Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Power Points

Today I'd like to talk about an old movie, the unrest in Egypt, and the rock band The Who. Some disparate elements there, so you should find something to interest you.

The old movie is Bad Day at Black Rock (1954), and if you haven't seen it and would like to, you might want to stop reading now. I mean, I'll try my damnedest not to give away the ending, but mistakes do happen.

Taking place in the waning days of World War II, Spencer Tracy stars as a one-armed man who arrives in the small western town of Black Rock to look up a Japanese-American farmer. He's met with immediate hostility as soon as he gets off the train. Black Rock's town boss is played by tough-guy actor Robert Ryan, who sends his two goons (tough-guy actors Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine) to harass Tracy. To no avail. Tracy's mere presence in the town is destabilizing. Some people, such as the local doctor, played by Walter Brennan, think Tracy is just the man to uncover the secret the town has been hiding for the past four years. For Tracy soon comes to suspect the Japanese-American has been murdered, and Ryan is the prime suspect.

One of the things that makes this movie so interesting to me is that the murder in no mere isolated act of immorality. It has actual consequences for Black Rock as a whole. In order for the secret to be kept, the citizens are harassed into silence, and out-of-towners are immediately bullied in to leaving. The local economy suffers as a result. A melancholy sets in. Black Rock is dying, just so the town boss can get way with murder.

We find out that Tracy lost his arm while fighting in Italy. He almost lost a lot more than that. It turns out that the Japanese-American farmer's son died saving Tracy's life. The son was awarded a posthumous medal that Tracy wanted to give to the father, impossible now.

Tracy eventually gets some of the town members to open up. Ryan murdered the farmer both out of spite--he discovered water on some supposedly worthless land that the town boss had sold him--and anger over Pearl Harbor. The townspeople also agree to spirit Tracy out of town, as his life is now in danger. Unfortunately, his ride, played by Anne Francis, is still in cahoots with Ryan, and drives Tracy right into a trap. She gets killed herself, as Ryan doesn't want any witnesses, no matter how helpful they may have been. In an exciting climax, Tracy, with his one good arm, throws a Molotov cocktail at Ryan, setting him aflame.

Tracy returns to Black Rock to find out its' citizens have risen up and thrown Ryan's two goons into the slammer. The people have reclaimed their town.

Oops--Gave away the ending. Sorry about that, Chief.

Now on to Egypt. Technically, the country is a republic, meaning sovereignty lies with the people. However, the country has also been under a state of emergency for almost 30 years, meaning sovereignty actually lies with a dictator, one Hosni Mubarak. He doesn't refer to himself as a dictator. No, Mubarak calls himself "president". That sounds like a elected position, and for years he did run for election and reelection, all of which he won handily, as his was the only name on the ballot. Eventually, he did run against actual opponents in fixed elections. He won those, too. One of his opponents was thrown behind bars right after the election. Whatever his title, Dictator or President, Mubarak is clearly the boss.

Mubarak rationale for the three-decade old state of emergency is that his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, was assassinated, right in front of him. Well, it's certainly understandable that Mubarak doesn't want the same fate to befall him. There's a simple way to avoid being the victim of a presidential assassin. DON'T BE PRESIDENT. But that would be downwardly-mobile, and Mubarak is too ambitious for that. So, instead, he resorted to the usual methods: suspension of civil liberties, and jailing people (an estimated 17,000) without a trial. With all the secret policing going on, you sometimes need to grease a few palms. Mubarak's estimated worth is $70 billion. That's a lot of grease.

The political system in Egypt is typical of a lot regimes over the years, be they ostensibly on the Right or Left: they exist solely to keep one man in power, and to let that man enjoy the fruits of that power. As the country the man rules is basically beside the point, it suffers, it stagnates. A melancholy sets in. But sometimes anger sets in as well.

