God's Politics

God's Politics


Gareth Higgins: Live Free, or Watch ‘Die Hard’

posted by God's Politics

Great helicopters and explosions abound, the witticisms are barbed, and the cinematography is silver-grey in Die Hard 4.0 (or Live Free or Die Hard, depending on which empire you see it in). I was tired to start with, but the film couldn’t wake me up. I vacillated between being bored and horrified, as Bruce Willis yet again stands in for the lone American male whose first resort is always violence (in the first film he was the archetype of a Vietnam War vet, assailed by terrorists on the one hand, and a frustrating civil service bureaucracy on the other; this time he clearly represents the guy who’d go to Iraq just because it’s the right thing to do, even though he knows the government sending him is corrupt).
Bruce may well be caught in the middle between two kinds of bad guys—government flunkeys and monstrous villains—but this film makes it very clear where its allegiances lie: with the worship of commerce. The villain’s consistent objective seems to be to destroying the U.S. financial system, partly to take some cash for himself, partly just to show the government where it is vulnerable. He’s a public-service kind of terrorist, you see. One of the scenes that’s clearly supposed to make us feel horrified takes place on the New York stock exchange floor, when the bad guy uses a computer virus to creating a selling frenzy. I have to say that I found it difficult to muster much sympathy for rich boys freaking out at the prospect of not being so rich any more, but given that the film was paid for by Mr. Murdoch, I imagine I’m not the movie’s target demographic.
This scene, however, was not the most striking example of cynicism in Die Hard 4.0—that would be the moment where the extremely attractive Asian woman, played by Maggie Q, gets kicked and beaten by our surrogate Bruce, and eventually crushed and blown up by an SUV while Willis chuckles at having destroyed a hot chick. We’re supposed to laugh along with him.
But that’s not all—for the price of our ticket we get hatred of people who ask legitimate questions about government power, we get an air force pilot who does the wrong thing for the right reasons and therefore gets to escape with his body intact, we get a decent FBI chief who could pass for being Middle Eastern—you can almost hear the film-makers screaming, “Look at us! We’re inclusive!” We even get a propaganda speech by the tech-geek nerd/ wacky sidekick guy confessing his realization that his previous ideas about challenging authoritarianism and supporting a more equitable distribution of wealth are the kind of beliefs that lead to America being blown up by thin cheek-boned terrorists with expensive hardware. He’s an Apple geek, of course—and the computers used by the bad guys are right out of Steve Jobs’ daydreams. Willis’ character may be “a Timex watch in a digital world,” but this film is pure Microsoft—battering down the competition with a utilitarian ethic that owes more to John Wayne’s arrogant self-belief than anything resembling the beauty of being in favor of life.
Now I know I sound like a killjoy—which is, I suppose, what Bruce Willis does to a lot of people in this movie—but the question still remains:
Why is it that when we fear this kind of thing in the real world, we still want to be entertained by it?
Gareth Higgins is a Christian writer and activist in Belfast, Northern Ireland. For the past decade he was the founder/director of the zero28 project, an initiative addressing questions of peace, justice, and culture. He is the author of the insightful How Movies Helped Save My Soul and blogs at www.godisnotelsewhere.blogspot.com



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jesse

posted July 10, 2007 at 10:38 am


Wow! This has to be one of the silliest reviews I have ever read. The fact that Willis was fighting people who were killing innocent civilians means he was “worshiping commerce”? Get a grip! And it sounds very much like Higgins is justifying the terrorism that the movie’s villains were engaging in. You’d think that Higgins would be a little more thoughtful in this regard, given where he is from. Silly.



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WiredForStereo

posted July 10, 2007 at 10:48 am


The movie was cynical? I think the review was cynical. Next time you need to review a movie, go when you are awake. Sure the movie may not be in line with some of our better ideals, but what movie, or yet, what human is? At least it’s a movie with a lot of action and very little sex that’s enjoyable. And of course it requires a lot of suspension of disbelief. But it’s a movie. And why do we always have to call them terrorists? The villain was a greedy self righteous computer geek who was more good looking than any computer geek should be. Kevin Smith should have played the villain, though he did work pretty well as Warlock.



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MadHatter07

posted July 10, 2007 at 11:12 am


Wow, I just wasted 5 minutes of my life reading this dreck. But since I did, I will give you my thoughts on this.1. Like it or not, the people of the developed nations of the world rely on the money that flows through the stock exchanges for their everyday liveihoods. Until you come up with something better (and it has been tried to the effect of causing millions of deaths and millions more living out their lives in poverty), the current economic system will remain.2. The US does have very serious problems that need to be addressed. However, considering the rest of the world is still envious of our standards to the extent that many would give anything to live here, this nation is still the best in the world.3. You may not believe it, or simply want to keep your head in the sand, but there really are bad people out there who would do such things if they could, or worse. The sooner you and your friends realize it and come into the real world, the better off you will be.



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Andrew

posted July 10, 2007 at 11:39 am


I think cynicism is warranted when it comes to movies like this. As Christians, why spend almost ten bucks to be entertained by violence? Moreover, why are so many professing Christians entertained by violence, whether it’s movies like this or the IFL? If we want to subject ourselves to godly propoganda perhaps we should delve into the world of Jesus, His kingdom, and the scriptures. Jesus would be making peace and witnessing to the kingdom of God, not blowing crap up and killing people.



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William Wallis

posted July 10, 2007 at 11:40 am


“Why is it that when we fear this kind of thing in the real world, we still want to be entertained by it?”
To attempt to answer your question, people want to believe that there are still heroes who will stand up to the evil brought on by terrorists.



