Long ago, back in the days before…, well, everything, there was a movie called Magnum Force. It was the second in the Dirty Harry franchise, starring Clint Eastwood as the loose cannon, morally unambiguous (in his own mind), eponymous San Francisco Police Department inspector, Harry Callahan. Magnum Force hit the theaters on Christmas Day, 1973.
The plot was considered a way-out, dystopic fantasy at the time. The intelligentsia of the day snorted that everything about the Dirty Harry series was ludicrous. This particular tale involved Dirty Harry discovering the existence of secret cabal of SFPD motorcycle cops who’d banded together to dispense extrajudicial justice, performing street executions of pimps, drug dealers, mobsters, and other such undesirables. The rogue cops considered themselves avenging angels of death, doing what the bureaucrats and the bleeding hearts refused to do — protect the innocents from the bad guys.
Harry Callahan not only roots out the gang but he destroys them, the film’s climactic scene taking place at a bay shipyard where Callahan offs the cabal’s leader with a time bomb. The Dirty Harry series gave rise to the Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey set of cinematic vehicles led off by Death Wish in 1974. Bronson’s Kersey was a civilian who, similarly, broke both laws and societal norms in an effort to right the moral universe. BTW: Perhaps my perversely fave scene in the Death Wish series comes in the third installment when Kersey fires a M72 LAW rocket launcher at the leader of the street gang that’s been terrorizing the neighborhood. The gang leader is blow out a third story brick wall and lands in the parking lot below where — and this is sinfully beautiful — local kids and adults dance in joy around his burning body.
Like I say, all these frontier justice ’70s era movies were viewed as the craziest of nightmare fantasies.
Back to Magnum Force. Nobody really wanted to believe that our nation’s police forces could possibly infiltrated by groups that didn’t honor the rule of law no matter the cost. Oh sure, there’d been scads of movies wherein individual corrupt cops were flushed out and brought to justice. But a whole gang of like-minded police officers essentially running a rump justice system? Heavens no, not in our holy land!
Cut to today. Evidence mounts that police departments around the country, to one extent or another, are rife with KKK and other white supremacist groups. One or two of the departments, mirabile dictu, are even taking that threat seriously.
Who’s more morally certain — and perfectly willing to dispense vigilante justice — than a KKK-er?
And what about the Dallas cop who killed a man in his own home when she “inadvertently” thought his apartment was her own? Or the cop from Ft. Worth who shot and killed a woman early Saturday morning for the crime of standing near the window in her own home? What are we to make of them? Perhaps nothing. Or perhaps this: Are there police officers who wish to either foment a race war or wipe as many black human beings off the face of the Earth as possible? And, are these cops somehow working in concert w/ each other?
Tie these incidents in with the rash of police shootings of unarmed black men — and the concurrent non-shootings of white people posing even greater threats than the unfortunate black guys — and the curious among us have to start wondering.
Can it be that police depts. here and there — or even all over the place — are becoming havens for white supremacist death squads? I mean, how outlandish is it to think a cop went into the wrong home, thinking it was hers, and immediately ices the unlucky black guy who lives there. Truth be told that whole story is preposterous! Not only that, a key witness in the Dallas cop’s murder trial was gunned down, execution style, just days after testifying. And the cop this past weekend who just happened to see a black woman passing in front of her own window and decides, hell, she must be a criminal so I’ll just shoot her dead? Even more incredible!
Is the hypothesis that there are police officers who want to rid this nation of dark-skinned citizens any more unbelievable than those cops’ alibis?
This week my guest will be Indiana University associate professor in the Gender Studies Dept., Jen Maher.
I’ll tell you how I became aware of Maher. At the beginning of every semester, it seemed, female IU students, clearly fresh out of high school, would come in to the Book Corner and ask for our most cheesy romance novels. And, each semester, I’d have to disappoint them because we didn’t — and don’t — carry romance novels, even mega-sellers like Nora Roberts and Danielle Steele. The way we figure it, those rare customers who come in asking for romance novels would be better served doing their literary shopping at the Kroger. And that’s not a dismissive insult; that’s just the way our and Kroger’s business models roll. Our customers wouldn’t go to the Kroger to purchase The New Jim Crow.
Anyway, I got around to asking these young women what was up. They certainly didn’t appear to be typical romance connoisseurs. The books they were seeking, they told me, were assigned by one of their professors, Jen Maher. Romance novels, Maher reasoned, helped them understand something or another about gender roles. Which will be precisely what I want to talk to Maher about on Big Talk.
Gender’s the big signifier these days, the outward cloak that tells the world whether you buy into its strict, binary categorization or you’re willing to give it the finger by wrapping yourself up in the raiment, makeup, and mien of the opp. sex.
Tune in every Thursday at 5:30pm for Big Talk on WFHB, 91.3 FM.