Friday, October 1, 2010

Thieves, All of Them

Dennis Lim discusses heist movies in the Times today in relation to a film festival centering on them:

IN “The Asphalt Jungle,” a 1950 noir by John Huston that is credited with creating the template for the heist film, a duplicitous lawyer observes that “crime is only a left-handed form of human endeavor.” The idea of crime as a line of work — hardly an honest one, but a job all the same, requiring an investment of skill and labor — is central to this most process-oriented of cinematic genres...

Even more than “The Asphalt Jungle,” “Blue Collar” is a crime movie about human endeavor, recasting heist-film antiheroes as working-class heroes. Its unmistakable political point is that they’re every bit as doomed.

The point he doesn't make is that not only are thieves recast as workers, and, at that, workers capable of precision and craft, but doomed to fail, but that there's a comment here on the society and the economy in general: not all thieves fail, much economic activity is more akin to theft than is admitted, and that the rich are rich in large measure because they are more successful thieves than the blue collar guys in these films. Yet another outsourcing of blue-collar work, one could even say. And the heist movies in which the thieves succeed often center on suave, elegant protagonists whose hands don't bear the calluses of actual work. Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some by selling you credit default swaps with a nominal value of $100 million...

Ayn Rand's Men (sic) of the Mind, and libertarians' enabled entrepreneurs freed of restraint and parasitic theft, don't always exhibit that nobility of spirit and self-restraint which exclude a degeneration of their Utopias into a vicious and unprincipled contest between strength and weakness. You don't see many libertarians emigrating to African countries with ineffective central governments, where the shackles of law don't at all hinder entrepreneurial activity, and the right to bear arms is taken for granted. Nor do you see small-government righties praising those countries' economic and social performance as worthy of emulation, despite the absence there of the heavy hand of government constraining human progress. And they can't imagine themselves weak or careless enough to themselves become the victims of a heist.

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