Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"To snuff out evil, you’d have to get rid of us all"

One of my favorite crime writers was John D. MacDonald. He wrote seventy-some books and I think I've read all of them. His books were [are], for me, a compulsive read. His series detective was Travis McGee [every one of the twenty-one books in the series included a color in the title, e.g. Bright Orange for the Shroud]. One of the non-McGee books was The Executioners, from which was made the great noir film Cape Fear starring Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. [This was one of Mitchum's great villain roles, the other being in The Night of the Hunter. The film was later remade with Robert DeNiro in the role.]

Mark Bertrand has only recently read the book and it caused him to reflect on "Noir as Moral Instruction":
.... Noir fiction doesn’t assume a Manichean division between good and evil. It acknowledges the individual and systemic extent of human corruption, which touches even the good guys.

Over the past week, apropos the recent riots throughout the Middle East, I’ve seen a quotation of Steven Weinberg’s paraphrased numerous times, to the effect that good people do good things, evil people do evil things, but for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. It’s one of those pithy rhetorical statements that sounds pretty good until you stop and think. In melodrama, the human race is divided up between the good and the evil, the white hats and the black. The good tribe battles the bad tribe—if only they could be snuffed out, everything would be fine. Reality is a bit more complicated. To snuff out evil, you’d have to get rid of us all. ....

Societal solutions that rely on an alliance of the good people against the bad are naive (at best) because they tend to be especially blind to the evil they themselves do. These are the evils which the noir mindset can’t help bringing to light. .... [more]
Crime Genre: Noir as Moral Instruction