Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: can noir writers advocate social reform?

From: Sandra Ruttan (
Date: 24 Nov 2006

On 11/24/06 9:29 AM, "Kerry J. Schooley" <> wrote:
> noir writers also recognize that reform
        is essentially impossible, or its benefits, at best, fleeting.

It is my opinion that noir writers actually do a better job of addressing social issues. My apologies if this sounds like bashing - these comments are generalizations not universal absolutes - but humourous mysteries, cozies... they don¹t have a realistic feel to me. There¹s a fundamental optimism that runs through some of them that I don¹t find believable. You know that the hero is always going to save the day, nothing too bad will ever happen to the main characters and the crimes are often treated lightly. They¹re bloodless, and a lot of times the pain is glossed over.

And how can you advocate for social reform, for change, if you never actually confront the issues?

Simon Kernick¹s The Business of Dying and A Good Day To Die are examples of books that made me think about situational ethics. About what it would be like, as a cop, to work day in and day out seeing criminals walk free. About the crimes the cops don¹t seem able to stop. Turn it to TV and think about The Shield. It¹s bad for a cop to beat information out of suspects, right? But episode 1 season 1 Vic beats information out of a guy who¹s got a young child stashed somewhere and times running out. This raises issues in my mind. Do we give criminals too many rights? Do we curtail the job the police can do by protecting the accused and guarding their rights, even at the potential expense of more victims? And if you want to talk about combining noir, hardboiled and issues regarding social reform there¹s The Wire.

A lot of the noir I read asks questions. It doesn¹t provide answers, or if it does, it shows all the reasons why the solutions will never be implemented. That¹s realistic, and ultimately necessary.

Personally, I think the only way to really spark social change is to change the way people think. If reading a book like Rankin¹s Fleshmarket Close makes me think about the way immigrants are treated, or reading Billingham¹s Lifeless makes me think about the discrimination against the homeless, and the result is that I adjust my behaviour, then that¹s where it begins. The author may or may not have an agenda, but it is my opinion that the best social commentary is coming out of crime fiction, in particular books that fall under the noir spectrum.

Sandra, who shall now return to lurking

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