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Wolverine

posted July 10, 2007 at 11:46 am


Gareth Higgins wrote:
One of the scenes that’s clearly supposed to make us feel horrified takes place on the New York stock exchange floor, when the bad guy uses a computer virus to creating a selling frenzy. I have to say that I found it difficult to muster much sympathy for rich boys freaking out at the prospect of not being so rich any more…
Okay, how about some sympathy for the millions of Americans who have their retirement funds invested in stocks and mutual funds, or how about the hundreds of millions of workers in the U.S. and around the world who might lose their jobs if the companies they work for go belly-up? Think you might be able to work up some sympathy for them?
…this film is pure Microsoft—battering down the competition with a utilitarian ethic that owes more to John Wayne’s arrogant self-belief than anything resembling the beauty of being in favor of life.
(Grabs guitar, smashes it against the wall)
Wolverine



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Don

posted July 10, 2007 at 11:56 am


I think I’ll skip this film. I don’t care for the genre anyway.
Gareth’s theme seems to be that the myth of redemptive violence is alive and well. And when we fight the terrorists by using violent means, we become like them. I think we’ve seen this in real life. Thanks but no thanks on this one.
Peace!



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Eric

posted July 10, 2007 at 12:03 pm


Gareth, dude, it’s an action movie starring Bruce Willis. It’s supposed to be mindless. That’s the value in it. What’s next? A review of Shrek III complaining that it indulges humanity’s desire for fantasy too much?



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Mark

posted July 10, 2007 at 12:12 pm


I loved this movie. I did not expect much for a 4th movie, but was pleasantly surprised by how good it was. All action, all the time. I think this film is right up there with V for Vendetta in making us think about the power that the government wields and how scary it is when we allow those not up to the task to be in power (think George W Bush). Awesome entertainment, don’t over analyze it.
Blessings



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Wolverine

posted July 10, 2007 at 12:18 pm


Don wrote:
Gareth’s theme seems to be that the myth of redemptive violence is alive and well.
One of these days I’ll have to write an article about the Myth of the Myth of Redemptive Violence.
Wolverine



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kevin s.

posted July 10, 2007 at 12:29 pm


“I have to say that I found it difficult to muster much sympathy for rich boys freaking out at the prospect of not being so rich any more, but given that the film was paid for by Mr. Murdoch, I imagine I’m not the movie’s target demographic.”
Yes, Die Hard 4 was aimed squarely at the America elites.
62% of Americans own stock. Do you like poverty? If there is a selling frenzy on Wall St., there will be a heck of a lot of poverty.
” but this film is pure Microsoft—battering down the competition with a utilitarian ethic that owes more to John Wayne’s arrogant self-belief than anything resembling the beauty of being in favor of life.”
What the hell are you talking about?
“Gareth’s theme seems to be that the myth of redemptive violence is alive and well. And when we fight the terrorists by using violent means, we become like them. I think we’ve seen this in real life.”
This theme is indiscernible from the review, but if this is his theme, it is malarkey. We should absolutely fight terrorists with violence, when necessary.



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Anonymous

posted July 10, 2007 at 1:11 pm


“This theme is indiscernible from the review…”
You can’t find “redemptive violence” as a theme in Gareth’s review? Try the very first paragraph:
“I vacillated between being bored and horrified, as Bruce Willis yet again stands in for the lone American male whose first resort is always violence…”
Couldn’t be clearer.
“We should absolutely fight terrorists with violence, when necessary.”
Haven’t we become like those we are fighting? Just to mention a few items: Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary rendition.
By resorting to violence as the first (not last) and virtually only resort, we have become like the terrorists. Only those who willfully and stubbornly refuse to recognize the truth deny this.
This is an ideological war, not a military one. Violence will only lead to more violence.
Peace!



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Don

posted July 10, 2007 at 1:12 pm


Sorry for the anonymous posting: the previous post was moi.
Don



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Eric

posted July 10, 2007 at 2:07 pm


This is hilarious. You all are debating the validity of violence as a means to solving problems (which, in principle, is a perfectly fine thing to debate) by using an action movie as the starting point. The movie genre of “action” is defined by the presence of violence, usually enacted on the bad guys. If you don’t like the idea of violence meeted out to bad guys don’t go see action movies. Would one really expect (or even want) to go see Die Hard and have McClane try to address the “root causes” of the bad guy’s antagonism first?
It’s like going to a Jackie Chan movie and then complaining that martial arts really isn’t the best way to defeat 10 guys attacking you with submachine guns. That’s not the point.



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Eric

posted July 10, 2007 at 2:15 pm


Despite the ribbing I’ve giving Gareth, I do appreciate the posting of commentary that isn’t as serious as some of the other stuff Sojo talks about. It’s nice to hear some cultural commentary and I hope there’s more. Comments on other topics than just those that demand political action are encouraged!



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Anonymous

posted July 10, 2007 at 2:17 pm


The original movie was so great, so why destroy a good thing by sitting through the sequels/remakes, which are far inferior? When the original was such canny, rabble-rousing populist film-making, with great villains, and a rousing story line?
I thought the theme of the original was the idea that individuals are better adapted to confronting “the bad guys” than institutions and the bureacracy. In the original, the bad guys are always several steps ahead of the bureacrats (cops, FBI, media, etc.) Only the individuals see through the smokescreen. That is a theme that never goes out of style.
I’ll skip the new film, since it doesn’t have Alan Rickman. I’d rather watch the new “Harry Potter” movie any day.



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Don

posted July 10, 2007 at 2:22 pm


“The movie genre of “action” is defined by the presence of violence, usually enacted on the bad guys.”
That’s precisely the point, Eric. The myth of redemptive violence posits that our culture views violence as redemptive–i.e., that it solves the problem and saves the day. Our popular culture is filled with examples, from cartoons to action movies like this. In fact, there would be no action movies if we as a culture didn’t swallow this myth. They wouldn’t make sense otherwise.
“If you don’t like the idea of violence meeted out to bad guys don’t go see action movies.”
I already said I don’t care for the genre and won’t bother to see this one.
Peace,



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kevin s.

posted July 10, 2007 at 2:59 pm


“Haven’t we become like those we are fighting?”
Nope. They murder and cook innocents. We detain enemy combatants. Some (illegally) embarass them, and are brought to justice for doing so.



