Indiana Jones And The Comforters Of Job

So…

I’m not watching House anymore.

But I think it came as a mild surprise to those who know me that I ever watched it at all. Me, with the anxiety problems all tightly clustered around health issues…medical shows are panic meltdowns waiting to happen, obviously, as far as I’m concerned.

Ordinarily, this would be true.

But House had something going for it that no other modern medical drama could match, and that’s disassociation. Uh…that’s the Brechtian thing, right?

I’m saying that right, aren’t I?

Anyway House was actually a pretty good inoculation against health-based panic, I found. Perhaps it begins right with the patients, all in the direst possible need, the most impossibly hopeless situation…subject to the most amazing confluence of both destructively invasive surgical procedures, and futile ones. Their loved ones all freaking out. Drama. Music. Of course in a notable break from the modern medical show’s formula, House saves almost all of the poor sick creatures…which is good stuff for me anyway, right there!…and yet of still greater importance is the crap they go through along the way (was there ever a patient on this show who didn’t vomit up blood, or have a heart attack in an MRI machine?), often to be finally resolved with a three-week course of pills you can buy from any drugstore, and then they’re gone. Not that this is Cronenberg by any means, but it’s some pretty striking bio-voyeurism for network TV…while House and his cronies spit bizarre terms at each other, labyrinthine magic spells of diagnosis that verge on the laughable, verge on the infuriating, verge on the onanistic, verge on the obscene…we already don’t care about the patient, that’s the point, the patient is already being stripped of their role as focus, as specific human character, as site of sympathy, identification, and concern…as that’s going on we’re treated to a psychedelic display of their inner goopiness, the mindless constituents that make them (as in some current biological perspectives) nothing much more than a colony of organs, a table of contents, a turbulent pattern of small independent entities that all together create the temporary illusion of a single larger creature with a single larger identity. But then?

Then the case is cracked, and somebody writes a prescription for some garden-variety antibiotics or something, and they’re gone. Disappeared from our sight, again whole and impenetrable. The visions cease along with the jargon. The intimacy with their traumatic flesh fades along with the ludicrously charged technique of abstraction that is the differential diagnosis…and in that moment comes the voyeur’s truest and most potent frisson, which is nowhere else than in the end of the illicit interval, the end of the fever dream…the restoration of the separateness that was really there the whole time anyway, that in fact drove the entire episode.

Because that’s what voyeurs do, you know; they experiment with the membranes between themselves and other people. They twist them and distort them, looking for the most perfect, the most tantalizing illusion. But that’s all they do, because that’s all they’re looking for.

And TV watchers are voyeurs in this mode too, obviously. So, identification with the terrified patient? That’s not what this show’s about. And the members of House’s team aren’t important in this sense either — we’re not supposed to care about them, and so things are arranged so that it’s pretty difficult to do so. The Cameron-Chase-Foreman bunch are simply hateful, aggravating to us as to House himself, not really people so much as the three panes of a make-up mirror; whereas the new bunch are aggressively opaque, too-solid personalities that know how to keep themselves to themselves while they’re doing their jobs. We have to intuit the shape of their interior spaces, because we can’t see them; just as we never have to intuit the inner life of Cameron and Chase and Foreman, because they too are constantly vomiting up their blood for us.

In other words: they’re out, too. Sometimes they are interestingly out…but they’re out regardless.

Then you’ve got Wilson, and Cuddy, and finally our titular character. Whose main attraction is that he’s always stubborn because he’s always right. He’s right about Wilson, for example: Wilson’s nowhere near as honest as House. Wilson’s a bag of jangling forks, Wilson’s clearly a head case, that guy’s got issues…I mean, we do care about him, at the beginning of every episode we even like him and care about him, but by the end of the episode House is still right, and Wilson’s not. And so there’s one more layer of identification peeled away: House, not Wilson, is the hero…

…Who’s right about Cuddy, too: and she’s more honest than either of the other main characters, but it’s not like it saves her. What she wants, she can’t get: as Wilson persuades himself that his fantasies can come true if he only acts them out sincerely enough, Cuddy waits for things to get better as they get truer...and then has to figure out what to do with herself if that never happens.  If that faith is never justified.

