Friday, July 17, 2020

a student of your american west

"Crazy" Cora is introduced fighting off two men. Seems their boss has told them they could bring some "white tarts" back with them because they're sick of black women. Meanwhile the titular hero Quigley is on his way to their boss's land for a job he does not know the details of just yet. There is long-distance shooting involved--that's all he knows. Yet he went half way around the world to take the job.

Until, of course, Marston tells him what the job actually is. A couple details that matter if you've not seen the film and need to know (rather than going and watching it post haste): 1) Marston has a fascination for the American West and Quigley is visually very much the cowboy of most Westerns, 2) Marston wants Quigley to shoot Aborigines. It's interesting now that the guy who carries the bucket off for Quigley's show-off shot after he arrives at Marston's is apparently called Whitey.

It's a movie with a blatantly racist villain, a white savior protagonist (sort of), and a lead female whose PTSD-fueled delusions are played often for laughs. And yet it works. Because Quigley himself immediately turns on Marston, and takes a liking to and looks after Cora, no matter how she presents herself.

I check out Roger's review because, you know, that's what I do. I'm googling to find folks calling the film racist, use them as a jumping off point, but I don't find much. I circle round to Roger. But then Roger complains about a part of this film that I think, out of all the films that would fit, this one makes good use of it. Roger's got a thing he calls the Fallacy of the Talking Killer. In his Quigley Down Under review, he defines that as
the frequent mistake of allowing the bad guy to talk too long. He has his enemy trapped. There's no way out. 
All he has to do is plug him between the eyeballs and order lunch. But no. He talks. And talks. And sets up some kind of dumb test of manhood, which he is sure to fail. Because the climax of such a scene is a foregone conclusion, the F.T.K. almost always results in dead screen time.
Except you know who talks to much? Arrogant, know-it all assholes who think, for example, they can just gun down whomever they want as long as it's on their land. The kind of guy who might offer as an anecdote, "Did you know that your American Indian is a race that has no word for "wheel." No concept of farming. No understanding of land ownership."

Which is racist garbage, of course.

Been a while since I could pull out Guns, Germs and Steel for this blog. Hell, maybe I never have. I'm not sure. May have to grab Sixguns & Society while I'm off to the bookshelf, because this is a Western and that stuff oughta come up.

I grab Jared Diamond's book because he's got a bit in there about the wheel (if I can find it), and he might have a better way of explaining than I would. Like the fact that "The earliest wheels were part of of-drawn carts used to transport agricultural produce." Later, he explains:
While we heels are very useful in modern industrial societies, that has not been so in some other societies. Ancient Native Mexicans invented wheeled vehicles with axles for use as toys, but not for transport. That seems incredible to us, until we reflect that ancient Mexicans lacked domestic animals to hitch to their wheeled vehicles, which therefore offered no advantage over human porters.
Guns, Germs, and Steel is all about how geography influenced the spread of certain crops, influenced the spread of certain domesticable animals, influenced the spread of human civilization. So, not having wheels, or per Marston's extra-racist take not even having a word for "wheel", doesn't really mean anything as far as advancement goes. If you don't have oxen or horses or even llamas, wheeled vehicles are not inherently useful, so you don't invent them, and if you invent them, you scrap them for better options. And, maybe some particular tribe had no word for such a thing as a wheel because in their everyday life, wheels were of no good use.
(Bob Dekle, "forensic historian" which really he's a lawyer, offers this bullshit on Quora:
I think many of the answers saying that Native Americans had the wheel because they had wheeled toys misses the point. If you stick axles on disc shaped objects and then use them to roll a toy around, you don't have a functional wheel. Scale up the size and weight of the vehicle to anything useful for transportation, and friction will prevent the contraption from moving...
There's more, but this guy's True Scotsman fallacy over the definition of wheel is kinda sad. Useful for transportation requires far more than an axle, and by pressing on the definition, he has created a situation in which the indigenous cannot possibly qualify. Elliott Marston would be proud, I'm sure.)
Diamond offers four factors that influence acceptance of a new technology: relative economic advantage, social value and prestige, compatibility with vested interests, and ease of observation. Once horses and wagons are in the West (or the Outback), they could be adopted, but only if local tribes need them. The Aborigines in this film, for example, have no use for faster, long-distance travel. So, while they have seen wagons, seen horses, they don't need them because, frankly, they don't have anywhere that they think they need to be quickly, while carrying a whole bunch of belongings.
(And that's just regarding the wheel line.)
That comes back to the arrogance of men like Marston. Early in the film, Quigley asks, "When do we get to Marston's ranch." The response: "Been on his bloody land for the last two days." Of course, a man with that much land is going to harp on Native Americans having no "understanding of land ownership." Because, it is an easy way to both separate himself from the native and define clearly that separation. Marston also deliberately sets up two British Army deserters so he can shoot them (ostensibly in self-defense) just to show off to his new potential employee Matthew Quigley. Marston is the worst of rich, white men. Defines himself by difference, then uses any difference as evidence of his greatness. And, when he can pay someone else to do the dirty work, he pays someone else to do the dirty work. Because exploitation of not just dark-skinned natives and immigrant convicts but anyone and everyone is how he exists.

Of course his men just grab random white women in the streets. They operate under color of Marston's authority, and the rich white man's authority is everything, as long as anyone who can do anything about it does nothing, or worse, joins up in his cause rather than a better one. Is there an inherent white savior narrative to Quigley Down Under? Yes. But, this is a movie from 1990 that was supposed to happen almost a decade earlier with Steve McQueen. In theme, this fits with some of those relighting-Vietnam kind of movies of the early 80s. A bunch of white men from one place fighting another white man from another place over land that isn't theirs, killing in the process people that are not even involved. Marston and his men might as well be Russians. Except, of course, Marston is a part of the British Empire and a wannabe American, and Matthew Quigley is an exception to their bullshit ways.

And the overall film is better than its potentially problematic parts.

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