Thursday, July 23, 2009
warning: Includes Movie spoiler!
Clint Eastwood's excellent Gran Torino features some hard hitting language and important issues of the day, not least of which are race relations in modern America.
Clint's central character, Kowalski, is almost a caricature of a Real American, and Clint is enough of an icon to carry it off. I interpreted the film as a microcosm of today's America, and if this is reading too much into the script then so be it, but the analogy may be a helpful one.
Kowalski is a tough Korean War vet with spoilt grown-up kids and obnoxious grandkids. His neighbourhood has been taken over by Vietnamese Hmung people, with a penchant for beheading live chickens and forming gangs. Kowalski administers hilarious non-PC racial epithets to his neighbours throughout the movie, inducing innard-vomiting in oversensitive liberals.
But the plot unfolds to show that Kowalski's neighbours are as racist as he is, and in fact he not only redeems his own character, but becomes a heroic figure in his neighbourhood by taking on the gangs and, at the same time, taking Thao, his neighbour's son, under his wing. How 'racist' is he really? Kowalski's most vicious scorn is reserved for the white boy who wears his cap backwards and tries to talk 'black' to the black kids. Kowalski rightly calls him a p*ssy for failing to stick up for his girlfriend.
As in many of his movies, Clint represents America - and in this case although his character has no time for his immigrant neighbours, he is also their salvation. He shows Thao that by applying himself and adopting the American Way, he can become a man and is able to build a future for himself and for his community.
Kowalski is brash and racist, yes. But that pales into insignificance with what he gives to the Hmung community, which ultimately includes giving his own life. Likewise, America may be stuck in its ways, but ultimately they are good ways. And, as much as people like to criticise and find fault - those ways may just offer salvation to those that need them.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Andrew Brown is a South Africa lawyer who spend 10 years as a police reservist (yes, South Africa has volunteer police officers!)
The book takes the form of a memoir, a collection of stories illustrating life as a policeman at Mowbray Station, a reasonably decent suburb of Cape Town, and not too far from where this blogger lives. A lot of the geography in the book is familiar to me, and it was interesting to see a cop's-eye-view of my adopted home city.
The book is filled with tragedy, humour, and thought-provoking moments, always deeply personal, always critical.
The author takes a view on crime and criminals that has greatly informed and influenced my own; that there are two types of crime in South Africa today. Firstly, he says, there is the most rampant kind, opportunistic petty crime with its roots in poverty and inequality. Secondly, there is crime perpetrated by career criminals, which is by far the more dangerous and cancerous kind of crime in this country.
He does not mention a third kind, that of institutional corruption, but as a beat cop he did not have a lot of experience of that so does not mention it, but his analysis as it stands is correct.
He further points out that it only takes a few career criminals to give the impression of a crime wave; an experienced car thief, he says, need only work an hour a day to give the impression of a large-scale operation, even causing people to move home and bring down an entire neighbourhood. Likewise, one can infer, with carjackers and home invaders, it does not take a lot of them to create panic.
Highly recommended and well worth a read.