When they decide to kill evil men, the boys say a prayer it seems they learned from their father. (Their mother taught them many languages, which helps them keep secrets.) When first they meet their father, a firefight ensues. He later saves them & leads them. Well, Israel & Moses both had trouble with God. & their father seems to have done a similar job to theirs, but his relation to the law is that he was captured & jailed.
This is a faith without much forgiveness or love, in which the passion of the Christ seems to overshadow everything. The boys quote Emma Lazarus’s New colossus & point out its weakness–they will complete the work of democratic America. They are not believers in progress, but keepers of the old faith, which teaches vengeance, without which punishment is not possible for men. This is also a joke about immigrants & organized crime. They are the forgotten origin returned.
If you look at their martial virtues, however, they are not so impressive. It is fanaticism that makes them formidable. Compare them with any community in a prosperous peaceful liberal democracy where the citizens are weak & powerless, tyrannized by a few gangsters. Consider, as well, that violent crime is mostly the doings of boys. Finally, consider that Americans have no problem finding boys to make into soldiers or fielding armies to do the work of death.
There is worse to say: Their finger-man is an insane, irresponsible guy whose redeeming quality is humor. Weakness holds him back from murder–but he learns from these boys to take vengeance on those who would ruin him. But he has ideas–he knows the details about the mafia that will ruin them. & he dies defiantly, which is as close to Christ’s sacrifice as you get here.
The boys, under their father’s rule, come up with a twofold solution to this. First, they do only what is necessary–apparently, they have no problem with the fact that the necessary is the unthinkable. They really mean to succeed where divine rule has always failed, fighting necessity & chance. Practically, organized crime is not really the worst thing, because the corruption of desire is less terrible than chaos. But war is chaos. These boys will be worse than their enemies.
Secondly, they put the fear of God into everyone. They publicly complete American justice when it fails, as it must, when facing barbarians. The father tells a girl the very image of innocence that she must watch the awful spectacle of divine justice. He promises it will all be over soon. The saints keep men from evil by holy fear, which blindingly strengthens the difference between man & saint.
Varieties of latter-day heroes Some notes on justice as the proper work of man
Two Irish boys learn the famous lie about Kitty Genovese from their priest & approve the exhortation to shepherd God’s flock. They are not the kind of people who use a murder to make a point. But one day, organized crime crosses their threshold & the boys discover something about themselves. It is important to remind yourself constantly what a silly sense of humor they have & how different that is from their knowledge that the city is rotten, because decent men live in fear & no on dares sacrifice for the common good.
These boys start out with a sense of justice perforce natural: They are attacked by people who refuse their hospitality & humiliate their dignity. Self-defense in this case is tempered by humor. But then the boys learn that you cannot profess good among so many who are not good. Their standing up for themselves leads them near death & suddenly they need to do something terrible. This is their first miracle.
We are shown what the director wants us to see both about the miracles these boys accomplish & the stories that the detectives tell, trying to understand what happened. We are given to understand that the press is following them & the story ends with interviews in the streets of Boston regarding the deeds of the saints. We also see that policemen in Boston are friendly admirers, at least in the beginning, & some end up abettors, in the end.
The policemen asks these boys how come they’re losers. Why have they not become productive citizens of the great liberal democracy? Partly, the hard drinking & humor are incompatible with settled productivity. Partly, these boys look on the affairs of people, but seem in no way interested in joining them. They cannot live in a democracy because they are heroes. The gutter is where they are allowed to live, if not thrive, because no one dares look there.
These boys think Christ’s teaching in need of a fighting faith, which comes to them naturally. We tend to abandon justice for advantage–they do the opposite. Specifically, they are against our liberal equality–they learn to insist on the distinction between good & evil as a way to make the distinction between men of war & men of peace acceptable to democrats. They are as harsh as their enemies, but they are also fanatics, so they are easily underestimated.
These boys were resigned to misery & anonymity because they are together. They always fight over who should be doing what, who rules & is ruled, but one of them plays priest & the other one says nothing. This prevents fratricide & ennobles their ferocious suffering.
