinions, and believes that in the free marketplace of ideas, good ideas will eventually emerge, and really bad ones will eventually be superseded.

So I have many "liberal" friends who really are tolerant of other people's opinions and beliefs.

Almost all of them are politically "conservative."

So that brings me to some of the really stupid stuff that Leftists (who claim to be tolerant) have been saying about Clint Eastwood's brilliant anti-war, pro-soldier film American Sniper.

I try not to keep track of which person said any particular stupid thing because, in line with my own idea of tolerance, I don't want to hold it against them later.

So there was the comment that if you looked at who went to American Sniper and a "cross-section" of the Tea Party, there's "a lot of intersection."

There's the comment that "the people who go see this movie are people who are very angry."

Let's look at the statistical stupidity of the first comment. This may be the highest-grossing movie to open in January. Millions of people have gone to see this film. How many Tea Party members does this guy think there are?

A more illuminating statistic might be this one: About half of America consists of families and communities whose members volunteer for military service. The other half hardly even knows anybody in the military.

I'm not talking Red State vs. Blue State. I'm talking about within every state. There are groups of people for whom military service is an honorable choice, even a duty, and they know many people who have served.

And there are people for whom the idea of military service is appalling, and who wouldn't be friends with anyone who actually wanted to serve America in that way.

I'll bet that if you look at who is going to American Sniper, most of them come from the military-service half of America.

And if you look at those who are outraged by the existence of this movie -- and who refuse to go see it because it "glorifies war" (which it doesn't, not even for a second) -- I'm betting most of them come from the half of America that has no connection with the military.

I didn't serve in the military -- I treasured my high draft lottery number because by the time I came of age, it was clear America had decided to lose the Vietnam War, and I couldn't see putting my life on the line in a war we were determined not to win.

So don't imagine that I'm wrapping myself in the flag or claiming some personal virtue, but I am definitely in the half of America that views soldiers with honor. I've had close relatives serve in the military; I have close friends who are now or were recently in the military.

Because of that, when I watched American Sniper I kept seeing those friends and relatives -- not as snipers on the roof, but as the guys on the ground that the snipers were trying to protect. The engineers trying to build a wall. The grunts going street by street, house by house through hostile territory.

And I'll tell you, I fully approve of every action taken by Chris Kyle as depicted in American Sniper. Because without guys like him, a lot more American soldiers would have come home in coffins or as cripples.

Once a nation decides to go to war, then regardless of whether it is a "good" war or not, the nation owes respect and honor to those who lay their lives on the line in military service.

So what I'm trying to figure out is why American Sniper makes people from the Other Half so angry. They accuse the Tea Party of being angry -- but I don't see angry people going into or coming out of that movie.

Sure, some people probably watch it like any adventure movie -- good guys vs. bad guys. Hollywood makes that movie all the time.

But the people who watch the movie Clint Eastwood actually made know that they're getting a taste of war -- ugly, bitter, terrifying war.

I think that before anyone in Congress casts a vote for or against going to war, they should be required to watch this movie, to remind them of what they're deciding to send our fellow-citizens in the military to do.

That doesn't mean they shouldn't ever vote to go to war -- there are times when going to war is either just or unavoidable, or both. But American Sniper doesn't make any mature person "gung-ho" for war. It makes us grieve for, yet honor greatly, those who write that blank check, which the government can cash for any amount up to and including their lives.

But in the minds of the Other Half, the people who don't know any soldiers or sailors, "the military" is some faceless mob of angry gun lovers -- and those who make or go to films that honor them and show us their sacrifice must be intolerant hate-filled Tea Party conservatives.

So let's think for just a moment. Who is it who is being savagely, angrily intolerant here? Who is it who demonizes their opponents?

Oh, I can already see them back-pedaling. No, I'm not demonizing anybody, what I'm doing is ...

Demonizing. That's what demonizing is. You start from the assumption that there is no good or decent reason to see American Sniper.

In fact, this is inherent in the way that one person spoke about it. You look at who saw American Sniper and compare them with a cross-section of ...