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Don

posted July 10, 2007 at 3:24 pm


Evil is evil. Murdering and beheading on one side; torture, denial of habeas corpus, unauthorized surveillance (nobody’s been brought to justice for these two), and let’s not forget “colatteral damage” on the other. We have become evil ourselves through fighting “evil” with the methods we have chosen.
’nuff said.
Peace,



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Another nonymous

posted July 10, 2007 at 3:28 pm


Well, well. I’ve never seen one of the “Die Hard” movies and I never intend to. I simply don’t find violence entertaining. So I withhold judgment. But Kevin, take a look at Bob Herbert’s column today: http://select.nytimes.com/2007/07/10/opinion/10herbert.html.



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Another nonymous

posted July 10, 2007 at 3:31 pm


The above link may not work. Go to the NYT homepage and click on opinion. Unfortunately, you have to be a Times Select subscriber to read it. Or just pick up a copy of today’s paper. I found Herbert’s column sobering.



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Andrew

posted July 10, 2007 at 3:41 pm


I don’t think we analyze our choices enough. When billions of people live on less than $2 a day, maybe we should consider giving that 8.50 toward something else that actually promotes God’s kingdom.



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Don

posted July 10, 2007 at 3:51 pm


You are correct, Another. I couldn’t read Herbert’s column. But the title and opening sentence are sobering enough, to say nothing of confirming what I have written here earlier:
Abusing Iraqi Civilians
“An article in The Nation magazine goes into great and disturbing detail about the brutal treatment of Iraqi civilians by some U.S. soldiers and marines.”
I don’t know if I’ll find a copy of the Times to read it, but hopefully some other papers will pick up the column in the next few days.
Thanks,



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Anonymous

posted July 10, 2007 at 4:14 pm


“Evil is evil.”
Not in the geopolitical sense.



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Sarasotakid

posted July 10, 2007 at 4:17 pm


One of these days I’ll have to write an article about the Myth of the Myth of Redemptive Violence. Wolverine
I’m sure that the insight you provide will change Don’s mind- Not.



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Don

posted July 10, 2007 at 4:20 pm


“‘Evil is evil.’
Not in the geopolitical sense.”
Perhaps not in terms of some worldly ideas of geopolitics, but it certainly is in the Biblical sense. Which sense is more important. Further, who makes the geopolitical “rules,” anyway? Ultimately, I believe, it is the One who said, “He who lives by the sword will die by the sword.” (You might recall what Paul told the Athenians about Who determines the times and the boundaries of all nations.)
Peace!



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Another nonymous

posted July 10, 2007 at 4:29 pm


On another tangent – Contrary to popular belief, “myth” does not mean “lie.” It means a widely shared story that is culturally accepted because people sense that it conveys an underlying truth. I assume that what Wolverine means is that the myth of redemptive violence is only a myth in this sense.



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Anonymous

posted July 10, 2007 at 6:15 pm


“Perhaps not in terms of some worldly ideas of geopolitics, but it certainly is in the Biblical sense.”
In the Biblical sense, we become like terrorists whenever we disobey our parents or eat too much, but that discussion doesn’t really get us anywhere.
“Further, who makes the geopolitical “rules,” anyway?”
Well, the rule that states that some evils are worse than others is common sense. During WW2, we forced Japanese into internment camps. That’s bad. Stalin had the blood purges. That’s worse.
“Ultimately, I believe, it is the One who said, “He who lives by the sword will die by the sword.””
Also the one who arranged for locusts to descend upon the Egyptians. The purpose of this verse was not to say that we can never pick up a sword. Jesus was highlighting Peter’s lack of faith. Even though Peter knew what Christ had to do, he wanted to fight his way out of it. Thus, he preferred the sword to Christ. Christ does not say that one may never use the sword.
“(You might recall what Paul told the Athenians about Who determines the times and the boundaries of all nations.)”
The question of how God appoints leaders, and whether we have to right to invade countries to remove those leaders is much more complicated than this.



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Don

posted July 10, 2007 at 6:35 pm


Anonymous poster:
My point was that all geopolitics must ultimately answer to God. And I don’t think He distinguishes among levels of evil. The God who determines the times and the boundaries of nations will call us to account for our sins as much as the terrorists will be called to account for theirs.
Peace!



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canucklehead

posted July 10, 2007 at 7:31 pm


….At least it’s a movie with a lot of action and very little sex that’s enjoyable. Wired for Sound
Sorry, we’ll try to get you that enjoyable sex next time around – we do aim to please our viewers.



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canucklehead

posted July 10, 2007 at 7:38 pm


>>>>Okay, how about some sympathy for the millions of Americans who have their retirement funds invested in stocks and mutual funds, or how about the hundreds of millions of workers in the U.S. and around the world who might lose their jobs if the companies they work for go belly-up? Think you might be able to work up some sympathy for them? Wolverine
Frankly, I find it a little easier to conjure up sympathy for the millions around the world who wake up wondering if they’ll have any damn thing to eat today.



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jurisnaturalist

posted July 10, 2007 at 7:44 pm


Geez, somebody buy Gareth a copy of Wild at Heart, please!
Look, I’m anti-statist, and a strong advocate of the non-aggression principle, but I LOVE Die Hard! I went to see Hostage a few years ago hoping it would be Die Hard 4 and was sore disappointed. But Live Free or Die Hard was exactly what I wanted to see. I almost stood up in my seat cheering when that fire hydrant blew.
A couple of points on principal though:
1. This was an attack on individuals, and private property, on American soil. If you can’t defend that we are in trouble.
2. The attack was unprovoked, and completely malicious.
3. The US Government did everything wrong they possibly could have. Perfectly in line with the truth, eh, Katrina?
4. McClaine is attacked first. He is actively defending not just an innocent, but a criminal, trying to bring him to justice. Guantanamo?
5. Wall Street. This was the scariest scene in the film to me. And I don’t have any money invested anywhere. I’m a broke student. But the thought of a major sell on Wall Street, of any kind of damage to our financial institutions, is outright horrifying. Buy Garreth a copy of Economics In One Lesson to go along with Wild At Heart. That’s a great pairing any day.
6. Violence. God uses it. He encourages strength. We must think more deeply about these things. No wonder men hate church!
Nathanael Snow



