Hard-boiled

In many ways, we are living in a Film Noir world, where the ordinary person, in order to survive, has to be hard-boiled and occasionally hide in the shadows to avoid the predations of the powerful.

Christa Fuller*

The so-called film noir period in American cinema is my favorite, and much of the reason has to do with “the predations of the powerful.” The protagonists of these movies are always at the mercy of some villainy like vengeful mobsters or crooked cops. All of us can imagine an entity more powerful than ourselves that could make our lives hell. Surely the government, with its panoply of law enforcement agencies and it vast prison system, can run amok and trample on the rights and property of its citizens. Certainly our gigantic global corporate empires with their trans-national make-ups and enormous war chests can wreak havoc on the ordinary folks that have to work for them, buy their goods, or merely inhabit the same space. We can all picture these powers and know we’d have little chance in a fight of any kind.

We know, too, of actual real-life examples in today’s world and throughout history of the powerful abusing their power and stomping on regular people. So yeah, I think we’d have to say we all need to be a little hard-boiled in our outlook. The world is filled with assholes, and assholes have a tendency to run their shit downhill, which means it falls, of course, upon the non-assholes.

What does it mean to be hard-boiled? The typical noir anti-hero lacks idealism. He sees the world plainly, without sentiment. He is cynical and matter-of-fact. He has heroic qualities though, his toughness, his sense of honor, and his rigid ethical code. He’s not a moralist, but he acts on what he thinks is right, regardless of the consequences. Ultimately he’s a realist, he knows that the world is what it is and he isn’t going to change it. He is motivated instead by a desire to make a tiny corner of the world a bit better than it was yesterday, even if it is for someone other than himself.

How does one live a life, doing one’s best to be a non-asshole, and yet maintaining sufficient hard-boiledness to survive? For one, you have to be tough. I don’t mean you have to start learning mixed martial arts, although that’s a perfectly fine hobby, I mean emotional resilience. Bad shit is going to happen to good people every goddamn day and you won’t be able to do shit about most of it. It’s one of those lessons you have to learn on the cusp of adulthood, in fact, it may be that it’s the distinguishing characteristic of adulthood, this ability to see horrible things and keep going.

It is suggested in the quote above that hiding in the shadows may be an effective strategy. No doubt. Don’t bring attention to yourself, unless of course attention is what you seek. Keep those vices under wraps, share them with fellow travelers, but don’t advertise. That’s why you get brown paper bags with your forties and skin mags. It’s hard to hide in today’s electronic shadows, there aren’t any, unless you are some kind of super-user and can encrypt yourself and your transactions. The rest of us are open books. Maybe the mountains of data will be so big one day we can all hide in plain sight. We’ll see!

I was going to say don’t be an asshole, but it’s probably easier to be a non-asshole. That is, most people get contrary whenever someone says not to do something. It’s better to think in positive terms, even if it is a negative action, like avoiding assholiness. Most of the world is non-assholes, and I don’t really have a proper term, perhaps citizen works, but I need something. Describing something as a not-something isn’t helpful. With citizen I don’t mean salute the flag and pay your taxes, though those are perfectly fine things, I mean more like a neighbor. Pull your weeds and fence in your dog and wave back when the guy next door waves to you. Be tolerant of people and their foibles. Look both ways before you cross, signal your turns, and put the shopping cart in the return bin. That sort of thing.

To be a neighbor or a citizen, that is, a non-asshole, requires fortitude. It’s easy to get angry. Lots of things piss us off every day. Any of a thousand little pricks could turn us into raging beasts. But if you are a wee bit hard-boiled, you can accept much of it, and it can roll off you like rain on a duck’s back. If your eyes are open and you see the world as it is, you can see what’s coming in time to duck. One of the problems with both philosophy and psychology is that they deal with idealized people. Generalities about humankind are fine, but they don’t help much with actual individual humans. The world is peopled by persons, not notions. If you make a person the subject of your thoughts, and not people, you’ll understand better. You’ll be more empathic, and thus more humble, and more willing to forgive.

I like to see solutions and not problems. I like to argue in order to understand something better and not necessarily to make a point. I like to be wrong because it gets me closer to being right. I try to be nice, and to act like a gentleman. All of this requires me to be positive, which is hard, because deep down I’m grumpy and cynical. And I know I can be a dick, just like everyone else, but I also know we all need a bit of that dick-ness around to face the oft-times cruel world we inhabit.

*from Film Noir in Today’s World, p. 225, NoirCon 2014 program (ed. Lou Boxer)

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