As it never will be. And, wow, just think how beautifully sympathetic those two characters are, eh? How strongly we would identify with them both, if this were any other show! That’s your human dilemma right there, for heaven’s sake! But then there’s House, and he always ruins it. There’s always something about his human dilemma, that Wilson and Cuddy can’t encapsulate. Because he’s the hero, and they’re not; Hugh Laurie acts the hell out of every scene he’s in, growling through his own special Christian Bale voice — no one actually talks like that, you know! — I mean doesn’t he sound like he’s struggling? Isn’t it just like a drunk putting extra processing cycles into his enunciation? Isn’t that, kind of, the whole point of his delivery? — and he’s got everything it takes, he’s got the cane, he’s got the pain, he’s got the sarcasm and the sensitive blue eyes…we’re not going to identify with anybody but this guy by the end of the episode, are we? Like us, he’s so misunderstood…like us, he’s got a heart of gold…like us, he’s trying to suffer as honestly as he can, so that whatever tiny grain of redemption he can get out of his life will at least have been earned. AWWW…! POOR LITTLE FELLA! If only everybody else could see what we can see…!

Except then he blows it all up, doesn’t he?

He does something unforgivable, that’s just for us. Every episode.  So in the end, we can’t identify with House either. Because the only thing he’s got going for him is that he’s good at his job…but then again, if we already don’t care about his patients, why should we care about that?

And so who’s left?

The answer is: just the person watching the show. We’re the only person left, to identify with.

And so here’s the ultimate disassociation, the ultimate reason why House, bizarrely of all modern medical dramas, doesn’t pluck my anxiety wire but instead artfully stills its quivering: because the only source of tension in the show lies within House himself…and to amplify it only addresses it, and to address it only resolves it, but either way it can never explain it, so to ramp it up, to seek to get closer to it, is pointless. Because House fascinates me, but only in the manner that his patients fascinate him. In other words, I don’t really care about House. I just want to see what he does. I just want to know what makes him the way he is. Hey, I want to watch Hugh Laurie act, is that so strange a thing?

But to feel something for House…no. It’s not what I’m here for.  So it’s not what I’m given.  And that’s the genius of it.

Which is why I’m not really watching it anymore. Although it’s still of some perhaps academic interest to me, as an example of what happens when shows try to reinvent themselves on the fly. I mean, it’s definitely a pattern, you know? Suddenly the characters become much more important than they were, and you’re supposed to care about them more: it’s decadence, but decadence can be interesting, decadence can have its own special frisson to it. When House hallucinated Amber for the last time on the bus, and she told him that “you can’t always get what you want”…well, one of the ways you could tell it was the end of the story was that line, a direct callback to the first episode. That story ended right there, that was closure. But then…

…To my astonishment, it came back, and I had to watch. What could they do with these ingredients, without a recipe? I did wonder. Because sometimes, though rarely, shows do manage to reinvent themselves successfully, even by unravelling all the things they used to be about. It can be done! And what I wanted to know was…

…Would they do it? Would they get better from the end of the story?

Well, the answer is that they did, and they didn’t. The “opaque” nature of House’s second team still had a surprising amount of mileage in it, and Wilson was still funny, and to see House try to change himself was…unnecessary, perhaps, but once having swallowed that pill there did turn out to be some beneficial effects proceeding from it. Of course none of it would’ve worked at all without Andre Braugher, who I think most people would watch in anything…hell, I’d watch Hugh Laurie in anything too, so it made it that much better: certain amount of mirroring going on in that room, a certain amount of gravitas, a certain amount of potentially-useful symbolism. And you know, I did want to believe they could figure it all out, after the epilogue. How, once you start messing around with the show’s essential systems, exposing this, resolving that, testing that other thing to destruction in the name of momentary dramatic punch, and above all finishing things off…how, then, do you find a way to keep it all going somewhere, instead of settling in one place and staring at its navel all day. Or even going backwards. For a while, I was even hopeful that they had figured it all out…and that the frisson I felt was the tingle of a new illusory excitement, rather than simply a sign of the old one exhausting itself, and finally allowing reality to return.

