Stop-Loss review – by Eileen Jones

An interesting lively example of mixing aesthetic criticism with ethical (or general normative) criticism is found in a review by Eileen Jones of the recent Iraq war film Stop-Loss, which she details as:

“a protest movie about the war that-follow me closely here-doesn’t actually protest the war. Because that would be a bummer, getting us into that whole thing again about Bush and Cheney and the WMDs that weren’t there and the no-exit-strategy. Not to mention the 4,000 dead Americans we’re sort of peeved about. We support our troops, you know! In this movie Peirce insists on supporting our troops so hard it’s impossible to figure out what’s ailing us, watching these fine boys with their fine parents all having fine values in this fine country of ours. Nagging questions hang over the whole project: if our Texas-style patriotism is so great, and our mission to defend America is so great, and we’ve got hordes of studly young guys leaping at the opportunity to go fight whoever they’re told, and they’re all great, too, and their families and communities are great, then uh … what’s the problem? Why isn’t everybody happy?

“Well, for one thing, it turns out that if you go fight in a war, you can get SHOT. Yeah! It’s true! Even a righteous American, with a big gun, and a Kevlar vest, and a Hummer! That’s the movie’s first-act revelation. We see our boys in Iraq, doing their jobs chasing insurgents into local people’s apartments, and those bastards start SHOOTING at ‘em!”

It may be difficult to separate out where the aesthetic criticism ends and the ethical/normative criticism begins here because in this case they are extremely intertwined, often co-dependent. The normative breakdown generates broken aesthetics; not much chance of satisfying rising climax and poignant moments (in terms of aesthetics) when the ethics or other normative features are impoverished/degraded… And when otherwise the aesthetics are well done but the underlying norms are bunk, well it’s lipstick on the poor pig, at best.

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