America, America, We Know Your Name

So I finally had the chance to see American Sniper yesterday night. Indeed, we Western Europeans had to wait one month more to watch it.

Before seeing it, I had read two reviews of the movie (there can't be spoilers when you already know the ending...), one which I find myself in total agreement with, another one which would be a perfect parody of “freedom fries” patriotism if it wasn't deadly serious.

My point is not to comment on the film itself though. I have little to say about Chris Kyle. I'm sure he was a valiant soldier, and the movie certainly does him justice in that respect. But he doesn't seem to be a very interesting character. Or if he was, Clint Eastwood's “War on Terror” stance clouds it altogether.

My point is rather to comment on the scourge of movies whose title starts with the word “American.” Perhaps this phenomenon doesn't strike Americans as much as it strikes me. Sure, the fact that most (good) movies come from the U.S. plays a role in it, but I believe there is something more. In my country which, I shall remind my American readers, is the birthplace of film, there are very few movies with “French” or “France” in the title.

Now, according to the Internet Movie Data Base, there are 200 movies with “American” in their title, most of which have been produced quite recently.

The most famous ones, American History X (1998), American Pie (1999), American Beauty (1999), American Psycho (2000), American Gangster (2007), American Hustle (2013), and now American Sniper, have all been made in the last two decades. I believe this acceleration in the use of “American” in the title is not anecdotic.

My interpretation is that it is self-doubt posturing as self-confidence.

This thought would never have occurred to me if I hadn't spent two years in a vast cold zone where a shallow State feels the need to put its dubious name and leafy flag all over it to pretend it actually exists.

By now most of you have guessed which vast cold zone I'm talking... a-boot. Yeah, “Canada.” In this non-country, the feeling of nationhood is either non-existent or defined by not being American, as illustrated by this embarrassing Molson beer commercial. Usually, people define “Canada” by “the country North of the United States where they speak both English and French” but the American State of Alaska is more to the North than any “Canadian” province, and very few “Canadians” are bilingual.

So “Canadian” officials have resorted to the vain but age-old method of spreading the State's name everywhere (every federal ministry is called [Something] Canada) and plant its flag on every available square meter to make their de jure British dominion but de facto U.S. protectorate look like it is a sovereign country.

(And before you object that I'm biased as a Frenchman, it is the exact same thing in Québec, where every provincial ministry is called [Quelque Chose] Québec.)

Since I have far more respect for a real thing like America than for a fake one like “Canada,” it saddens me to see America lacking so much confidence in itself that it needs to remind everyone in the world that it does exist (as if we could forget).

Still, one couldn't imagine directors from the Golden Age of Hollywood, when America was really self-confident, being obsessed with sticking their country's name everywhere. Could someone then think of such a stupid title as The American Birds?

What needs saying is what is not obvious. So with America's identity crisis worsening in the coming decades, expect more patriotic posturing in the theaters. Some will fall for it, wiser others will start placing their hopes in something new, something better.