Why did 13 Hours premiere in Arlington? On the red carpet, Bay said he had come because the city was “the heartland of America.” Tuesday’s premiere was, indeed, a very American event. The Dallas Cowboys, after all, bill themselves America’s Team, signifying perhaps that they are a deep well of mediocrity in thrall to a rich, old, spiritually corrupt creep, which is to say that the Cowboys are a PAC or two away from earning top-tier presidential contender status.
But Arlington is more than just the home of a bad football team: It’s the spiritual center of the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex, a great galactic plane of young suburbs home to some of the most reactionary politics in the country. What happens here steers America, but it’s often less visible in the wider culture than what happens elsewhere.
It’s also a place that’s responsible in large part for the rise of the new civic religion built around the worship of the most lethal among us.
What the hype surrounding this movie reminds me of — with the implication that if you DON’T see it for any reason up to and including that you are physically unable to leave your home, you are an anti-American liberal pussy — is The Passion of the Christ (or as Tbogg called it, Lethal Jesus: 2 Fast 2 Jewish).
It was some kind of litmus test, like if you go see this movie you are a Proper Christian who Appreciates What God Has Done For Unworthy You. And if you don’t see it, you can’t even HANDLE how hardcore Jesus was.
Demand like that, demand that we worship those who serve — and don’t get me wrong, I go weak in the knees for a uniform just like any red-blooded American girl — denies something essential about that service. If you’re doing it for a parade, that’s not service, that’s a transaction. There’s nothing wrong with transactions, so just call it what it is. Jesus didn’t ask anybody to put his picture up. He said, quite explicitly, that if you’re gonna worship, shut the fuck up about it. The baddest badasses of wartime that I personally know wave you off if you try to call them hero. Service is selfless. It is about the Other, about the Served.
That doesn’t mean we can’t be grateful, we can’t honor, we can’t appreciate those who serve. It means demanding that appreciation as a condition of service is morally repugnant and making an I DARE YOU NOT TO LOVE THIS display of it so aggressively misses the point you’d think it was deliberate, if you were a cynic like me.
There’s a lot that’s bizarre about the framing of the main events in 13 Hours, but the portrayal of Stevens is possibly the strangest part. The ambassador is, in conservative Benghazi narratives, the foremost martyr, a man to be honored and remembered, betrayed by the administration. If what is honorable about the contractors is their willingness to lay down life for country, you might think Stevens deserves similar recognition: not so, in Bay’s estimation.
When the warriors start to falter toward the end of the movie, their injuries and deaths are shown in excruciating, agonizing detail. Limbs are severed, and splintered bones poke out of dying men. Warriors collapse in pools of blood. This is Bay’s crude way of emphasizing the magnitude of their sacrifices. Stevens dies offscreen and reappears in a memorial reel in the closing credits.