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Doug7504

posted July 10, 2007 at 7:58 pm


Remember after Columbine, the pledges made by the entertainment industry that violence would be de-emphasized in future movies? What happened to that committment?
Violence sells, that’s what happened. Whether or not you believe that violent movies beget violent individuals in society, you must realize that commerce drives far too much of our viewpoint of the world, and our solutions to it’s problems. Trouble with a neighboring nation? Send in a few special ops types. Don’t like your neighbor’s politics? Get in their face, threaten to kick their you-know-what, and the problem is solved.
A friend of mine once told me “When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”
For all of our professed rejection of violent films, computer games, music, etc. we flock to the theater, the music or game store, and can’t buy enough. We are becoming conditioned to violence as a part of everyday life, convinced that a violent response is not the LAST, but the BEST way to solve our problems, whether personal or international. Where is the outcry? As a self-professed Christian nation, when do we stand up and say “Enough!” to all of this?
Jesus offered no security in this world, no safety from the unpredictability of life. He offered a life with only one certain truth…to follow Him is the way to a better life for eternity. I believe that the way to Him is to embrace peace, not offer violence as the best alternative, as the American alternative, to solve our problems.
But, sadly, His way doesn’t sell at the box office like “Die Hard” does.
Peace.



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Brandon Sipes

posted July 10, 2007 at 8:07 pm


I like Gareth Higgins.



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Gordon

posted July 10, 2007 at 8:10 pm


I don’t much like the genre, but Garreth’s review almost made me want to see the movie.



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kevin s.

posted July 10, 2007 at 11:56 pm


“But, sadly, His way doesn’t sell at the box office like “Die Hard” does.”
Mel Gibson would beg to differ.



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moderatelad

posted July 11, 2007 at 10:31 am


I have seen the ‘Die Hard’ movies in the past but waited for them to come to the dollor theaters or on DVD. After reading his ‘revure – accessment’ I may have to see it soon rather than later. What movie did he watch?
have a great day
.



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bhikku bum

posted July 11, 2007 at 4:41 pm


I liked “Wild at Heart.”
I’m “dying” to read “The Myth of the Myth of Regenerative Violence.”
Gareth Higgins rocks!!!
I’m off to b**ch-slap the Devil!!!!!



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Wolverine

posted July 11, 2007 at 11:20 pm


Since I seem to have struck a nerve with “The Myth of the Myth of Redemptive Violence”, I’ll give you a quick summary.
The myth of the “Myth of Redemptive Violence” is a story that certain postmodern intellectuals tell themselves in order to avoid dealing with the difficult facts of life in a fallen world. It is a rather gross oversimplification of the ambivalent and complicated western attitude towards violence, one that might be best summed up by George Orwell: “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
To the extent that people’s lives are lived in relative peace, it is almost always under the protection of a competent police force and military. Ideally, these two forces will use violence sparingly and operate under the direction of public officials who are conscientious and/or accountable to the public at large. But both have the ability to use deadly force. It is that threat, not an abstract spirit of peaceableness, that keeps violence in check.
The “Myth of Redemptive Violence” was coined by Walter Wink, a progressive theologian, and was summed up by him thusly:
Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It’s what works. It seems inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts. If a god is what you turn to when all else fails, violence certainly functions as a god.
This myth was based on Wink’s comparison between Babylonian creation myth and (I’m not making this up) Popeye cartoons.
But not all violence is good, and that has never been the teaching of any serious western school of thought. Violence is morally problematic, it can be used for good but is more likely to be used for evil. Good men may sometimes be left in a position where the only realistic alternative to the use of violence is to tolerate the triumph of evil, in which case they may resort to violence themselves. That violence should be roughly proportionate to the threat.
These very basic principles in turn are the foundation for much of criminal law and the theory of just war, on which entire libraries have been written. The subject of violence is, to say the least, a complex one that has been wrangled over much since Babylon and cannot be fairly summed up in a cartoon.
The “Myth of Redemptive Violence” is itself a myth, propagated by certain self-described pacifists (not all pacifists are so delusional) to make traditional understandings of just war or legitimate self defense seem ridiculous. Few people on the left or right view violence itself as good or useful in anything but a limited sense.
Now, we can dispute the wisdom and the validity of the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq. But let’s set silly tales like the notion that our opponents believe in violence for the sake of violence.
Wolverine



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Don

posted July 12, 2007 at 8:59 am


Sorry to disappoint you, Sarasota, but Wolverine does do a credible job of summarizing the myth of redemptive violence, although the space limitations make his summary a bit oversimplified, and, obviously, Wolverine’s own biases show through in his summary. (If you want to learn the actual depth of Wink’s thinking, read his Powers trilogy: Naming the Powers, Unmasking the Powers, and Engaging the Powers. Wink also wrote a brief summary of his thinking in The Powers that Be if you don’t want to plow through three academic, footnoted tomes. The best chapter, I thought, was the one in which he engages just war theory, in which, counter to Wolverine’s comment, Wink does not make look ridiculous.)
I would say that Wink overstates his case when he says that the redemptive violence myth is the West’s de facto religion. Nevertheless, the notion that violence is redemptive is certainly part of our collective cultural mythology, as witnessed, yes, by Popeye cartoons (as well as Road Runner/Coyote, Mighty Mouse, Underdog, you name it) and by action movies, one of which after all is the topic of this thread. I asserted earlier that this action movie genre would not exist if our culture didn’t buy into that myth, and I stand by that assertion.
Peace!



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Don

posted July 12, 2007 at 10:40 am


“Just because the bad guy uses one in the movie doesn’t mean the movie is trying to send a message.”
Maybe the message is that we should buy Macs? How much, we might wonder, did Apple Computer pay to have their products featured in the film? ;-)
D



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Wolverine

posted July 12, 2007 at 10:59 am


Don,
How does Road Runner propagate to the myth of redemptive violence? For the most part the Road Runner just outruns the Coyote, then looks on as the Coyote’s aggressive schemes repeatedly backfire in bizarre and amusing ways. If there ever was proof that the “Myth of Redemptive Violence” does not reign supreme even in the world of cartoons, it is Road Runner.
Then there’s Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century (quoting from memory):
Daffy Duck pulls out ACME disintegrator gun and aims it at Marvin the Martian
DD: Aha! Got the drop on you with my dithintegrating pithtol. And brother, let me tell you, when it dithintegratth, it disintegratth!
(closeup of weapon, DD pulls trigger and weapon crumbles into dust)
DD: (sheepish) Well, whadya know, heh, it dithintegrated.