Get it? This guy is speaking from the assumption that Good People won't even go see the movie. He can speak of the millions who went to American Sniper as "them" because the group that he belongs to, the group that he would speak of as "we," has not seen the movie and will not see the movie.

I'm not concerned about narcissists like Michael Moore -- he has been in the hate business his whole career. You want a crazy-eyed demonizing hater, that's Michael Moore, far more than anybody in the Tea Party.

But it's quite shocking how many of those who attack American Sniper haven't seen it, wouldn't see it, and despise the kind of people who would see it.

That's bigotry and intolerance. Dictionary definition. Yet these are the very people who, if a conservative or religious person was criticizing a book or movie, would immediately challenge them: Have you read it? Have you seen it? If not, then you don't know what you're talking about. How can you condemn a movie you haven't even seen?

Here's how it looks to me: American Sniper has become another instant litmus test. If you're a real American intellectual elitist liberal smart person, you will not only refuse to see American Sniper, you will also be very proud of feeling superior to those who do.

Because nobody is more intolerant than the Officially Tolerant elitists.

Here's what actual courage and tolerance look like. Eddie Redmayne wins the SAG best-actor award and begins his speech by naming all the other nominees in his category. But then he goes on to mention some brilliant actors whose outstanding performances were not nominated.

And he starts that list with Bradley Cooper. And then mentions Bradley Cooper again.

That was a generous thing for him to do. A brave thing. Because he admitted that he admired the actor who brought Chris Kyle to life on the screen in American Sniper. He honored the artist regardless of any political concerns that some might have.

That's how it's done. You don't put your allegiance to some political club ahead of your willingness to give honor where it's due. (And Bradley Cooper also showed his class by attending the awards -- even though his performance was not nominated.)

Everybody in that room -- all those actors in the SAG Awards ceremony -- knew perfectly well that the political brouhaha about American Sniper was pure balderdash.

There is hardly a one of them who wouldn't drop everything to be in a Clint Eastwood movie -- any Clint Eastwood movie -- because they know he's one of the great directors of our time.

And if any of the actors in SAG thinks Bradley Cooper should have turned down the role of Chris Kyle, he should think back on Rod Steiger, who, because he was "anti-war," turned down the chance to play the role of a lifetime -- Patton in Patton.

Rod Steiger didn't play Patton; George C. Scott did. And it was, indeed, the role of a lifetime. Heck, even playing a supporting role in Patton was a role of a lifetime -- after all the brilliant work Karl Malden did, I daresay more moviegoers remember him because he played Omar Bradley in Patton.

The role of Chris Kyle in American Sniper was written to be the role of a lifetime. Bradley Cooper took that role because he's not an idiot, and he played the part brilliantly because he's an extraordinarily talented actor who has just been waiting for this part so he could come into his own.

You shouldn't see American Sniper in order to make a statement of your political beliefs -- nor should you refuse to see it for the same reason.

You should see it because it's a truthful, powerful, well-written, well-acted movie.

Now ... there are people who have a chip on their shoulder, and they're going to find something to hate about American Sniper. I speak from experience. I've had people accuse my novel Ender's Game of being "pro-war."

Most of those who say this haven't read it. But some have. I don't know how they could read that book and think it said anything else but the fact that war is a horrible thing, and those who fight it pay a terrible price.

But sometimes it needs to be fought, and then you hope and pray you have soldiers and leaders who can and will do what it takes to win.

This is so obviously true -- of American Sniper and of my book, too -- that it's surprising that it even needs to be said. But it does. Because there are some people who read books or go to movies hoping to be offended.

They assume the worst possible motive for everybody involved. They turn mere disagreement into a moral crusade -- the other guy is evil!

And look how they're rewarded. Most of the people who made a splash by attacking American Sniper are completely irrelevant to American thought and culture. The only way they could possibly get in the public eye was by attacking something better and finer than anything they could ever do or have ever done.

