Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Disappearance of the private film and the detective film in gene

Date: 21 Mar 2009

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    Even in Hammett's time did private detectives work on many cases that had high public profiles and that earned the empathy of the average citizen as later romanticized fictional detectives? The Pinks themselves were known, I think, more for strikebreaking than as alternatives to corrupt police departments. Most of the Continental Op's employers are the extremely wealthy, who hire the agency to find their errant and spoiled children. He seems to work as much with the cops, as an extension of their services, than in contrast to them. Red Harvest may be an exception to that, but I took that to be an example of the corruption of the detective by the environment in which he works. Sam Spade, of course, works on his own case and for his own purposes but don't forget that classic line about not being as corrupt as everybody thought he was. That's fiction of course, but to be effective it suggests that few would think of private detectives as alternatives to corrupt police department

    Of course, the very idea of private detection is that much of what they do does not become public knowledge. I'm not an expert, but my guess would be that most work is still for corporations, investigating their employees or watching for shoplifters in chain stores. Divorces that don't involve a lot of money don't much need private detectives to track down filandering spouses, do they? Some researchers may be called investigators, I suppose, and on last night's news I heard of some couples who hired private investigators to look into the origins of children they've adopted from Ethiopia. My guess is that the average schmo like me is more likely to find himself investigated than hiring an investigator, and if he's lucky, never find out about it.

    As for the nature of celebrity and power, it's certainly worthy of noir and/or hardboiled investigation. Has there been a narrative that focuses on this subject?

    Best, Kerry

      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Mark D. Nevins
      Sent: Friday, March 20, 2009 6:39 PM
      Subject: RARA-AVIS: Re: Disappearance of the private film and the detective film in gene

      One possible hypothesis for said disappearance in popular culture, though I'm offering this idea tentatively, is the current status of the private eye or (non-police) detective in real life.

      Hammett himself was a Pinkerton, and was writing at a time (as I understand it) when the "private detective" was an important and viable law-enforcing alternative to often corrupt police departments (or, at least, Hammett's readers could remember a time when such was the case).

      I'm not old enough to know what the status or general impression of the private investigator was in the 1950s-1970s, but it has to be more impressive than what the impression would probably be for the average person of the last 20 or so years: that a P.I. is someone you hire to see if your spouse is cheating on you or to do other not-terribly-heroic-or-interesting things.

      Hasn't the P.I. by our time become a relic of times gone by, or a cliche, or even a parody? Is it any surprise then that we don't see many "serious" books or films dealing with them? Or that other types or stock characters (the good cop; the bad cop; the rogue agent; the mercenary; the special investigator for the police or the government; the citizen who takes matters into his/her own hands; etc.) who seem more credible or "realistic" to us have taken their place?

      Mark Nevins


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