Have you seen The dark knight? Well, watch this as well, it’s also about men playing God for the sake of justice & it is easier on the myth-making
Milton Chamberlain looks like Mr. America, but is ceremoniously thrown out of his FBI office in Detroit & sent to Battle Creek, which has nothing but the name to recommend it, & therefore disappoints. This man specializes in being nice to everyone whom he needs. He does not do anything good for these people, but while circumstances throw them together, they may as well allow manners to soften the blow.
He there meets Agnew–like Nixon’s VP–who works for the police there: They are poor, underequipped, unable to supplant the lack of technology, & unloved. This miserable part of America needs something–maybe more confidence, maybe more of that restless democratic spirit that leads men to associate for common interest, maybe that sense of community that comes from American Christianity.
Whatever it is, all Battle Creek’s getting is these two detectives–their fall is not too obvious, it is not easily explained, & it hardly induces in us sorrow or shame. But we do get to see what kind of men they are. Agnew believes in the Battle Creek way, which is hard work. It’s hard to do mostly because of incompetence, but resentment & aloofness add something to the mix. Chamberlain’s incredible charm gets people to confide in him in a way that arouses Agnew’s hatred. He almost wants to say, it’s better to fail to enforce the law than to do it perfidiously.
The script suggests incredibly handsome, clean, professional Chamberlain is Mr. Obama–you will be asmued to find the famous line on Obama idealism thrown at him by the smaller, uglier, envious, baffled Agnew with whom conservatives might sympathize. The story suggests Chamberlain knows there is a serious price to pay for all the lies he tells, for the promises he makes, but then again there is also something he understands, that a commitment to justice & the common good need not be blind to danger.
Chamberlain picks up the phone & his fellow policemen learn of a terrible crime. Even aside from the fact that policemen on TV solve their cases, he’s dressed for success, so you need not fear. The strange thing is that the solution has little to do with his powers, whatever they may be–he is not making changes, only preventing catastrophe.
The peculiarity of this story is that it emphasizes the moral choices characters make. The drama depends on Chamberlain’s ability to appeal to the faith in divine of justice of people who do fearful things. One suspects, there are limits to what exhortation or calls to repentance can achieve. At some point, expect to see Chamberlain in a situation where he has to shoot someone. That might take the sheen off the suit.
Another new detective series, created by the man who made Breaking Bad
What this nation needs is the right kind of bullying
This story shows, very cautiously, different forms of abuse of the public trust. Why should we care? One reason is, free gov’t depends on people putting public service above private interest in certain cases–our private lives depend on other people taking care of our safety. Mostly, these stories are quite uninteresting until you realize that TV is a lot like Portland, Oregon–it would have to arrest the military on principle to get more liberal…
Do you want to see some ugly truths? Firemen have all sorts of barbaric habits, because they could not otherwise face death so carelessly. Should they be well-behaved, well-adjusted, the liberal dream of the sensitive male? Why would they risk life & limb? Successful liberals certainly do not. You have to love the fire, the danger, in a way… If you think the world is an awful chaos, it can make it easier to do daring deeds. One thing you see in this story is that fire can arouse sexual passion. This might seem like the liberal softness for deviants–a bit of the ol’ epater les bourgeois–but it’s really the deeply illiberal Bonnie & Clyde sort of madness.
Backstrom says, firemen & policemen hate each other. What’s so ugly about policemen, to play tit for tat? Dunno. Maybe the ugly suspicion & the easy belief in their own righteousness. Team spirit might mean thinking other people are guilty, self is outstanding. It’s remarkable how beautiful people look when they’re successful.
The crime, arson, is about burning people’s houses down. We see a family of bullies stick together despite their differences. Backstrom, we learn, spied on them as a boy. We also get the first glimpse Backstrom is becoming the father he hates, whose vitality he therefore lacks. Backstrom starts by denying a boy hope & succor. Another boy needs Backstrom so that he can imitate his hero father. That boy knows heroic sacrifice requires belief in providence: Backstrom is comparatively an innocent.
Backstrom perhaps is trying to give his team the right kind of bullying. They need to know that he cannot protect them from failure; it were cowardice to think the police will or could. They need to fear like a bullied kid; it takes anger to fight back when attacked. One suspects, the right kind of bullying plays a common enemy that brings a society together. If right coincides with self-defense, things may be difficult, but not confusing.
