Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Dirty Harry and the Islamists

Lawrence writes,

Did you ever see Dirty Harry, Polly? There was no way to stop the killer other than by killing him. Do you disagree? The same thing is true in regard to the Islamists. They have declared war against us and fight by killing innocents. I just wondered whether you who badmouth our efforts to wage war in defense of innocents also oppose the efforts of Dirty Harry doing the same thing? This is my own private Rorschach Test. What do you think when I portray Dirty Harry protecting the innocents in a bus controlled by a cold-blooded killer? By criticizing Dirty Harry, the Mayor and Chief of Police were in effect supporting the killer. How about you, Polly? I think you said “Medieval” when I said this to you earlier, but look again.

Polly responds,

I don't have a problem with Dirty Harry. I have a problem that Dirty Harry is a fictitious character for whom was written a plot with a good ending. In real life, believe it or not, endings are not controlled by script writers. If the story of Waco were written for Clint Eastwood, it hardly would have ended in a horrendous incendiary event with many deaths. If the invasion of Iraq were a movie and Clint Eastwood were starring in it, it's a pretty good bet that the U.S. would be victorious in about two hours. In real life, it didn't quite work out that way. One might wonder if the neocons didn't base the invasion of Iraq on a Dirty Harry movie. How does one win anything when one is so out of touch with reality?

Lawrence responds,

An interesting response Polly. Someone with a literary background on the other hand would know that literature can reflect issues in society and life. Upton Sinclairs’s The Jungle drew attention to the scandal of the meat industry. His novel was fiction but it resulted in the creation of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. In The Brass Check he was critical of the Press.

Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt painted such a vivid and critical picture of the American social landscape that the term “Babbitt” entered the American vocabulary in the same way that “Philistine” did after Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy. And who wanted to live in a tract house after reading his Main Street?

Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure painted powerful pictures of the inequities in the British society of his day.

Dostoevski as a result of such novels as Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, and The Brothers Karamazov is sometimes said to evince a better understanding of psychology than any scientist (including Freud) could claim.

The symbols of Ahab and The White Whale have entered our common vocabulary as a result of Melville’s Moby Dick.

H. G. Wells The Time Machine created a very negative prediction of man’s future which was heavily influenced by Darwinian anthropological thinking.

I could go on. Approaching the matter from a slightly different direction we can observe that much literature and many movies during the Cold War were very pessimistic about the chances of man’s survival. In the 1951 movie, When World’s Collide, the close pass of a planet will destroy human life on earth; so scientists scramble to find a way to preserve life by sending the best people off in a space ship.

In the 1959 movie On the Beach, The residents of Australia after a global nuclear war must come to terms with the fact that all life will be destroyed in a matter of months.

In the 1962 movie The Day of the Triffids a shower of meteriorites blinds everyone watching it, and soon, plants shoot up that can walk and have a taste for human flesh.

The 1964 movie Dr. Strangelove, or how I learned how to stop worrying and love the bomb was indicative of the common concern of the day: Plot Summary: “U.S. Air Force General Jack Ripper goes completely and utterly mad, and sends his bomber wing to destroy the U.S.S.R. He suspects that the communists are conspiring to pollute the "precious bodily fluids" of the American people. The U.S. president meets with his advisors, where the Soviet ambassador tells him that if the U.S.S.R. is hit by nuclear weapons, it will trigger a "Doomsday Machine" which will destroy all plant and animal life on Earth. Peter Sellers portrays the three men who might avert this tragedy: British Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, the only person with access to the demented Gen. Ripper; U.S. President Merkin Muffley, whose best attempts to divert disaster depend on placating a drunken Soviet Premier and the former Nazi genius Dr. Strangelove, who concludes that "such a device would not be a practical deterrent for reasons which at this moment must be all too obvious". Will the bombers be stopped in time, or will General Jack Ripper succeed in destroying the world ?” [We could do a tangent on Dr. Strangelove: Many Liberals have learned how to quit worrying and love the idea of Iran having “the bomb.”]

Again, I could go on here as well. To return to the movie under discussion, Dirty Harry symbolizes the perception of a liberal predilection for coddling criminals at the expense of ordinary citizens. The perception of many is that Liberals worry more about the rights of criminals than they do about the protection of innocent civilians. Dirty Harry is a rather heavy handed presentation of this perception. This perception is popular and Dirty Harry was brought back in several sequels. Paul Kersey in Death Wish goes after the sort of criminals who murdered his wife. He sets himself up as a victim and then kills the criminals attempting to victimize him. Kersey was brought back in Death Wish II, III, IV, and V. Lots of people like the idea of someone dealing violently with those who victimize innocent civilians. And this liking hasn’t stopped. Witness 24.

Now you are either horribly stunted in your understanding of literature or you are simply refusing to answer a very reasonable question about Dirty Harry. Which is it?


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