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Heroes In Hard Times

Neal King

Publication Year: 1999

According to Neal King, cop action movies point both an accusatory finger and homoerotically murderous race at powerful white men. A close look at a massive and hugely popular fictional culture, Heroes in Hard Times considers the over 190 cop action movies released  between 1980 and 1997; examines the generic moral logic that they offer; and  explores the crisis in American masculinity that, King argues, propels the action in their stories.

King studies how, in the cop action genre, working-class police officers weigh in on such topics as racial justice, homosexuality, misogyny, unemployment, worker resistance, affirmative action, drug use, poverty, divorce, and the use of violence to deal with social problems. Facing their enemies with wisecracks and firepower, these men prove themselves at once complicitous in a system of violence and corruption and worthy to "blow away," with neither hesitation nor remorse, their -- society's -- menacing threats. The central male figures in these stories are heroes in their fight against criminals, but, as individuals, they fell undervalued by women, unappreciated by their bosses, and out of place in a society where fat cats and liberals have all the power. Such "hard times," King's study reveals, position them to simultaneously long for, disdain, and heroically -- if violently -- stake their frustrated claim to white male privilege.

Discussing such topics as white male guilt and the rage of the oppressed and examining such films as Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, and Silence of the Lambs, King's book notes the socially-charged roles given to American culture's fictional police heroes. The last artisan in a culture that has become increasingly corporate and bureaucratized, the movie cop is the last 'real man' in a world that has emasculated men and the last non-conforming patriot in a world that  pays more attention to rules than what is morally right.

A book that shows how modern mythology makes sense of rampant corruption (and provides entertainment in its punishment), Heroes in Hard Times will educate and provoke those interested in American popular culture, film, and gender studies.

Published by: Temple University Press

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Preface

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pp. vii-xi

I saw my first white guy get his head blown offin 1982 during a cable TV showing of The Border. The guy runs Latinos over the border in Texas and profits from their deaths, but during a scrap with the hero he falls on his shotgun and ... blam! Later the hero shoots the tires from under a truck...

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1. Losing Ground at the Movies

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pp. 1-11

"Fuck that, fuck you, fuck that! Look at him. He's nothing. The guy's a piece of shit." Joe the piece of shit (and the Last Boy Scout) is a private eye, captive of a wealthy criminal, and object of a thug's abuse. Joe asks the latter, "You got a cigarette?" "Cigarette? Yeah, sure, I got a cigarette." "You got a light?" "Yeah, I got a light." But with the light comes a painful crack to Joe's jaw...

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2. Out in the Cold

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pp. 12-40

Having lost ground means that real men do work that is both devalued and difficult but vital to a sick world's survival. Cops may be all that stand between their communities and chaos, yet they have a hell of a hard time making their bosses respect them as valuable workers. This chapter first specifies the cop hero's status as "everyman," usually white and male. These heroes' problems begin in the corruption eating their world. Lovers and families, when cops have any, reject them at home for acting like insensitive louts...

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3. Back Home Again

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pp. 41-64

"Welcome to the party, Pal!" yells the hero, John, of Die Hard, as he sprays a coworker's cruiser with machine gunfire. The black cop has not been doing what John wants him to do and apparently must earn John's respect. Though John has already fired off a "Stevie Wonder" joke about the man's driving, and plays fast and loose with his physical safety...

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4. White Male Guilt

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pp. 65-102

Cops struggle with their anger toward demanding and intruding others, and then turn it back toward the most racist and misogynist of white men. The analytic literature often attributes to these movies a blindness to their own racial dynamics, as if its moral logic were not so logical after all, or at least not very self-aware (and perhaps only available to professional class academics)...

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5. Rage of the Oppressed

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pp. 103-122

Identification with the oppressed grows on heroes as they think about what's screwed up their world. Aligning with the downtrodden can help them make sense of the impotence they feel without propelling them into neo-nazi or misogynist rage. To rebuild the sidekick and family relations from which they draw sustenance, cops often admit...

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6. The Criminal Class

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pp. 123-149

The story thus far presents cops disrespected by a service economy open more to communication skills than to muscle, and by angry lovers who will leave if cops do not shape up. They are out of luck and nearly out of work. Sometimes they take the advice of sidekicks about relationships. Always they prove their value as protectors from deadly evil...

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7. Sodomy and Guts

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pp. 150-201

The story thus far presents cops disrespected by a service economy open more to communication skills than to muscle, and by angry lovers who will leave if cops do not shape up. They are out of luck and nearly out of work. Sometimes they take the advice of sidekicks about relationships. Always they prove their value as protectors from deadly evil...

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Conclusion: Good Guys?

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pp. 202-212

Cops feel forsaken by the supports they recall with nostalgia. Their children doubt them; their bosses, coworkers, and wives demand skills they do not have. Cops fess up to their paranoia to sidekicks, find criminals on whom to practice their one trade, and so regain as much ground as they can. They bond across their differences with sidekicks and then identifY with and don the rage of the oppressed...

Appendix: Using Movies

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pp. 213-250

Notes

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pp. 251-274

Index

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pp. 275-282


E-ISBN-13: 9781592138197

Publication Year: 1999