But, since the milestone has come and gone, I’ve been pretty sure they didn’t figure it out after all. And now I’m really out of it. Because since I do not care about House, House’s story doesn’t have a potential climax to it, for me…or at least, not one it hasn’t already passed. I mean, what kind of redemption can the guy possibly get, at this point? What’s left, that he hasn’t already gotten? He’s had an unborn baby’s hand wrapped around his finger, that would turn me freakin’ religious, I’m telling you. So after something like that, what’s left?

What’s left?

Is the series going to end with Wilson shooting House in the head? Or what? Is this “The Killing Joke”, is there actually going to be a moral?

It’s inconceivable. House always does something to screw it all up for himself — with his friends, with his hospital, with the law, with his love interests, with the viewers. Now all the stuff that used to make this show go has been unpacked and dissected, all that’s left to do is revisit resolutions we’ve already discarded, and hope one of them sticks better than it did the first time. Decadence? The only thing worse than decadence is the failure to push through it to something that’s genuinely new, instead of just to something that looks new but really isn’t. This is how we get “back-to-basics” serialized storytelling, people, and you know how incestuously bankrupt that gets! What will be left to say, after all, once one day the disease finally does turn out to be lupus? Once every possible cast member has dated the metaphorical equivalent of Tori Spelling’s character, shouldn’t that be the point where the plug gets pulled? To me at least, it seems plain that the time to polish this off for good was after House got out of the mental hospital. Then they could’ve done House made-for-TV movies ’til the end of time, a fresh start with old characters…”Whatever Happened To Gregory House”, or perhaps “The Diagnostician Returns”…if this season could’ve been those movies, I think there would’ve been room to move, still. Ways to avoid trying for a satisfying conclusion that House’s character will never let anyone, including us, enjoy. Such a metatextual sort of show deserves a metatextual sort of end, I think, if it’s to have a proper end at all: because we can’t afford to get sucked into the story of Dr. House, anymore than I can afford to get sucked into the ordinary heartstring-pulling hyperidentification-panic of the modern medical drama. I’d have to turn it off.

You’d have to turn it off.

In the Bible, the comforters of Job were those who made his suffering worse by trying to alleviate it. Serialized fiction writers, all! Because in the end, we all try to fix our way out of old stories, possibly because it seems like the right thing to do…because it seems like what you would do, if you had the best of intentions. Not that you can’t ever try to give the people what they want…but just consider how even that miracle of heroic cliche Indiana Jones fares, when his antagonist is someone other than the God of Abraham.

He can’t function.

And so it really doesn’t matter if he gets the girl or not.  You know it recently struck me, though it’s really part of a much bigger point, that I never bemoan my age when I’m feeling it. It’s only when I don’t feel as old as I am, that I feel I’m losing time. Lots and lots of time. And you know why that is?  It’s because the illusion is so superficially appealing, that I forget it’s all about the eventual return to earth.

I forget that’s where the real story is.

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18 responses to “Indiana Jones And The Comforters Of Job

  1. The only thing worse than decadence is the failure to push through it to something that’s genuinely new, instead of just to something that looks new but really isn’t. This is how we get “back-to-basics” serialized storytelling, people, and you know how incestuously bankrupt that gets!

    Do we ever.

    You can end a story like House’s, but only if you’re willing to really end it. As in, you’re closing the door on telling any more stories about the guy. Just like Gilligan’s Island, really. Of course, you don’t have to end it at all; no reason why the last episode can’t be, you know, a typical episode of the series. Patient, mysterious symptoms, diagnosis. It worked on Cheers!