We get several reminders, Backstrom is vulnerable. Maybe this liberal democracy that drives him to suicide helps keep him alive, too. The revolt of the clever against the tough is like mind fighting habit. Backstrom would have to see his own weakness, & provide for it.
Everett Backstrom was once a detective of some import. He has ended up weak, fat, diseased. Why does he care to make this public knowledge? He needs a doctor to approve his body for work. His mind is reliable, says a former partner, current boss. This somebody reaches down to pluck this nobody out of numbing anonymity. Backstrom cannot rise by following the rules & breaking the rules has not worked for him either. A political woman, who knows how to rise & how to recruit will make use of him. That is our connection to this man.
What Backstrom does, shockingly, is hold everything we know about policing in contempt. He treats scientists as servants, no doubt, because he understands they cannot be trusted–they have no skin in the game–& they cannot deliver on time. His daring & his many mistakes together suggest he thinks science is cowardice pure & simple. Because we’re mortal. He likes to cause outrage in people.
Backstrom has no more respect for people who play by the rules. His sense of duty is not overpowering. This very young, very clever woman, Gravely, who keeps complaining, shows you the connection between democracy, women, & transparency or publicity. She looks down on Backstrom because of his immorality. He suggests his superiority has a lot to do with his immorality. You think she’d be knowing, if not grateful. She’s a liberal–America made flesh. Her silliness is annoying & conceals her future, her attaining great power.
Their brief confrontation: He says, this is a team of losers. The woman sees a lot of power in her team, however. She says nothing about whether the team needs a leader or why people who have been rejected by other teams could make a team of their own. She is so beholden to convention that she cries, for shame!, even as she refuses to say what caused her fall.
What the rules hide, like our moral opinions, is the ugly stuff–when it’s do or die. Looking at murdered people, Backstrom says, if you got murdered, you deserved it. The liberal thinks he’s a moralist; maybe he’s making a point about prudence. If he is, he had better not fail…
Regarding strippers, Gravely says that they are victims. She always can be relied upon to give the bleeding heart liberal opinion. Backstrom says, they hate men–they like to control them. The two opinions are not altogether different–Backstrom just wants to show that the liberal opinion is worse than useless. Excusing the behavior cannot prevent it; & after the fact, it also blocks the detective’s mind: The detective needs to look for the causes of aggression, not its victims.
Backstrom is an exceptionally gifted detective in Portland, Oregon, a dying man with a broken body. He has not got long to live & he wants to live doing justice, even if it kills him, although he seems to take crime as a personal insult–perhaps he believes that God is rather careless & someone needs to pick up the slack… Backstrom is a has been who was a might have been. He is haunted. He gets a second chance, which does nothing to diminish his defiance. He is not making his peace with the city.
Stories about men of intellectual excellence brought low by democratic politics & the limits of human nature are popular nowadays. Is it that mankind love to see the great, or at least the greatly conceited, brought low? Perhaps that accounts for some of the comedy–the anger aroused by arrogance. But these are mostly dramas & the virtues of the great men are not shown up–they are show to be limited.
Broken bodies are common in such cases. Is this because clever people cripple their bodies? Or crippled bodies allow for nothing but cleverness? Maybe it’s a political matter: People who think they’ve got the world figured out in their heads are sure to neglect that human beings are different because they have different bodies–poetic justice then might be the explanation.
These men are ardent leaders, furious followers. Their impotence unleashes their tyrannic yearnings. They glory in uttering ugly truths, they revel in effecting good things by their opinions. Maybe they wish to wake mankind from its dogmatic slumber. Maybe they wish to outrage moralism so as to make people more careful, not merely more analytic.
These men are trying to bring back aristocracy, to speak plainly. Their claims & powers put together are a search for a political principle other than equality. The godlessness of the great man, after all, might just be a spirited competition. It is strange to see men argue that necessity excuses their actions & then see them act willfully or whimsically. Then again, why should men enjoy doing what is necessary quite so much? It is strange to see half-immoralists defend the way of life of the moral.
These stories show that intelligence is no replacement for character. Man cannot by his wits escape the requirements of morality. His liberation from pre-modern superstition is the road to self-destruction. The lack of self-awareness of the clever seems to depend on this inability to see the world the way a prudent man sees it. These beings of supreme intellect seem to lack self-control & at the same time can look like gluttons for punishment; they resemble the hero far more than the philosopher.
