January 25, 2009

DEFENDING THE AMERICAN DREAM:

Clint Eastwood's Libertarian-Conservative Vision (David Swindle, January 23, 2009, FrontPageMagazine.com)

The mildly racist Walt is horrified to see his neighborhood filled with Asian immigrants, the younger generation of which have resorted to gang life. Walt gradually sheds his prejudices, though, as a series of events bring him into contact with his neighbors. In teenage Thao, he finds a boy who respects his elders and is concerned about his family's honor. Walt begins to mentor Thao, teaching him in the ways of masculinity and setting him up with a construction job. Thao's opportunity to make something of himself, though, is threatened by gang members who seek to draw him into their lifestyle and react violently when he resists. The Korean War veteran realizes that his neighborhood has become a war zone. Walt, now invested in the boy's future, realizes that Thao's opportunity to participate in the American Dream is threatened and reacts to defend him. [...]

The urban setting of "Gran Torino" perhaps reminds viewers more of Eastwood's other iconic role as Detective Harry Callahan in director Don Siegel's "Dirty Harry" and its sequels. The film featured Callahan on the trail of Scorpio, a sadistic serial killer. When one of the murderer's victims was supposedly trapped with a limited oxygen supply, Callahan ignored legal bureaucracy and regulations, breaking into the killer's home without a search warrant and engaging in some "enhanced interrogation techniques" to try and push the madman into revealing the girl's location. It seems clear how a contemporary film might apply this attitude to a terrorist with knowledge of an impending attack. For portraying such a character the film was famously attacked by prominent film critic Pauline Kael as "fascist." [...]

Within Eastwood's films, though, we see the transition from libertarianism to libertarian-conservatism. One can start out with a vision of freedom – that we must have a society in which individuals have the opportunity to pursue their own destinies and "everyone leaves everyone else alone," as Eastwood likes to sum up his views. Yet one becomes conservative when he comes to the realization that that freedom must be defended from those who threaten it; it must be conserved. We see this first manifest in "Dirty Harry" when the Eastwood character goes to extreme measures to confront a sociopath who threatens a city's freedom.

It's ultimately in "Gran Torino," though, that this idea gets its clearest expression. We want a society in which the next generation has the same opportunities of individual liberty to pursue their dreams. In order for the next generation to enjoy that freedom, we must confront sociopaths and nihilists – whether they be international Islamofascists or just local criminal gangs – who would threaten that fundamental American Vision.


And the nativists who would deprive us of millions of Thao's.

I watched Dirty Harry for the first time in thirty years recently, having just watched the great film Zodiac which references it. I'd remembered how awful the 70s were, but forgotten that the buried prisoner scenario was central to the plot. Interesting to consider that movies like this helped create a climate in which we punish crime with appropriately puritanical zeal, after a long period of liberal coddling, but that we see no similar movies about the war against the jihadis.

As it happens, I've also just finished Alex Berenson's thriller, The Faithful Spy, a three year-old bestseller that--at least according to IMDB.com--isn't even in production as a film. It includes a number of conservative, or "fascistic," themes. For one thing, it takes a deliciously savage view of the CIA and the way that bureaucratic concerns trump intelligence. For another, John Wells, the spy of the title, not only genuinely accepts Islam while he is undercover in Afghanistan but is appalled by the dissolution in American society when he returns. Heck, there's even a plotline that involves al Qaeda buying yellowcake in Iraq. But there's also a really fine scene where the terrorist who was caught making that purchase is tortured at a secret prison in order to find out what the material was for. This includes a mature discussion of the difference between torturing a confession from someone--useless, because torture is so effective that anyone will confess to anything--and torturing intelligence out of someone--useful for the same reason. Clint Eastwood is too old these days to play John Wells, but is Hollywood really bereft of anyone who takes Salafism seriously enough to make a film about the fight against it where we're the good guys and the unfortunately harsh methods we use to combat it are justified?




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Posted by Orrin Judd at January 25, 2009 9:59 AM
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