Re: RARA-AVIS: Bouchercon article

From: Kerry J. Schooley (
Date: 26 Sep 2005

At 03:20 AM 24/09/2005 +0000, you wrote:
>I'd have to say "working-class tragedy" doesn't make a hell of a lot
>of sense as a definition for noir. I also don't see the connection for
>film noir either - how does that definition fit film noir classics
>like Body Heat, Angel Heart, Chinatown, Double Indemnity, Blade
>Runner, Godfather 2?

Yeah, we can take it as a characteristic that noir tends to view the society from the bottom up and that being on the bottom often means being working class, but it this is not a defining characteristic. For starters, many of noir's losers are not strictly working class.

We've often assumed on this list that being working class is the same as working for a living. Maybe this is a confusion that comes from having so many folks on the list from the U.S., where class has supposedly been eradicated. Here in Canada, where we still are nominally ruled by royalty, we occasionally hear from aristocrats who complain they work bloody hard for the money. Liz is wont to maintain her government stipend by pointing out the long hours she spends waving from limousines and watching children folk dance. In the end though, Liz inherited such a substantial leg-up in her endeavours that we might reasonably call her an aristocrat, just like the George Bushes, or the descendents of Joe Kennedey.

Many in the middle class quite rightly point out that they work hard too. Indeed, their sin, were they to admit any, might be that they are workaholics, toiling to the exclusion of other responsibilities such as family and community.

But to be working class does not simply require work, it means to work for somebody else. To be middle class, one must have capital, with at least the potential to employ others. To be a member of the aristocracy is to inherit sufficient capital as not to need to work, though one may choose to do so to pass one's time or to feel useful between polo matches. Then there's the members of the UAW, who may earn enough working for Ford and Chrysler to buy shares in Toyota or Nissan, but why worry that now?

Many hardboiled and noir detectives are middle class. Unless they work for the city, or large agencies like the Continental Op, or insurance companies, men like Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe were lower middle class, still a rung up from upper lower class. Ask a sociologist.

Of course, this is further thrown into confusion by mythology. According to Chandler these guys stood outside the social structure entirely. They were lone knights, freelance warriors if you will, guns for hire to step in and straighten out the perceived problems of the world. But if they do fix the problems and make the world a better place to live, then the story is not noir. It is romantic. If they almost save the world but screw up somewhere along the way because mommy didn't love them, or they took the wrong advice, the story is not noir. It is tragic. But if they fail to save the world in such a way as to make it obvious that the world, humanity, cannot be saved from itself, that is noir.

Doesn't matter if the noir protagonist is an S.O.B., the nicest guy in the world, or somewhere in between, she or he is doomed. Best he or she can hope for is to survive just a little longer (as in the movie Blade Runner.)

Hey, I'm not afraid to have my ears boxed. Kerry


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 26 Sep 2005 EDT