Last June, a young Egyptian named Khalid Said was dragged out of a cafe by police for not having "papers" and beaten to death. The government claimed he choked to death on dope he swallowed as he was being gently clubbed. A lot of desperate Egyptians have been brooding about this murder ever since. But what to do? Tunisia provided the answer. Another North African country with a similar political system, its people rose up this past December and January after an impoverished and frustrated young man set himself on fire in front of a government building, and forced the Tunisian dictator or president or boss or whatever the hell he is to flee. The impoverished and frustrated Egyptians have now followed suit. As of this writing, Mubarak is still clinging to power, and the protests continue.

You may have assumed by now that I'm rooting for the protesters. Well, you're right, I am. But only up to a point.

I do worry about what happens after Mubarak leaves. The Czech government fell in 1989 after an uprising. After a rocky start, it's a functioning democracy. However, when the Iranian government fell after the 1979 uprising, a Shah was replaced with an Ayatollah. Not much of an improvement.

Toward the end of Bad Day at Black Rock, Walter Brennan suggests the town can come back. Spencer Tracy replies, "Some towns do and some towns don't. It depends on the people."

But I promised you The Who, didn't I?

I'll tip my hat to the new revolution
Take a bow for the new constitution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again

It's easy to give away the ending to a movie. A revolution? Not so easy.


  1. I do remember that movie. What an interesting comparison to the situation in Egypt. Are we, as a people just as guilty of oppressing the Egyptian people by supporting presidents who aligned so closely with Mubarak? Is our need for oil so great that we can sanction atrocious inequities? Why don't we stop being so passive aggressive and just send someone like Robert Ryan to take over the Suez Canal?

  2. I wondered how you were going to tie it all up and you did very clever.

    cheers, parsnip

  3. @Kass--For a while there, I think George W Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld were all vying to be the next Robert Ryan.

    To be fair, part of the reason we prop up Egypt has to do with the Camp David peace treaty that country signed with Isreal.

    Saudi Arabia, on the other hand...

    @Parsnip--Most of the time I just tie myself up in knots, so this was a refreshing change of pace.

    Cheers, Kirk.

  4. Oh, Kirk, you were WAY down my sidebar and it's a miracle I even spotted your post. And I'd hate to have missed it, because you're at your best with politics and world events, not to mention classic movies. I'll take one helping of The Who, please.

    I have to tell you, I've just read with horror and sat silently about Egypt. I have a connection with it, my mother owns 49% of a business there (all she's allowed to own as a foreigner), and I have friends there. They count Mubarak as a personal friend. Yikes. It all makes me very sad and I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed these days, so I will not come up with a good resolution or revolution. :~{

  5. Limes, you might want to check out the comment section for my post "American Blandstand", even if you have no interest in Dick Clark. You'll see me, Kass, and the Woman Formally Known as Standing On My Head having an interesting discussion on blog postings and sidebars. As I told those two ladies, I take several days to write an essay, and when I finally post it, it gives the date I started the intial writing rather than its' first appearance in the blogosphere, hence the reason it ends up in the middle or bottom, rather than the top, of everybody's sidebar. Kass and Standing tell me what I'm doing wrong. When I have the piece in "edit" there's a place I can change the date, and, viola, I'm at the top of all the sidebars. Equipped with this new information, I vow to change the date the next time around. So I write this new essay. The one you just left a comment on. I started it in the middle of last week and didn't finish it until Sunday. Because it was so tied to current events, I was eager to post it soon as I finished. So eager was I, in fact, that I FORGOT TO CHANGE THE DATE, and once again, it ended up in either the middle or at the bottom of all the side bars instead of near the top. Sigh. Next essay I promise I'll get it right.

    Hope this essay doesn't get you into trouble with either your mother or your Egyptian friends.

    As always, thanks for commenting, Limes.

  6. Well, good! I'm glad our sister bloggers set you right. It's in Post Options. That's where you can set your post to show tomorrow morning or next week, as well.

    If it wasn't for trouble, Kirk,I wouldn't know how to be. But, no, I won't be in trouble with those you mentioned. I've remained pretty quiet about all of it.


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