    It depends on your storytelling engine. Some are finite and some are infinite. Not that the conversation always has to come around to this subject for me, because it doesn’t, but look at the Legion of Super-Heroes. One of the whole points of the Legion is that this doesn’t ever have to end–Superman’s legacy will last forever, and there will always be more Legionnaires, as many as the universe needs. The only appropriate punctuation to end that sentence is an ellipsis.

    But the ones that do end present the writer with an unpleasant choice. He/she can either a) end the story, satisfyingly, and then lock it up so nobody else can open it up again; b) keep the story going, no matter how much hackwork is generated in the process; or c) end the story but switch from one storytelling engine to another to keep it going another way. B) is lucrative but aesthetically unappealing, A) is the opposite. C) is the best option, but it’s tough to do, because 1) you don’t necessarily know that that is what you have to do, 2) it requires some real creativity, and 3) you might lose your audience if they don’t like the new direction.

    Would you say that the God of Abraham is Indy’s antagonist? Surely the Nazis are his antagonists, the Nazis and his rival archeologists. God is Indy’s client, or the damsel in distress, or something.

    Sorry for bailing on the space-TV thing. I thought about it for quite a while and found I really didn’t have anything I could add to what I already did. Nothing worth posting, anyway.

  2. Not that you can’t ever try to give the people what they want…but just consider how even that miracle of heroic cliche Indiana Jones fares, when his antagonist is someone other than the God of Abraham.

    He can’t function.

    Can you fill in the specifics here? It’s the punchline and I don’t get it.

    I know what I said, way back:

    By the 1950s, shouldn’t Indy Jones be a worried conservationist, along with Jacques-Yves Cousteau and the like, agitating to defend the native cultures of Guatemala and the treasures of China? Well perhaps he is, but can’t you make a story out of that? Put Short Round in the adolescent role, make Indy his Merlin – the natural progression after banging around the world and fighting evil is that he’s acquired wisdom, surely.

    That is to say, it’s not hard to imagine what functions are there for Dr Jones, in the ambit of exotic adventuring, once he gives up hogging the hero’s role. The treasure maps and broken amulets are still there; Nepal hasn’t fallen off the globe. Indeed I’d say that his franchise is all the more robust and continuable for slowing down, expanding the context, giving some thought to the locales in real life rather than their serial-stock mockups. And thinking about what kind of community Indy is left with in his ageing.

    I can’t fix things for Job, by definition; it’s not the same story if they’re fixable. But gee, isn’t Job an isolated patriarch! And isn’t it the story that his faith, his optimism never fails, it just retreats into more refined occasions, into contemplation, until finally reality itself has to come clean and show itself as the great and mysterious provider?

    Indy has earned something, and I’d say that’s common cause with strugglers for justice, especially in unlikely places. You can cripple him, but you can’t take away his common cause.

    Dunno if we can say the same for House, I’ve only seen one episode. But would I be right in thinking that his writers cleaved so closely to the fashionable “no hugging, no learning” premise, that in the end the viewers turn round and say, “and that’s what it gets you in the end”?

  3. No worries, Matthew. That you thought about it is enough!

    And, yeah…I guess I do think God is Indy’s antagonist, kinda. It’s all that stuff about Indy being a toppled man with a blown-up youth, burnt all his bridges, a scientist, a rationalist, a cynic…a graverobber, right? And yet an unwilling idealist still, because at heart a God-fearing savage trying to sublimate his belief into study, adventure, etc. Well, he’s fine as long as Jehovah stays out of it! But playing archaeologist to your own deep belief is like being a lawyer who represents himself — sooner or later, it’s gonna blow up in your face. Which in Indy’s case means: sooner or later you’re going to have to go through the psychological crisis of having to face what your true beliefs really are, and what your identity is. Hating the Nazis and finding love and accepting the limits of knowledge and believing in a frankly pretty dangerous God are all the same thing, in this sense…but three of these things are not like the other, even so.

    At least…that’s what I think today.