I'm not just talking about American Sniper. I'm talking about the life and service of Chris Kyle, too. Because some of the vicious attacks on the movie are really attacks on Kyle himself.

Remember when John Kerry was running for President, and we kept hearing about how he didn't really earn his Purple Heart, that he was a sham as a soldier, that all his accusations when he became a spokesman for the Viet Cong in Paris were lies -- remember how such attacks on him were viewed by the Left as unfair?

Remember how Kerry's supporters insisted that we give him the respect due to a veteran -- even though he got out of Vietnam as fast as he could and then betrayed and slandered his fellow soldiers?

Let's apply that same standard of respect to Chris Kyle -- a man who actually served his full time, four times over. A man who died while serving his fellow veterans. You know -- the real thing.

It's not about whose team you're on. It's about what you actually did and said. It's about the price you actually paid.

Those who made and acted in American Sniper have done something real and fine.

And towering over everybody is this simple soldier, this four-tour veteran who, in another era, would have received the Medal of Honor. A man who should be remembered the way we remembered Alvin York and Audie Murphy after the wars in which they served with such distinction.

Here's something else to consider: There are a lot of veterans suffering from what they went through in combat. I urge you to go to the Save A Warrior website and read an essay by Adam Magers, entitled, "American Sniper: Why This Vet Won't Watch It, But Hopes You Will."

You can find it here

I think it helps put all the nonsense -- and the good sense -- in perspective.


The SAG Awards this year should serve as a model for what all film and television awards shows should be. For some reason, the Oscar broadcasts all seem to be built around the idea that people will be bored with the show if it's just a bunch of people reading names and then opening an envelope.

So they do absurd production numbers and have all kinds of fake "clever" banter and have live performances of the Oscar-nominated songs.

Sometimes these bits really are wonderful. Sometimes they consist of an idiot like David Letterman saying, over and over, "Oprah, meet Uma. Uma, meet Oprah." (Because making fun of people's names is so funny [to kindergartners].)

The SAG Awards didn't even have a host. A disembodied announcer voice named the presenters for each award. Then, in the time saved by not having all the fluff, they showed clips of every single performance.

Clips! From the actual movies!

And not just the kind of promo clips we see when actors appear on talk shows. No, these clips gave a real glimpse of what made each performance award-worthy.

Even the In Memoriam sequence had actual clips, most of them with audio, so we caught a glimpse of those actors who had died this past year. And the montage of clips from Debbie Reynolds's career when she got the Lifetime Achievement Award were wonderful -- bringing back memories, not only of Singin' in the Rain, but also of Unsinkable Molly Brown and Tammy and the Bachelor.

And the acceptance speeches were gracious and generous and not one of them was embarrassing.

When the winning ensemble decided to let everybody say something, they all said brief and interesting things. Then the music started playing before the last one could speak.

But this was the actors' own show, and so she just kept talking and ...

And the music stopped. So she could have her say. She was treated with respect. All the actors were treated with respect.

And so was the audience.

I was proud of my union that night.

I'm not always proud of them. SAG/AFTRA did a horrible thing when they allowed Audible.com to undercut audiobook producers by letting union members narrate audiobooks while acting as their own engineers and directors -- twice the work, for the same money.

That's the opposite of what unions are supposed to do. It's putting some of the finest audiobook production houses out of business, which damages the quality of audiobooks in general and provides less work for actors, and less money for the work they do.

But during the SAG Awards, I was proud of my union.

And even though I'm a member of that union only because of a voice-only part I did, which ended up on the cutting room floor, I'm in good company. After all, Kevin Costner was in The Big Chill -- playing the guy whose funeral they were there to participate in. Only his entire part was edited out. Sometimes that happens.

So I got my SAG card, when a lot of much harder-working actors are struggling even to get into the union. Since then, though, I've actually done a scene in a very low-budget movie. I have no idea whether I was any good, but I do know I could have been a lot worse than I was.

That's the thing about all these actors who are up for awards. Every single one of them could have done a lot worse in that part. Or the filmmakers could have cast other actors, who might have done it better but probably would have been awful. (Think of John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror, or Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.)

