I paid little attention to the news today. Got up, watched a recording on the DVR, went to play D&D, learned of yet another mass shooting--this one in a church in Texas--just before I was heading home. That was a few hours ago now. I've been avoiding news a little more, watched a few more shows waiting on the DVR. My privilege. I can afford to ignore the horrible parts of this world when it's convenient. And, now I'm watching a live-action cartoon; back to The Villain.
And, I remember watching this when I was younger, when it didn't matter that Cactus Jack Slade is an awful man, a criminal, a thief, a murderer (at least he's making an effort to be, and it's probably safe to assume he has killed before). But he falls on his face and there's a funny splat sound. He rides a horse that is smarter than he is. It's funny. It's safe, despite the awfulness. It occurs to me that all those Road Runner cartoons that this film quite explicitly apes were a strange beast. On the one hand, Wile E. Coyote just wants to eat. It's the natural order of the world for him to be there, hunting the Road Runner. Cactus Jack, on the other hand--the notion that he might be part of the natural order is something I don't like subscribing to. Villains, those intent on hurting others, consciously or unconsciously, directly or indirectly--yes, they exist. But, I don't subscribe to the rather Christian notion that humans are inherently broken. I'm a cynic, but I'm also an optimist. Color me a contradiction. A man walks into a church and guns people down. A man drives a rental truck into a crowd on the street. A man loads up a hotel room with guns to assault a crowd out for a good time. A man agrees to a nefarious deal to steal back some money for a corrupt banker. Different levels of realistic awfulness. Maybe even evil, as it were. I don't rightly like that label in the real world, because it's not so cut and dried as all that. But, it's good shorthand sometimes.
(That last man is Cactus Jack, by the way; I figure you probably don't know that. This movie seems like a forgotten and/or maligned old film, one that didn't do well at the box office and is barely even available to watch at present.)
I don't think I ever really understood--or rather, noticed--exactly what was up with Avery Simpson in this film. The corrupt banker is mentioned early in the film and then becomes immediately irrelevant once Cactus Jack is out there trying again and again to kill Handsome and Charming. Unlike, say, the more obviously antagonistic banker in Snowball Express, for example. I understood--or noticed--that one much better as a kid. The corruption of moneyed interests, though, is something that has been increasingly noticeable for me over the years. Moneyed interests--something closer to (again, shorthand) evil, I suppose. Choosing that filthy lucre (thank you Titus and thank you D.H. Lawrence for such a simple and evocative phrase) over human lives all too often. Cutting corners making cars, perhaps, saving a dime now because it's cheaper than the risk of human life lost later. Letting the NRA derail our second amendment and fuel our obsession with guns and violence because your political career needs money to survive, damn the lives lost, damn the inherent violence in the system itself when we value tools of destruction above so much else.
I grew up on American movies, so I grew up on violence. As did America itself. Born in revolution, built on the backs of slaves, torn asunder when brother fought brother and we never stopped fighting. Not really. Gangster films. Westerns. Superheroes. Big budget action films. Fixtures of cinema since its beginning. And fixtures of storytelling well before film, too, of course, but film has a way of being far more visceral, far more immediate. When the action hero solves the problem and wins the day through violence and death, it doesn't matter how much we disconnect the film from reality, that little bit gnaws its way into our psyche and it stays there. Like sexism, like racism, this need for violence lingers, and it stacks upon itself. We watch another action film and that same solution gnaws its way inside. We watch another and it gnaws inside. And another. And another. Politicians. Old white men, mostly. They grew up on westerns. They grew up on cartoons. They grew up on violence abstracted just enough that it excused itself, or seemed to. But, still it gnawed. The American Dream writ large is nothing but the idea that the application of a little more effort, a little more force, will get you what you want. Whether it is trying for a new job, trying to hit on that woman, or trying to rid some Middle Eastern town of terrorists. If at first you don't succeed, just force it a bit more, push harder, and damn the consequences for anyone else, for the world at large, as long as you get what you want. And nevermind that this love of force recreates itself again and again, that we live in a world built by the strongest and the cruelest, where being uncaring actually helps you get ahead, where using and abusing the people under you is ignored as long as you can still help out some other folks. You help me get ahead, I don't care, or I pretend not to care, who gets hurt in the process. Damn them for being crushable fodder. Damn them for being weak, for being poor, for being people of color, for being women, for being men who--let's face it--aren't really men, right? Because real men use and abuse and claw their way to the top at the expense of anyone who might get in the way. They take what they want. They throw away what they don't. And, when you call them on it, you're the asshole because now they are the ones being oppressed.
