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  • Kubrick’s Caretakers:Allegories of Homeland Security
  • Philip Kuberski (bio)

The Caretaker

In Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980) the reformed alcoholic, child-abuser, former teacher, and would-be writer, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) takes a job, with his wife and son, as the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in remotest Colorado during the Winter. Given his spotty record, he is a rather odd choice for any kind of job—let alone the caretaker of a luxury hotel built in the heroic days of American Capital. In Stephen King's novel The Shining (1977), Torrance gets the job because he is a school friend of the owner of the hotel. Kubrick omits this explanatory note. By the end of the picture, Torrance has gone mad, murdered the hotel's cook (Scatman Crothers), destroyed at least one door with an axe, and nearly murdered his family, as a previous caretaker, Delbert Grady did.

In Kubrick's films, caretakers—think of General Mireau in Paths of Glory (1957), Humbert Humbert in Lolita (1961), General Jack Ripper in Dr. Strangelove (1964), HAL the Computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Dr. Brodsky in A Clockwork Orange (1971), Redmond Barry in Barry Lyndon (1975), and Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in FullMetal Jacket (1987)—constantly endanger or destroy their charges; the security of the homeland, however defined, inevitably falls into the hands of murderers, perverts, and incompetents. Perhaps the caretaker, more than anyone, unconsciously recognizes the double-bind built into all attempts to achieve the much sought-after but repellent condition of perfect safety and security. [End Page 137]

"Security" as term and value in American political life is usually associated with the Cold War, but its origins go back to the North American Indian wars, the Salem witch trials, the lynchings of Jim Crow America, and anti-union and anti-"foreign" hysteria. In his Ronald Reagan, the Movie, the late Michael Rogin traced this on-going ideological task of binding the country together through constant search-and-destroy missions against subversives. Rogin calls this tradition "American political demonology" generated by "the counter-subversive imagination" (272–300). A "demonology" can only be countered by divine or angelic agency, where power, virtue, and militancy are encouraged in equal parts. One of the unintentional effects of a "counter-insurgency" organized by scholars of a "demonology" is the promulgation of delusional thinking: the complexity of life is reduced to theological dualism.

"Security" is an extremely mutable concept because it has very little to do with concrete data, guided as it is by metaphysical abstractions. Unlike open assault from enemies, security can be threatened by books, talk, images, body language, ethnicity, and even thoughts. Rooting out threats to security requires that anti-insurgents think and act precisely like those who would like to undermine it. Following the Second World War, the Pentagon renounced its pre-modern self-description, the Department of War, for the mutable and evasive "Department of Defense."

While a war, classically understood, has a beginning and an end, the defense of national security is an unending mission. In his book Allegories of America, Frederick Dolan has deepened Rogin's cultural analysis of the phenomenon by pointing out the existence of "Cold War Metaphysics" rooted in the of technologized mythology of the National Security State. Dolan quotes the Cold War General Maxwell Taylor to this effect: "[the U.S.] must partake of the many-eyed vigilance of Argus—constantly watching in all directions in anticipation of the emergence of forces inimical to our national purposes" (64). Security, as a demand and a technology, is dedicated to a total mastery of information understood always via a unflagging hermeneutics of suspicion. Following the September 11 attacks on the United States, once the "war on terrorism" had been declared, Congress, fearing that the FBI and the CIA were not properly integrated as information gatherers, formed the Department of Homeland Security and passed the Patriot Act of 2001. [End Page 138] The new department would act as a central bureaucracy dedicated to secure the nation from threats and hazards:

The National Strategy for Homeland Security and the Homeland Security Act of 2002 served to mobilize and organize our nation to secure the...


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pp. 137-154
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