The newest story about a brilliant detective in the modern world: Broken body, sharp mind–angry, witty, devil-may-care. He says racist things to outrage people & treats scientists like servants.
A view of redemption Some notes on manliness with a view to education
The movie starts with our hero Gunnery Sgt. Tom Highway telling a few kids in jail stories about his life in the Marine Corps. It’s whoring & sexual diseases that we hear about at this point. I think he means to say that women & politicians have a moralistic attitude about life. It gets in the way of war; it also misunderstands men. Highway seems to belong in jail.
Just then an awful fatso suggests Highway really wants to rape a boy & gives him advice. This is a movie about war, so let’s learn from the enemy. The hero is trying to save the boy’s soul. Now, Highway may not think about soul like Mother Theresa, but he knows he’s his own man – that man can stand up for himself, including risking his life – so he knows about soul. That boy does not belong in jail, we never learn why he’s there until we see what America looked like in the 80’s. This is one part of Reagan’s American that ain’t Reagan country.
Highway is nearing the end of his life & his country is not what it should be. A man of war cannot do much in times of peace, but any real man only sees problems because he wants to fix them. He is a hellion who has come to redeem all the unmanly kids who have no idea what it means to be tough except that they loath themselves & waste their lives in a futile revolt against a civilization concerned with safety.
This is a remarkably low-class audience. Is it true that military America is so debased? Not at all, but it certainly does not look like the America of individual progress, where no one needs to believe in the common good to achieve wealth & admiration, & where no one would commit crimes of violence – they would not even understand why such things happen. In the future, no one will punch anyone else. But in the past, such men lived & breathed fire. They might point out, they used to win wars, too, unlike their successors…
Now, people who might turn to violence & consider it just are simply thought to lack self-control, which implies they should be pursuing their self-interest instead. But it just means that they want to serve something worth more than self-interest. The revelation of divine justice is always waiting in the wings for them.
Highway says it’s always been hard for him to think there’s anything except right & wrong. This does not mean he does no wrong, just that he is unable or unwilling to accommodate it by justifying it. How can such a man withstand necessity?
A view of the hero Some notes on the possibility of going beyond law into kingship
There is only one joking political reference. When Highway tells them to order the squad bay, they vote against it. He makes fun of democracy & has them run. He’s not going to beat the democrat’s love of freedom & ease out of them by being a martinet. He’s going to give them duties & powers they do not know yet & will teach them that those powers depend on their being together.
Highway beats up a Marine who attacks him, who thinks to surrender to the MPs, which does little for his dignity, but does free him from Highway’s empire. Highway magnanimously refuses & promises to make of him a Marine. Highway pays for another Marine’s family, again keeping a man to himself, denying him to the MPs whereby America rules the warrior class. He defends Marines who make fools of themselves in a bar & are threatened by a bully.
The god-awful Major who seems excited about the prospect of seeing men die by his incompetence speaks the truth when he says Highway thinks of his men as his own. Whatever problems they have, he can solve. What is deficient in them, he can supply. He says, he can’t fix it if he doesn’t know what’s broken. He has no doubt he can fix what he can know & he knows how to find out.
He rules by this claim to knowledge more than by his fierce strength – he fights rather intelligently & controls his anger. He makes examples of the men he fights. Who thinks experience is what matters here should learn that character precedes experience – the other old Sgts. are not fighters. Then again, inexperience is shown to be either pacific or tyrannic. Highway’s knowledge about making Marines is tied to his belief that it is the right way of life for a man.
His enemies claim he does not know how the military works, else he should rule it. & that he does not know himself, else he should not have ended up old & alone. His ignorance about the military is in two parts, ignorance of politic silence & willful law-breaking. Both show him, however, to focus on his men at the platoon level, where he rules them like ancient barbarian-heroes. They fight & bleed together. He goes beyond the laws & rules them like a king, able & willing to secure their good & to fulfill his excellence in the process.
Kingship is the natural answer of the manly man to the chaos of war. This is again tied up with mind: Highway argues from necessity in defense of himself. Marines defend our very order, which defense requires them to adapt, improvise, overcome.