Then again, maybe the entire point of the Warner Brothers cartoons is that violence works — as long as you don’t buy your weapons from ACME?
Wolverine



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Don

posted July 12, 2007 at 11:23 am


I stand by my belief that the myth of redemptive violence, whatever its faults may be in terms of international relations and police work, is still useful in describing our cultural addiction to violent behavior and violent entertainment media. Wink was onto somthing valid even if he made it out to be bigger and more all-consuming than it perhaps really is [and it's just possible he may be right after all]. This movie is an example, which is why I brought the topic up in the first place.
You can criticize Wink and his ideas if you like, but on this Sarasotakid is right: it’s not going to change my opinion.



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Another nonymous

posted July 12, 2007 at 11:58 am


Wolverine -
Thanks for your (as always) thoughtful comments. I’m a pacifist, but I hope not a delusional one. As I think I’ve made clear in my posts in the past, I recognize the important role that just war theory has played in Christian theology and have made my peace with it, as it were.
At the same time, I agree with Don that the idea that violence is redemptive plays an important role in our cultural mythology. I wouldn’t cite cartoons, but I think it is fair to cite the “Die Hard” movies as evidence of this. (Then again, I wouldn’t really know; I’ve never seen one – see above.) I also fully agree with the conclusion of Bob Herbert’s article on Tuesday, the beginning of which Don quoted earlier:
“There is no upside to this war. It has been a plague since the beginning. But it’s one thing to lose a war. It’s much worse for a nation to lose its soul.”
I know that by arguing a pacifist position I am relegating myself to a politically powerless minority. I would never run for president or join the military. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate what the president and the military do – just that I feel called to witness to other possibilities. If there were no pacifists, we would be the worse for it; ditto if there were no people with your perspective.



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Wolverine

posted July 12, 2007 at 12:00 pm


Don,
Your naked assertion “it’s not going to change my opinion” reads to me more like stubbornness than reason.
I note that you do not even try to rebut my illustration that Road Runner — a cartoon you cited yourself — does not portray violence as redemptive and if anything does the exact opposite. I might also mention that at the end of Duck Dodgers Planet X is reduced to a clump of dirt — how’s that for redemptive? Or I could talk about how Bugs Bunny triumphs thanks to wits far more than brawn. And that’s just saturday morning cartoons!
But if I read you right, it doesn’t matter how many counterexamples I come up with, you are going to cling to Wink. Wile E. Coyote would admire your tenacity, but you might want to watch out for falling anvils, in the toon world you are currently inhabiting they’ve been known to drop out of the sky at odd times.
And if it strikes anyone as odd that we’re thinking so hard about kids cartoons, it’s only fitting, “The Myth of Redemptive Violence” is cartoonish itself.
Wolverine



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Don

posted July 12, 2007 at 12:49 pm


Wolvie, you yourself just provided the reason I’m not going to change my opinion:
“‘The Myth of Redemptive Violence’ is cartoonish itself.”
It’s not my stubbornness that makes me refuse to change my mind. It’s the fact that you can’t give me a solid reason to abandon my belief that the myth is valid. All you can do is make fun of it.
As I said earlier, your summary of the myth and of Walter Wink reeks of your own biases. If you were writing a summary of Wink for one of my classes, you’d probably get a C- because summaries are supposed to be objective.
You’re gonna have to do better than that if you really want to give my reason to reconsider my opinion.
OK, since you must have it, the reason Road Runner falls within the myth is simply because Wil E. Coyote continues to think he can use violent means to catch the Road Runner. He doesn’t learn from his past failures. He still thinks violence will win out in the end.
You are correct that Bugs Bunny uses his brains to work his way out of situations. But that’s not what the Coyote does. And I didn’t bring up Bugs; you did.
You might want to read Another Nonymous’ posting, which appeard just ahead of your last one.
Later,



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Wolverine

posted July 12, 2007 at 1:49 pm


Don,
The Myth of Redemptive Violence, and its basis in old cartoons, is itself a rich source of comedic material. The jokes practically write themselves.
But I can and have done more than make fun of it: I can give counterexamples — and turn your examples into counterexamples, and blow up your arguments generally.
OK, since you must have it, the reason Road Runner falls within the myth is simply because Wil E. Coyote continues to think he can use violent means to catch the Road Runner. He doesn’t learn from his past failures. He still thinks violence will win out in the end.
Since you persist in arguing that Road Runner confirms this Looney Toons (see what I mean about the jokes writing themselves?) theory, let me observe that the Myth of Redemptive Violence is about the utitily of violence. Violence is supposed to work. That doesn’t apply in the Road Runner universe — the coyote never catches the bird — ever. That Wile E. Coyote never sees the error of his ways is beside the point. For the cartoon to fit the myth, the Coyote would need to win.
If you were writing a summary of Wink for one of my classes, you’d probably get a C- because summaries are supposed to be objective.
As for my summary, I found the best essay I could and picked out what looked to me like his thesis. If you have a more nuanced version I’d like to see it. Otherwise Wink gets the C-, not me.
You are correct that Bugs Bunny uses his brains to work his way out of situations. But that’s not what the Coyote does. And I didn’t bring up Bugs; you did.
Yep, I did bring him up. And you just basically admitted that I’m right. You were the first to mention the Road Runner. And look, your disintegrating pistol just disintegrated.
Like I said, Wile E. Coyote would admire your tenacity. The question is, do you have the sense to give up this silly “Myth of Redemptive Violence”?
Meep meep! whoosh!
Wolverine



