Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"The Surface Banalities"

One of the things that makes action films so enjoyable is the way heroes are able to cut through ordinary social conventions. Films like the James Bond series or Die Hard place their protagonists in modern urban settings, but with such extravagant emergencies to deal with that they charge about blowing things up, wrecking cars in mad chases and commandeering the private property of innocent bystanders. All this anti-social behaviour is justified in the film by the urgency of their causes.

Watching this at home, still prone to the boring conventions and rules that make social life possible, we can take vicarious pleasure in this violent madness. We'll never have morally-acceptable excuses to rob cars (Bourne Identity), drive through a building (Lethal Weapon 4 and Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift), chase a terrorist on a motorbike into a hotel, on horseback (True Lies), start a gun fight in a brothel (Taxi Driver and Taken), set off a DIY bomb using a microwave (Under Siege), or murder an assassin on the subway (Collateral). Instead we are stuck with politeness and deference, which can be dull.

Crime, revolution and war cut through those social conventions, giving individuals real-life opportunities to engage in taboo behaviours. Some of those young men who pull fashionable scarfs over their noses and mouths while rioting must get a massive kick out of that disorder, the sudden collapse of rules and brief opportunities for loot. Miserably poor and despised youngsters get to batter and rob their social superiors in a sudden flip of status. In old wars, poor soldiers had the chance to win fortune and glory that could offer them new lives. The excitement of chaos must be great.

This in mind, I was interested to read this line from French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who worked as a stretcher-bearer in World War I:

The war stripped away the surface banalities and conventions. A window opened up on the secret mechanisms and deep layers of human destiny.


  1. Don't for get Grand Theft Auto. The ultimate game for participating in all sorts of anti-social behaviour, from genocidal rampages to suicidal recklessness not to mention all kinds lecherous debauchery. But what fun it is!

    (Okay calling genocidal rampages anti-social might be understating it a just a tad)

  2. Haha in GTA 3 I discovered that I could climb on top of a car and let it drive me around while I flamethrow the civilians :P


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