RARA-AVIS: Re: The popularity of the Private Investigator

From: dj_bassett ( dj_bassett@yahoo.com)
Date: 18 Feb 2006

--- In rara-avis-l@yahoogroups.com, DJ-Anonyme@... wrote:
> Doug wrote:
> "So if the PI's run is really up, I don't think it has anything to
> with him/her not being "realistic" anymore. Never mind what "real"
> do: at heart the fictional PI is an incarnation of the traditional
> American hero -- individualistic to the point of isolation, deeply
> moralistic, violent, stoic, a Romantic, etc. That figure will
> stick around as long as there's an America."
> I agree, but I'm having trouble thinking of what profession is the
> current embodiment of that figure. Perhaps a lawyer? Or maybe it's
> someone who manages to be a loner within and institutional setting?

How about the superhero? Not exactly a "profession", I realize, but still I think it fits.

> I once wrote a paper that looked at when new PI writers came on the
> scene. It seemed that there were upsurges after each major war the
> was involved in. So I'm not sure it's so much stability that feeds
> PI so much as society's attempting to return to a stability that the
> (often returning vet) PI reminds us was never quite as pure as is
> claimed. Or, as Bruce Cockburn put it, The trouble with normal is
> always gets worse.

I don't think we really disagree all that much here -- just a question of where you put the emphasis.

> "Actually, as I type this, it strikes me that this is an age for
> (and we do see a lot of horror efforts in pop culture nowadays) and,
> strangely, the Western."
> I see horror, but why western? I would think that the western
loner had
> so much in common with the PI that their cycles would be roughly the
> same.

Because the Western is about confronting and "taming" or reconciling chaos in a direct kind of way. We tend to group Westerns and PI stories together, and they do have a lot in common, but there are differences too. A PI is essentially reactive to the culture around him in this sense; a Western is essentially proactive.

To make that airy point a bit more concrete, Westerns are often specifically concerned with intercultural confrontations and the resulting chaos, a subject that obviously has resonances with the world today.

Just speculation, mind, and my apologies for roaming a bit far afield of hardboiled fiction. Yes, THREE BURIALS (pretty good movie) was in the back of my mind when I wrote about "reconceiving" the Western.


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 18 Feb 2006 EST