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Don

posted July 12, 2007 at 2:22 pm


“The question is, do you have the sense to give up this silly ‘Myth of Redemptive Violence’?”
Once again you confirm what I’ve been saying. The only argument you have against the myth is that it’s silly. In case you haven’t noticed, that’s a circular argument. It’s also known as begging the question–using your assertion to try and prove your assertion.
Just how silly is it? Here are your “proofs”:
1. Wink based the myth of redemptive violence on an ancient creation myth and confirmed it by watching Popeye cartoon. How silly.
2. The myth is promoted by “postmodern intellectuals.” It’s certainly silly to believe them, isn’t it? (BTW, you offer no documentation that only “postmodern intellectuals,” whoever you mean by them, are making use of this myth.)
3. Wink and other like-minded pacifists have used the myth to make just war theory look ridiculous. How silly. We already know we can’t take pacifists seriously. (No citations, once again. And I just mentioned that Wink himself certainly does not dismiss just war theory in perhaps the most substantive chapter in The Powers That Be, which summarizes his thinking.)
4. You tell us that we should set aside silly tales like this. Of course it’s silly to make use of these stories, because they’re silly. (Note again the circular reasoning.)
5. You reassert how silly it is to base an academic theory on cartoons, without acknwledging that cartoons might be a rich source of the underlying assumptions of our culture. And don’t a lot of children grow up watching cartoons and maybe being influenced by these underlying assumptions? Sure, Wink could have used other sources as examples of popular mythology–like action films, perahps–but he chose cartoons.
6. You claim you’ve done more than make fun of the myth. Can you show me where? I think I’ve fairly exhausted your arguments. The rest of your postings seem to be examples of cartoon scenes (Like Duck Dodgers) which seem primarily written to make us laugh (and they were successful at that, BTW–especially the comment about not buying one’s weapons from Acme). Sorry, I don’t see a substantive argument anywhere here.
Then you wrote:
“As for my summary, I found the best essay I could and picked out what looked to me like his thesis. If you have a more nuanced version I’d like to see it.”
Hmmm, I take this to mean that you haven’t actually read Wink, then. So you were ‘borrowing (plagiarizing?) someone else’s summary of his work? Maybe you might get the “more nuanced version” you’re asking for by actually reading him. As I said, The Powers That Be is itself a summary of Wink’s thinking. It isn’t really long, and you might find it a little more “nuanced” than the one you found. I have read Wink, BTW.
Like I said before, you gotta do better than that if you want me to reconsider my opinion.
Peace,



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Wolverine

posted July 12, 2007 at 3:25 pm


Don,
Going point-by-point:
1. Actually Wink got the idea by watching a Popeye cartoon, which reminded him of the Babylonian creation story. Which might not be silly — ancient themes reappear in contemporary fiction all the time — but you gotta admit that if you want to argue that this theme of redemptive violence is pervasive in western culture that’s not much to go on.
2. Okay, you got me on that one, there might be some non-postmoderns who take this nonsense seriously, but it’s still nonsense.
3. There’s no citation for not taking pacifists seriously because I never said we can’t take pacifists seriously. I said we can’t take “The Myth of Redemptive Violence” (can we shorten this to TMRV?) seriously. The two are not the same. There were pacifists long before Wink.
4. Huh? TMRV is silly. Warner Brothers cartoons are funny. There is a difference. At any rate, TMRV is silly because most western fiction, including a lot of children’s cartoons just doesn’t fit the template that Wink sets up. That’s not circular reasoning. That’s you running around in circles to avoid thinking about cartoons that don’t fit Wink’s story line. Lemme tell you something — it gets even worse for TMRV once you leave the narrow realm of cartoons.
5. I’m a huge fan of the old Warner Brother shorts (can you tell?) and my argument against TMRV is based to a large degree on those. But if you’re going to base a broad cultural theory on cartoons, it might be a good idea to watch some cartoons and pay attention to what happens in them, don’cha think?
6. They’re called counterexamples — stories that don’t end the way Wink claims they all do. There’s an awful lot of them out there. And just because I was trying to be amusing doesn’t mean there wasn’t a point too.
Wolverine
PS Here’s a link to the essay by Wink describing his theory:
http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/content/cpt/article_060823wink.shtml



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Don

posted July 12, 2007 at 3:36 pm


Did you catch the last paragraph of the summary that you linked above (which, BTW, appears to be lifted from The Powers That Be)?
“Redemptive violence gives way to violence as an end in itself. It is no longer a religion that uses violence in the pursuit of order and salvation, but one in which violence has become an aphrodisiac, sheer titillation, an addictive high, a substitute for relationships. Violence is no longer the means to a higher good, namely order; violence becomes the end.”
This reads like a really good description of action films like the one under discussion here. Or am I hallucinating?
Is this myth of redemptive violence really nonsense?
D



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Jonah

posted July 12, 2007 at 4:35 pm


“for the price of our ticket we get hatred of people who ask legitimate questions about government power”
If you want the polar opposite of that, you could watch Mark Wahlberg in “Shooter.” However, I’m sure you’ll be turned off by all of the violence in that as well. Here’s a suggestion: go to screenit.com and see how much violence a movie has in it first. After you consider the Screen It summary of a film violence content, you can decide if it’ll be too much for you. If it is, don’t see it. A movie called “DIE HARD” is very obviously going to be violent. Every commerical and trailer for this film suggested violence. It was rated PG-13 for..? You guessed it, violence. So, if you don’t find cinematic violence entertaining, why did you go and see it? This is like going and seeing “Showgirls” or “Basic Instinct” and saying “I can’t believe this actually had nudity!”



