Riding Off Into The Sunset

You've seen the movie a thousand times. The town is full of baddies and no one knows what to do, especially the very pretty school teacher/widow/shopkeeper who the chief baddie seems to fancy. In rides a lantern jawed bloke, who after a few initial setbacks,  makes the moderately bad guys look silly, shoots the really bad guys, and fights the really really bad guy up and down several flights of steps and on the top of something moving before witnessing his catastrophically inventive death. Then the the lantern jawed bloke tips his hat, says something self effacing and leaves, usually at sunset, and in the company of the very pretty st/w/sk, and the credits roll.

So what happens next? By which I don't mean what happens in the sequel, which is the same film with the same plot but with more explosions. I mean what would happen next, really? What happens when the lantern jawed bloke and the pretty widow get over the horizon? When they start to feel a bit peckish, or when they need somewhere to stop for the night? Where are they going to go and what are they going to tell their respective parents, and where can they find a cheap mortgage and what do they each feel about having children? What happens in the town when people have got to come out of hiding and clean up all the blood and patch up the bullet holes and bury all those bodies? How do they fill the power vacuum left by the really, really bad guy and how do they get the commerce of the town rolling again, what with the saloon and the general store being blown to smithereens and everything?

The ending of the film may seem like a satisfying place to leave things, tying up, as it does, all the  contrived bits of the plot, but really, it's not an ending at all, it's the beginning of a whole lot of other, less easily scripted, messier stories. In fact, when you think about it, the structure of an action/western/gangster film is a hopelessly unsatisfactory cliche with no decent application to real life, but that doesn't stop it being prescriptive for much of our public life. We see so many of them that we start to believe them, not so much the plot details as the overarching pattern. We begin to see public life, and foreign policy as though they were movie plots, with prescribed movie endings.  The gulf wars were run like this: the arch villain with his WMDs was holed up in the desert town so the good guys stormed in and blew him away. Woohoo!. Cue the sunset and happily ever after. But of course the plot didn't work out then, any more than it did during the presidential election.

Trump framed his election as the defence of the once peaceful place which had fallen into disrepair and corruption because those rich folks who lived up on the hill were running everything and making it tough for the poor honest cowboys. The goodie , the straight talking stranger from out of town, rode in from nowhere and squared off against the baddie, the moneyed representative of the corrupt cabal who ran the show, and by dint of bravado and a quick trigger finger, blew her out of the water. Game over. Yippee! Roll the credits.

But just as in the movies, life ain't like that. When the sun rises again after the sunset which had been so lately ridden into, there is a still smoking town and some devastated people and a couple just beginning their first major argument. When the sun rises again the Middle East is in a turmoil that only seems to be worsening a decade later. Movie scenarios work only when the world is simplified and condensed. In other words they only work in a fictional universe, and never in that other one: the one one containing tears, sweat, semen and menses, i.e. the one in which we all live. If we don't get that distinction right, we wake to the terrifying reality of an illiterate, narcissistic buffoon holding the most powerful office in the world.

Comments

Elaine Dent said…
Unfortunately, too true, too heartbreaking. So the question becomes: How will we start rebuilding when things are still exploding and crumbling around us? Two weeks of desperate reflection: stay grounded, be true to oneself, speak truth to others, love fiercely, risk vulnerability, extend hospitality, do not fear, hope persistently, be strong, and repeat again, stay grounded....
Brian Kelly said…
Sorry, Kelvin, you have the wrong trope there. Trump isn't a cowboy - that accolade belongs to that dang Texan Dubya and that dang Californian Reagan - whom we all-knowing liberal-leftists said back in 1980 was an illiterate warmongering B movie actor who was gonna blow up the world in alliance with the Wicked Witch of the West and the cruise missiles at Greenham Common. Didn't quite turn out that way, did it? Remember when we all believed communism would last forever? - because that's what our leftist lecturers believed too.
No, the Don is from Noo Yawk, not the high plains, so he is evidently Michael Corleone struggling with his conscience! :) Which way will he go? Well, we can play this game all day. But as for the Middle East in flames - that has nothing to do with Trump. The chaos there is partly tripped off by Bush - but Bush had nothing to do with Iran's insanity - while EIGHT YEARS of Obama's foreign policy failures in the Middle East saw *Disaster* in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Yemen ... the list of failed states goes on and on. and this from the man who imagined his Arabic name conveyed magical healing powers... Look at the actual facts of 2009-2017, not your dislike of Trump. And try to understand as well as the despair in Rust Belt America.
Kelvin Wright said…
Brian, you appear to miss my point entirely. There is a basic Hollywood plot, found in pretty much every action movie, Western, of gangster or whatever. It is this: there is a conflicted situation. A hero rides in from somewhere else, commits an act of violence and resolves the conflict. This plot is seen so many times, it is believed, and worryingly, acted on. It was how the Bush administration (and no, Brian, I never said or even remotely suggested Trump was responsible for that mess, any more than I said he was Shane or one of the Cartwrights ) analysed the situation in Iraq and how they formulated their intervention. With results entirely predictable to anyone whose analysis wasn't so informed by the mythology of Hollywood.

Neither did I mention Obama's policies in the Middle East and I'm not sure why you are drawing that particular red herring across the path. I will note in passing that the policies by which Barack Obama tried and spectacularly failed to sort out the foreign policy mess he inherited seem to have been escalated under Donald Trump, so I will look forward to your renewed indignation at the bombing of the innocents of the countries you mention.

I can't say I understand the despair of Rust Belt America any better from New Zealand than you would from Oxford, but I fail to see how the election of a self interested New York billionaire is going to ameliorate it. And, besides, the analysis of the election in terms of the anger of rural America is yet another instance of the simplistic thinking that has got the United States, and indeed the world into this dangerous place. We make a simplistic analysis, and on the basis of that formulate a simplistic solution and then wonder why things get worse, not better.

As far as Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and then Bush and Blair goes.... well, in hindsight the Greenham Common Lefties seem to have been more right than wrong about them, but if Trump has got a redeeming feature, it is that he makes them all look pretty darned good in comparison.
Kelvin Wright said…
Elaine, it's hard enough watching from half a world away, and I can only guess what it's like to live with it. This too will pass, and the measures you describe: to be grounded, to speak the truth, to love, to risk, to be hospitable; to resist the temptation to succumb to fear and despair , are what we are called to. Actually, they are what we are called to always, even when the administration is a little more palateable.

But also, there is the great healing power of laughter. From here, your new president and the ill assorted gang he seems to have surrounded himself with are a rich source of mirth. There are times indeed when he seems beyond satire, but let's be grateful that he is gifting to us a whole new sense of the ridiculous.

And remember that this too will pass.
Elaine Dent said…
Laughter, yes. Thank you. We should definitely add that to the list. Some of my colleagues are revived by the hilarious late night skits after the days events. I, myself, end up falling asleep before then but I pick up the best of late night on youtube. Keep posting the the good humor you come across from the NZ perspective :-)