To a large degree, film and television are our shared culture, and good acting makes a huge difference. Actors learn their craft bit by bit. And then they get a chance to do roles that allow them to shine.

And you never know how it will turn out. The movie Night Shift was supposed to be Henry Winkler's movie, but Michael Keaton was so brilliantly, eagerly funny that he's the only actor you could talk about afterward.

There was another actor in Night Shift, though. Perhaps you noticed him. Frat Boy #1 was played by ... Kevin Costner.

What? You didn't remember him? Then maybe you remember him as "Luther (Man in Alley)" in Frances. No? Well, maybe you didn't notice him till he played younger brother Jake in Silverado -- one of the great film performances.

Here's a true thing about awards: The best performance rarely wins. And people who win awards rarely get them for their best work.

So what? If somebody gives you the award, you take it, you say thank you, and maybe, like Eddie Redmayne, you make some generous comments that put everything in perspective. Or maybe you just stand at the podium and cry. Who cares?

What matters is that somebody noticed that you're doing a pretty darn good job of the art to which you've devoted your working life. And that's what we watch the awards show for: The list of nominees, the clips of their work, and their acceptance speeches. That's the whole show -- and it's a great show, year after year, as long as the producers of the awards broadcast don't gunk it up.


I'm in the Outer Banks right now, staying at Spa Koru in Avon (a great resort, with hotel prices right now in the off season). My wife was with me for the first few days, and we were glad that Fresh Market has a huge new store in Nag's Head.

Because we have a kitchen, we can actually cook, so we decided to buy cold cuts, imported French brioche bread, and salad makings. Oh, and Mom's Tomato Basil Soup.

Then I stopped at the fish counter and they had some great-looking wild sockeye salmon. "That salmon would sure be good with the salad," says I.

"Then let's get it," says she.

"It's got the skin on, and we don't have our brilliant Cutco fish knife."

The man behind the counter says, "I can cut that off for you."

Now, my wife had a very clear memory of asking the guy at the Fresh Market on Lawndale to do exactly that a couple of weeks ago -- and he wouldn't. But instead of pointing that out, she and I merely said, "That would be wonderful. Thank you!"

So we came back to Spa Koru with skinless salmon, which I fried up and laid on the plates beside the salads she made. And the next night we had soup and crackers. Thanks, Fresh Market, for recognizing that your clientele go to the Outer Banks, too!

One of the best things about Fresh Market is that they do a great job of finding new products. I was in the cold case in the produce department to pick up some Naked Mighty Mango, and I noticed little bottles with the brand name 'Tude, and the names of several kinds of apple.

Now, I'm not a great lover of apple juice, but I'm married to a connoisseur. Er, connoisseuse. Anyway, I picked up a bottle of Fuji, a bottle of Gala, and a bottle of Honeycrisp.

Since then I've learned that 'Tude also makes juices titled Pacific Northwest, Cripps Pink, and Granny Smith. But Fuji, Gala, and Honeycrisp were enough for us. It was like biting into a perfectly ripe apple -- yet the difference in flavor was as clear as the difference between Valencia orange juice and the regular kind.

I have no idea if the Fresh Market in Greensboro has 'Tude apple juice, but I'm assuming that the buying decisions are made for the whole chain. If you care about apple juice, you owe it to yourself to try these.

At http://www.TudeJuice.com, they assert that their apple juices are natural, unfiltered, and cold-pressed. They have never been heated.

"Taste what nature intended," they say. Well, cynical me: I figure that what nature intended was for overripe apples to fall to the ground, where they would be eaten by coons and possums, and then the hard little seeds would be pooped out far from the mother tree, giving them a fertile environment in which to grow.

But maybe Nature intended these apples to be harvested, cold-pressed, and -- without pasteurization or filtration -- put in little plastic bottles and sold to hedonists like me in faraway places where such apples can't grow.

Yeah. That's Nature at her best.

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