A view of American manliness Some notes on the excellence specific to the Marine
The movie starts with a montage of soldiers from WWII. That is the most glorious moment of American war history, because unlike the great American wars, it is not fratricidal. The nation for once sent million after million of men into hell. They achieved a peace for their country that bred indolence & a social revolution – no more could the nation & the military look anything alike. Our protagonist is Gunnery Sergeant Tom Highway, who lived through all this, fighting in Korea & Vietnam, surviving & keeping in the army all the way to Grenada.
He is not a Reagan man, except inasmuch as the military vote GOP & they like to win wars rather than be humiliated. Highway summarizes liberal cowardice in a good phrase: Lost the wars after winning all the battles. The military wins battles; the liberals lose wars.
But Highway does not fit in the land of peace & opportunity. He is arrested for being drunk & disorderly, but the judge gives him a pass for heroism, while pointing out that he’s making a habit of fighting wars… His ex-wife thinks enough of him to shout his faults every chance she gets, which would probably ruin a sweet singing voice. He even punched an officer & micturated on a police squad car. Manliness just is tragic…
America neither wants nor can use heroes anymore. Winning wars is not part of politics & the kind of hope associated with heroes would make decline humiliating or unbearable. This is not a case of a political regime that cannot moderate its warrior class. This is a case where manliness has been wiped out of the society, to a large extent because of a new democratic revolution. Highway calls this black musician kid a hippie – he is shocked anyone even uses that ancient word – we are shocked to learn the boy’s a Marine.
But the newfound American peace is not without great trouble. Violent crime & economic crisis show not only a great need for manliness, but also that the future of peace is not really a life of pleasure. In fact, America needs the kind of loyalty produced by manliness as much as ever, precisely because the promises & expectations of peace try men’s souls.
Inasmuch as there is a contest between the heroic way of life & the peaceful way of life, this is not a good moment for the peaceful way of life. Perhaps the attraction of peace depends on forgetting about the times of crisis which would give pause to the belief in a comfortable control over the future. But why examine the heroic way of life in a crisis not of total war, but self-loathing?
Clint Eastwood’s best war film. A must see for young men.
A gorgeous thirst A few notes on the possibilities of decadence
C.K. went to South America when his marriage collapsed, which is where Tracy’s brother is supposed to be. It’s a lawless place, where men & eroticism are untamed. The dancer who has stolen her father also has a Latin name. C.K. says he returned on account of Tracy’s wedding; George eventually blames him for the entire spectacle. You may call that reasoning vulgar – you look who’s winning & take it from there.
Dinah’s dream & Tracy’s acting as though dreaming; uncle Willie’s remarks at the end; Mikey’s Cinderella talk when visiting C.K.; all this is meant to recall Shakespeare’s A midsummer night’s dream. C.K. is Oberon, Tracy Titania. He sees her drunk. Spy magazine stands for Athenian politics. They have the pictures of the wedding to prove it. Now, as it happens, C.K. does come closest to orchestrating the spectacle than anyone else; he is also the only spectator, really.
It is surprising how everyone dislikes George, regardless of manners. Could this opinion form a community–the wealthy & the poor, by day & by night, in sickness & in health… Tracy’s only possible reason to marry, loyalty to her father, is complicated… I believe he would be ruined by such a marriage. Yet it is repeatedly alluded, he is presidential. That suggests a difficulty Americans need confront. Do you know the joke, Washington is like Hollywood for ugly people?
C.K. is well-bred, but poor. He has no interest in bringing back the family fortune. He’s even had to work; he knows enough about democracy to be a friend to democracy. But he had no idea the coming of democracy would ruin his marriage. Would his wife had dared to think he looks disgusting without progress pushing her into moralism? In one very important, very obvious way, Tracy is inferior to her mother.
C.K. attacks Tracy where she is strongest – she walks with the easy grace of the successful. He says, it’s because blows always were softened for her. This inclines her to cruelty, both because she thinks she’s stronger than she is & because she cannot distinguish might & right. She must have put that kind of confidence into love before falling back on contempt. It’s all because they were once kids – having fun & making fun of people are connected. Playing together & playing at love are too near.
C.K. knows the truth about Tracy & has come to teach her. He is not trying to teach her a lesson, so to speak, because he thinks the truth about her is beautiful, but also somewhat funny. He forces her to choose between learning the truth & defending herself. He knew in advance she was willing to love & be loved.