    Cheers is a bit of an odd duck, because they totally did get to the end of the story, and pretty early on, and then they kept going…but there were still jokes, and the jokes were still funny even when they got peeled away from what was originally animating them. Then the original driver just fell to pieces, and so they threw out everything that people had cared about on the show, and replaced it mostly with stuff no one cared about…but! There were still jokes. The whole show just became a gag-carrying device, it went super-decadent (Ed may argue with me about this since it’s his definitions and observations I’m using as my jumping-off point, but I’m still gonna stick on this line at least for today), and it still worked…arguably, worked even better, once it had exhausted itself and us. It got past the threshold of exhaustion into that “laugh at anything” mindset you get when you’ve stayed up way too long, and then it kept going and it made it work.

    So for me, Cheers is one of the rare winners in the reinvention game. Another one might be North Of 60, actually — kill the main character off-camera, in-between seasons, far away, and change who and what you want to talk about completely, completely, completely. I don’t think we’ll ever see one-shot Cheers TV movies, but there’s a reason CBC airs occasional two-hour specials with the surtitle “A North Of 60 Event”…

    In the same manner, I think you could have had occasional House specials of this kind, if it were handled just right: it isn’t exactly a detective show, but House himself is enough of a mystery and a plot-driver that it could’ve been made to work. What House aficionado wouldn’t’ve wanted to see what this basket case was like “One Year Later”? Jump right into the cliched old Reunion Movie stuff, have him tear it to pieces textually and metatextually. They would’ve done it in the UK. They would’ve cranked out one every year just like it was Rebis or Prime Suspect…

    About comics I won’t quite say anything, because I have a post coming up…but yeah, in comics you see where your Option B winds up when it’s taken to extremes…when nobody knows how to change the landscape to make it different, and yet nobody knows how to change it back to what it was before, without killing its readability both ways. Especially in Marvel comics, this was a huge issue at a certain point in time (actually, at a couple different points in time), and the frantic decisions made at those times streamed together over time to create a really anxious storytelling environment and internal (and external!) narrative. That might’ve been fixed about five times over by now, but…sometimes anxiety gets the best of you, and you don’t make it through your psychological crisis as Indiana Jones does…

    …Or at least, as he did, before his story got “comforted”.

    Not that DC hasn’t had its difficulties in this area either: they’ve had lots, and I don’t just mean all the CoIE jazz and the Events stemming from it. I mean that Astro City wouldn’t have had any more success than all the 80s superhero-breakaway universes, if it hadn’t been able to successfully engage in “post-historical” Reconstruction…if it hadn’t been able to trade artfully on that Ultimate Option B anxiety.

    But, more on that later, I guess…

  4. Whoops, sorry Jonathan, didn’t see you there…and I think I owe you some further comment on “Titan”, by the way…

    House adheres to the “no hugging, no learning thing” pretty well for a longish time, while still rambling around the mystery of its protagonist — it was a pretty interesting mystery for a long time, too! — but eventually faultlines will out, and something had to be done about it. And it was a pretty dramatic place to get to after only four seasons (was it really only four seasons?) I didn’t watch this thing for the longest time, though everyone around me was thoroughly addicted to it, because of the aforementioned medical show anxiety problems (detailed in Andrew’s PEP! #1, actually), and one episode didn’t do it for me, but after I’d watched about three or four, and out of order, it got to me — that “out of order” stuff, it just heightened the whole distancing effect, while at the same time moving me between different states of general knowledge about House’s background, like remembering and forgetting, and then remembering again…I’ll sure say this for it, to make a TV show that’s better for seeing its episodes out of order, that’s a reasonably stunning accomplishment right there! So I guess I would, actually, recommend it…

    But I think they do abandon themselves to change and growth eventually, and it makes something quite compelling by the time it “ends”, but then afterwards you hope, you hope…and then pfft! Nuttin’ left.

    Sorry, rambling. Anyway, oh yes, the punchline:

    Actually, just give me a minute on that, I’ve gotta rustle up some grub. Man, a beer would sure be nice too, anyone out there feel like mailing me a couple of bucks?

