February 13, 2008


Most bloggers talk about current events; I, on the other hand, like to discuss movies that are ten to sixty years old. That's how I make sure I'm not saying the same thing as everyone else. I talk about the outdated stuff.

At any rate, the husband and I watched the movie The Boondock Saints last night, and it got me thinking about vigilantism. Many of our modern heroes are actually vigilantes: Batman, Spiderman, Jack Bauer, Dexter. They right the wrongs that slip through our justice system.

But, I mean, why are there so many wrongs to right?

I re-read last night Bill Whittle's section of Responsibility dealing with prairie justice. He's right that if you read that section to someone from 1880's America, they wouldn't get it.

The idea of punishing the property owner while rewarding the thief would so violate their common sense, their keenly developed sense of responsibility, that they simply could not believe what they were hearing, and that is because for those people, cold, hard reality stalked them right outside their front door, and moronic inversions of cause and effect would quite simply get you killed. That’s why it was called common sense…it was the Minimum Daily Requirement of intelligence and logic that one needed to survive on a daily basis. Those who didn’t have it were too stupid to live, and had been eaten by wolves or prairie dogs, depending on just how stupid they were.

Reality has receded far from the front porch in modern America, and in those isolated towers of law offices, bureaucracies and faculty lounges, all manners of thought inversions can grow and prosper. I recently heard of a woman who sued a car dealership. It seems her son had stolen a car from said dealership, gone on a joy ride -– drunk, of course -– and gotten himself killed. The woman claimed that if the dealership had maintained adequate security, her son would not have been able to steal the car and he’d be alive today.

This is madness.

What has happened in the last 100 years that has made us, as Whittle puts it, lose sight of "the difference between perpetrator and victim"? How did we get from Jack McCall to OJ Simpson?

We watch these vigilantes on TV and we cheer them on for doing the job that our police and courts cannot do. But isn't there something inherently awful about that? Why do criminals slip so easily through the cracks?

I think the best part of The Boondock Saints was the very end where they interview folks on the street for a documentary about the making of the movie (here on YouTube, at 2:30). The opinions were split on whether the brothers' vigilantism was moral or immoral. That end segment made the movie.

Prairie justice was harsh, but I'm not sure we're always better off these days. Sometimes I just want Dexter to go chop up some bad guys.

Posted by Sarah at February 13, 2008 01:43 PM | TrackBack

I don't think we're better of nowadays in regards to this AT ALL.

I don't find Ellie Nesler an ideal mother in most respects, but I sure did feel like cheering for her when she killed her son's molester.

Perhaps if we were allowed to really defend ourselves nowadays, I would feel fine letting my kids go to the park without me watching over their shoulder. As it is, I feel like I have to hover. Because God forbid anything happen to them, it will be about the "poor" perpetrator who was driven to what s/he did by a horrible childhood.

Posted by: airforcewife at February 13, 2008 02:12 PM

"But, I mean, why are there so many wrongs to right? ... We watch these vigilantes on TV and we cheer them on for doing the job that our police and courts cannot do. But isn't there something inherently awful about that?"

Two great questions. They made me think of a third:

If Gotham City needs Batman, what does that say about Commissioner Gordon's police force?

A fourth: Is there a correlation between vigilante fantasy entertainment and an increasingly criminal-coddling society? (The rise of the Death Wish movies after the 60s might indicate that the answer is yes.) I don't think there was anything 'cool' about frontier justice 'back in the day'; it was a harsh fact of life. But nowadays such justice has turned into escapism and the reality is that people want to deny responsibility. People have always wanted to deny responsibility, but it's never been easier.

Posted by: Amritas at February 14, 2008 01:44 AM