Remember, even God claims to be jealous. Are rich and/or powerful white men any less inclined to be jealous and zealous when anyone tries to reduce their power or their riches, or just to dare to find some equal footing? Throw different religions into the mix, different cultures, and it just gets madder. We fight over ideas we invented to explain the world because it was easier than inventing science. And when an idea is tenacious, we assume it must be right, and when your idea is tenacious, too, well the world ain't big enough for the both of us. When you've got land, when you've got money, when you've got power, when you've got ideas that other people follow, then you, my friend, are a threat to my way of life. And you have to go.
This is the world.
See, the thing about the Road Runner is that Wile E. Coyote should be catching that road runner; he needs to eat. He needs to live. The Villain updates this the wrong way by making it about people. Cactus Jack has resources or he wouldn't have his own versions of the coyote's contraptions. He doesn't need the money. He doesn't need to kill Handsome or ravish Charming. He is a predator in the more modern, human parlance, not as predators exist in the natural order. But...
This is the world, too.
And we don't seem to care enough to fix it. Or we're just too damn busy with every thing in it, busy checking Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat or Instagram or whatever it is the kids are checking these days, busy watching YouTube or Netflix or any number of online platforms, to have the time or the inclination to make the effort to figure out what can be done. It's all thoughts and prayers, for example, when there's a mass shooting. Unless a Muslim is involved--then it's a travel ban and extreme vetting and more bullshit fuel to kill foreigners on the other side of the world and pretend it keeps us safe when it just makes more foreigners we're going to need to kill later.
This is the world, too.
I don't hide my politics. There's no point. And, because I can relate more to Handsome Stranger than Cactus Jack Slade right now, I figure I don't want to mince words or be cute. Movies are life and life is movies. Damn the world and the cinematic fuel that has perpetuated horrible pieces of it. Violence is easy storytelling, but life should neither be easy, nor necessarily a story to be told. Threatening a foreign power or foreign citizens is easy. Taking away healthcare to serve the bottom line is easy. Cutting taxes to benefit the rich is easy. Thoughts and prayers are easy. Ignoring the menace of normalcy is easy. Trump could never "drain the swamp" even if he wanted to because the swamp is not Washington, it's all of America and really, all of the First World, or maybe the whole world because too many damn people for too many years has just made feuds and disputes that are deep-seated and fixed and it is easier to fight over them than to ever change them.
And, taking a cue from our illustrious, and despicable, president, I would argue that regardless of the natural order, in modern society there might very well be "fine" people on both sides, because the fucking bar for what's fine is so damn low. There are also terrible people, selfish people, dangerous and deranged people on both sides, three sides, four, each and every side. We feel sorry for Wile E. Coyote because he deserves better. All the effort is supposed to get results. What was it that those cartoons taught us? Technology and effort aren't worth a damn if you falling off a cliff is funnier than you getting a bite to eat. Here, Handsome Stranger is an ignorant, and innocent, fool. Not in the Shakespearean sense, offering us an honest look at a world full of actual fools, but really, someone who never should have made it as far as he has. Cactus Jack is a fool, too. One like Wile E. Coyote, that we can root for even though, in this human version, his predation is evil. Yet, he's the hero... And, he's the hero. I do not mean to imply that the simple fact of making the bad guy the protagonist is a negative. Film and storytelling have plenty of room for bad guys and the nuance of telling their stories.
And, I'm going in circles. I try to be clear and can't help but get caught up in too many things. Old cartoons. This film. Politics and the world at large. But these things twist together in my head because they twist together outside it as well. We make the cartoons we do, we make the films we do, we tell the stories we do, we elect the politicians we do because we don't know how to make different cartoons, different films, tell different stories, elect different politicians. Business as usual with a little bit of thoughts and prayers when it goes badly--that is easier than fixing anything. And, duh. We've got billions of people, now. Hundreds of cultures. Numerous religions. Political strains. Ideologies. It is easier to settle into your corner of it all and find what pleasure you can and let the world destroy itself around you. Hell, that is part and parcel of what I recommend a lot of the time. Individually, we are not powerful. So, what do we have but our own little corners? Our own apps and websites to occupy our time. Our hobbies. Our friends. Our family.
This is the world.
Hide in our corners, and watch through windows and screens.
Because, what else is there?