Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: hardboiled settings (Liver Eatin' Johnson)

Ned Fleming (
Sat, 13 Feb 1999 06:12:50 GMT Kevin Smith wrote:

>As for the film or book being "politically correct", huh? Nature may come
>off pretty well, if harsh, but people are presented in all their petty,
>stupid, cowardly, viscious, cruel, violent (and just occasionally, brave
>and noble and honourable) glory. It's the reason Johnson heads off into the


>The books and film were all produced twenty-five or so years ago, long
>before "politically correct" was generally used; certainly long before it
>became commonly used, as an accusatory, albeit nebulous and essentially
>meaningless buzzword that sounds like the speaker is saying something, but
>isn't. Tell that fellow to get a life.

The myth of the "noble savage" is indeed far older than any concept of
"political correctness." I believe the Tahiti-seeking lads (Van Gogh and
Gaugin?) were in search of just such a Yeti. I'm fairly sure this
Romantic idea predates them by at least a century.

If I may, might I suggest that the Crow did not march single-file, one
by one, politely, into the liver-eating maw of Johnston? If anything,
the Crow were a smidgen more ignoble than a Robert Redford showcase
would dare convey -- even in the Dark Ages of the 1970s. On the other
hand, to the Crows' credit, they must have become civilized somehow; I
haven't heard of a Crow raiding party in quite some time.

I can think of several analogs to the Crow -- the principal one being
the modern-day gang. Gangs and gang-warfare are perhaps an overlooked
fertile field for the modern hard-boiled writer. I can only conjure to
mind Lehane's pathetic and unreal "A Drink Before the War" as an example
of hard-boiled writing that incorporates such gang-based murder. Sure,
there are modern and historical examples (Croats, Serbs, Tutsis, Hutus,
Hashishim ["Assassins"]) of Crow-like behavior, but where is the
"Outfit" or "Syndicate" in this in mix? They don't exist, for there is a
good deal more individualism in modern mafiosi, and modern hard-boiled
writing, than the old-time versions. The modern "wise guy" is looking to
sell his pals out with a plea bargain at the drop of a hat. Omerta has
gone by the boards. Witness Sammy "The Bull" Gravano's propagandistic
autobiography as an example. Maybe this stuff sells in the
English-speaking world's democracies because we average folk see
ourselves much more as individuals than as members of a group that would
willingly march, one after another, into, say, the WWI machine-gun nest
for "valor" or, for the gangster, "respect."

I might further suggest that community-engined murder is a good deal
more frightening and realistic than much of the lone-nut "psycho" junk
that is getting published.

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