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Another nonymous

posted July 12, 2007 at 8:17 pm


Wolverine and Don–
Thanks, Wolvie, for the link; that was interesting reading. I confess that I have not actually read Wink in any detail—although he’s now on my reading list. I do note two things from what he says in this summary that seem to have slipped through the cracks of the discussion here.
The first is that he’s suggesting the idea of violence as a creative power is fairly deeply rooted in the human psyche, and has been since the earliest recorded times. The Biblical creation story, he says, is a striking contrast to the other creation narratives precisely because it denies that idea, showing that God (including his feminine spirit) created a good world out of a passive chaos that did not resist. Evil entered as a matter of human choice.
The second is that he’s saying the implication of this is that evil should first be confronted internally, not externally. Evil is in our selves, not in the world.
Leaving out Popeye cartoons for the time being, this seems to be a valid reason for critiquing the “Die Hard” movies, which is why Don brought it up in the first place. The hero is not an introvert. He locates evil outside and goes for the jugular.
To point this out is not inherently to argue for pacifism. In fact, what Wink says is absolutely consistent with mainline Christian theology. It was the realization that Christianity called for a different way of responding to evil that brought forth the just war concept in the first place. Wink’s peroration may be an overstatement, in the “desperate times call for desperate measures” tradition. His theology, though, rests on a very solid and scholarly understanding of ancient myth and its significance.
What I’m getting at here is that I think I understand where you’re both coming from, and you’re both firmly located within the theological tradition that Wink also embraces. The question is not whether the myth of redemptive violence is real: it’s what we’re going to do about it.



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Another nonymous

posted July 12, 2007 at 10:27 pm


PS – One of the advantages of having access to a good library is that you can find connections between thinkers who might seem to be far removed from one another. To wit:
The myth of the “Myth of Redemptive Violence” is a story that certain postmodern intellectuals tell themselves in order to avoid dealing with the difficult facts of life in a fallen world. – Wolverine
This work is but one of many that are questioning the adequacy of the materialist metaphor and groping for its replacement. As is so often the case with things that are new and thus have no history of failures, there is in many of these attempts a naive utopianism, as if all that is faulty is the old metaphor and not me. Such approaches lack seriousness about the intractability of evil. – Wink, Unmasking the Powers, p. 7



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Don

posted July 13, 2007 at 8:22 am


Another nonymous:
Thank you for reminding me of one of Wink’s central themes–the propensity toward violence is inside each of us, not “out there.” That means me, and I know that well. How many times to I want to strike out at things I am upset about? I think you summarized well Wink’s thinking about the modern significance of the ancient mythology.
It’s also very easy for me to be caught up in the details of argumentation–I teach this stuff, after all. While I find it relatively easy to point out logically faulty arguments, this often means I miss the bigger picture. During our exchange, I never thought Wolvie and I were really that far apart (except that he’s a fan of that team from Ann Arbor!); I just love to pick apart the arguments. Please forgive me my indulgence, if it offended anyone.
The notion that a serious analysis of culture could be based on cartoons does seem on the surface to be self-contradictory. But I think thoughtful reflection of Wink’s points will demonstrate the validity of his approach.
And I still say that Wink’s interaction with the Just War position may be one of the most interesting and enlightening parts of his work.
Peace!



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Another nonymous

posted July 13, 2007 at 11:53 am


Don -
Apparently you and I both work in the academic world, so we’re both accustomed to its peculiarities. One of these lately has been the use of cartoons and other popular media to analyze deep cultural themes. I think it’s easy for us to lose track of how this feeds into the nutty professor stereotype that many people already have of us.
I look forward to reading what Wink has to say about Just War.



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Wolverine

posted July 13, 2007 at 12:04 pm


This Myth of Redemptive Violence is the real myth of the modern world. It, and not Judaism or Christianity or Islam, is the dominant religion in our society today. — Walter Wink
To be fair, I’m sure there are films that actually do fit the template that Wink put forward, and I think a solid case can be made that on net US cinema and TV tend to exaggerate the utility of violence. But Wink’s theory, at least as it is presented in the essay, is so exaggerated as to be almost useless as an analytical tool, and I would argue that even for his sympathizers the best move would be to go back to their computers and start over from scratch.
Aside from providing no examples — other than Popeye — to illustrate the ubiquity of this myth, and the presence of hundreds of films and shows that deal with violence in a more balanced manner or that have little violence to speak of (Anyone care to take a crack at the theme of redemptive violence in Seinfeld?) there is the little problem of that word “Redemptive”.
Now “Redemptive” is a word with very deep meaning in Christianity — more than I can go into here — but at a minimum it involves taking that which is corrupted, unholy, or worthless, and restoring it to purity, holiness, and value. And in Christian circles, “Redemption” inevitably involves some connection, however tenuous, with the ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ. Violence is not just good, it’s god.
If violence were regularly portrayed as more than merely useful, if it were to be portrayed as “Redemptive”, one would think that Wink, a theologian, would be able to show some allusion, however strained, vulgar, or even blasphemous, to Christ. But in the essay at least he is too lazy to even try. Or maybe he can’t find one that really fits his template. Or perhaps, more cynically, he can’t find one that fits both his template and some underlying agenda.
Lemme give you one example of how the Myth of Redemptive Violence might seem to apply at first, only to crumble like Daffy Duck’s disintegrating pistol one closer inspection:
At the end of the final installation of the Matrix trilogy Neo, a devastating fighter with godlike abilities, defeats the evil Agent Smith and brings peace between man and machines. At the same time the Matrix itself, which had been taken over by Smith, is liberated and machines and people are freed to either live their lives within the Matrix or leave it.
Violence redeems, right? Not so fast. Remember how Neo finally defeats Smith — by letting Smith kill him, by giving in. Violence redeems, except for when it doesn’t.
Now maybe the book adds more detail and more nuance, but in order to fit in the real world I suspect that the Myth of Redemptive Violence described in the book would be almost unrecognizeable compared to the one described in the essay.
If Wink had suggested a Myth of Effective Violence — the idea the violence always wins — that could be taken as a reasonable critique wrapped in some quite understandable or at lesat forgiveable hyperbole. But Wink speaks of “Redemptive” violence, and on that word I think the whole thing eventually falls apart.
Wolverine



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Another nonymous

posted July 13, 2007 at 12:24 pm


I think the reason Wink uses the word “redemptive” is that in the original mythology, that’s precisely what violence is. Something useless, and typically feminine, is converted by violence into a meaningful creation. You’re absolutely right, Wolvie, in contrasting this to the Christian understanding of redemption. That’s the point. These views are incompatible.
I can’t argue with your point based on the Matrix movies because, as you might guess, I haven’t seen them either.



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Wolverine

posted July 13, 2007 at 1:47 pm


Another nonymous:
Wink’s point isn’t just that Redemptive Violence is in conflict with Christianity, but that the message of redemptive violence is prevalent in movies and TV. But he gives only one example of redemptive violence and while he dwells at great length on the gore of Babylonian creation myth, he draws few parallels between that myth and contemporary entertainment.
I can’t really think of any good examples of popular films where violence is redemptive — the best I can think of is Gladiator where Maximus has hallucinations (or are they visions?) of Elysium in the middle of his climactic duel with the Emperor Commodus.
But even then, the hero himself dies, and it is left to the Emperor’s sister (and the hero’s old flame) to begin the process of reforming Rome’s government — A task that had been given to Maximus at the beginning of the film (while he was a general in the Roman army). Plus there’s the fact that Maximus, a slave, at one point defies the Emperor by sparing the life of an opponent, for which he is given the ironic but not entirely unearned title “Maximus the Merciful”.
So I guess Gladiator fits, but there are some caveats: violence alone does not redeem completely; Maximus may kill the Emperor but he cannot restore republican government. And even in the hack-and-slash world of Roman gladiators there is a place for mercy.
Anyway, I just gave you one example. If you want to argue that the Myth of Redemptive Violence is prevalent in our culture, I figure you’ll need another couple dozen.
Wolverine



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Another nonymous

posted July 13, 2007 at 2:14 pm


“Anyway, I just gave you one example. If you want to argue that the Myth of Redemptive Violence is prevalent in our culture, I figure you’ll need another couple dozen.”
I’m afraid I don’t have the time or energy for that. Anyway, I’m not sure I would go so far as to say that the MoRV is prevalent in our culture. My point was that it’s appropriately named. Otherwise Wink probably overstates the case, at least in the piece you cited. Don, would you agree?



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Christian

posted July 13, 2007 at 3:25 pm


This is an interesting review. After reading it I am divided over whether or not to go and see the movie so I can understand and critique it or if it really is as terrible as reviewed, maybe I don’t want to throw any support its way in the form of the price of admission.
Mr. Higgins talks about how a scene were the villian causes chaos at the stock exchange is just a bunch of rich people losing money. I am a blue-collar professional worker (a Natural Resource Specialist) in my mid 20′s. I make less than a grade-school teacher and until recently didn’t even get health insurance, vacation or sick leave. From the first job I got out of college I started investing in a retirement account, because I know that social security is going to be non-existent by the time I want to retire and in my field, a lot of folks end up disabled to one degree or another by the time they turn 50. The daily fluctuations of the stock market don’t bother me, I’m in it for the long haul, but if the whole thing came falling down on a more permanent scale and I lost that 18% of my earnings I’ve been squeezing to sock away for years, I would be pretty upset.



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Don

posted July 14, 2007 at 9:32 am


Another:
Yes, I think Wink overstates his case. I said so a few posts ago. But I would agree with him that the MoRV is prevalent in our culture; Even Wink doesn’t say it’s universal.
Wink doesn’t say the MoRV found in every single piece of popular culture. Plenty of stories, cartoons, movies, and even comic books exist that have no real violence at all in them. He does say it is found in pretty straightforward form in many pop culture artifacts: things like the action film discussed here. He also mentions comic books, action figures, and then he goes on to discuss political facets where the MoRV plays a role (which I won’t go into here).
A clarification, perhaps, should be made, and the misconception is probably my fault. The MoRV doesn’t necessarily posit that violence always wins. Wink says that violence “simply appears to be the nature of things. It’s what works. It is inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts… The threat of violence, it is believed, is alone able to deter aggressors” (Engaging the Powers 13).
(So even though violence has failed the Coyote time and again in his attempt to catch Road Runner, he still resorts to it because he thinks it will work the next time. He can’t imagine any other way to try and achieve his goal.)
Peace,



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Jett Loe

posted July 16, 2007 at 7:31 pm


Though I enjoy Gareth’s reviews of films, (full disclosure – I do a film podcast review show with him here: http://filmtalk.worldcriminal.com/ ),I’m gonna disagree with him a little bit.
The McClane character is always the ‘little man’ – a basically conservative fellow who tries to do right, (look after his family), while the larger forces of state power conspire against him.
The first film referenced the Vietnam war and the abandonment of the soldiers over there – in the latest Die Hard McClane is the forgotten soldier in Iraq – one of the guy’s that America doesn’t want to know about – he’s divorced in the film – an explicit reference to the skyrocketing divorce rate of returning U.S. soldiers.
As he’s the little guy, the ordinary guy, or THAT guy as he’s called in the film, he’s not fighting for commerce – he cares about the people around him and by the end he’s fighting for his daughter’s life.
Regarding the ‘Wall Street’ scene this is a direct counterpoint to the threat made against McClane by the villain that this poor cop’s retirement plan can be wiped out with one tap on the keyboard – or if McClane plays ball his credit card debt will be retired. This for me is the most chilling scene in the movie – it doesn’t matter how good he is with a gun – the little guy is helpless against the powers that be.
And one last thing – what’s that song that McClane sings along to in his car and that ENDS the film? It’s Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Fortunate Son’ – a vicious attack on the monied/political class, i.e. George W. Bush – from Wikipedia’s entry on the song:
“The song symbolizes the thoughts of a man who is being drafted. This spoke out against the war in Vietnam, but was supportive of the soldiers fighting there. It is sung from the perspective of one of these men, who ends up fighting because he is not a “Senator’s son” or a “Fortunate one.””
The film is about the local populace waking up to the gross imbalance of power of wealth in the country.



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Mike Grello

posted August 24, 2007 at 3:15 pm


kevin s. said
“‘But, sadly, His way doesn’t sell at the box office like “Die Hard” does.’
Mel Gibson would beg to differ.”
Indeed? So, you feel that Gibson’s 2 hour bloodbath was Jesus’ way? Interesting! I hear that in the “Left Behind” video game, if you get bored killing “infidels” you can switch sides and kill Christians,



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