    Stupid waiting-for-payday-tomorrow syndrome…grumble…I’d like to see House cure that

  5. Whoops, sorry again…Land Of Distractability around here…

    The punchline: even a patchwork hero like Indiana Jones has an inbuilt dramatic purpose, something he’s designed to be able to show to the audience…even if that purpose isn’t something his creators are consciously aware of. Actually Indy’s not that different from House, he’s a damaged hero in the Bogartian mode, looking for redemption. But the kinds of redemption those characters are after are different, and what’s shown by their pursuit of it is different too. Indy’s past is meant to overtake him despite his attempts to outpace it — eventually (in a perfect world) he gives himself up to it, and then it forgives him. As you say, he’s still a great character, and he can still have motivations — there’s no reason there can’t be a “next part” to his story. But while his story’s going on, his role is self-investigation — and even after it ends, that must still be what his story was. Merlin knows everything, knows how it starts and knows how it ends, because he’s lived it all “before”; it’s a good model for an Old Indy you’ve dreamed up! Old Indy would still hold the secret knowledge Young Indy won at such cost. Actually I could go all up and down the Raiders movies from this angle, but just consider Temple Of Doom: its shortcoming is that there’s no line you can draw between Prequel Indy and Proper Raiders Indy that contains any information other than “this is what he was doing before”…the soon-to-be reality of Abraham’s God casts no shadow over Prequel Indy, and Proper Raiders Indy’s past doesn’t obtrude into Prequel Indy’s life. Not that that was what I was really going at with that remark, I was more going at Crystal Skulls, but the same principle applies: it’s a hell of a jump to put Indy square in the middle of Flying Saucer Land, when that’s not what he was made to relate to. Sure, it can be a transitional phase, but if it’s about Indy it ought to mean something for Indy, and it doesn’t. There are all kinds of signs around that movie that suggest it could have meant something for him, but in the end it just sort of fizzles, because the oxidant is missing. So, fixing a character, a story…trying to push it along into something new, overcome the “been there done that” baggage and start really fresh…there’s no reason Indy couldn’t still be made to function as a character, after all he’s made up of so many good character bits, tried and true…but the inbuilt design’s gotta be respected. You can have him meet aliens. You can have him meet modernity. You can do just about anything with that character. But you can’t just have him be a guy who wears a hat and carries a whip and knows about archaeology, because that’s where he starts. That’s only the first thing we knew about him.

    Sorry, rant rant rant. That Raiders movie really bent my brain, back in the old days, I could go on about its protagonist for hours. But we weren’t talking about Indiana Jones, we were talking about Gregory House.

    So what about him?

    His search for redemption has an inbuilt structure too, in that he always fails to get it — rejects it when he’s offered it — but that makes it better for us. Indiana Jones doesn't make us contemplate ourselves as alternating actuators and receivers, as people who negotiate fantasy and reality, and House does. He's not a misunderstood soul who's had bad breaks and is trying to run away from a past, and a nature, that's always catching up with him — he's a person who makes bad breaks for himself on purpose, whose past is all around him and constantly being shaken off by him, a person everyone else tries to make allowances for and understand until they realize he won’t accept the allowances, and will always frustrate the understanding. It’s a very good portrait of a realistically messed-up human individual — often they’re not “nice deep down”, instead they’re exactly as they seem, and if there’s niceness there it’s also mixed with a bunch of other crap that’s not-so-nice, and that’s them too. So you don’t get catharsis out of all that, you also don’t get any easy dismissal of the person for their bad qualities, instead getting to know them is this whole PROCESS, and you never do get to really know them, you only get to see them in reflection.

    So for House to be “healed”, for him to become a character that ceases to trick you into identifying with him just before yanking himself rudely away from that identification…that relationship’s not what he was made for. Mind you, whatever it is, Hugh Laurie’s gonna act the hell out of it for you! So no worries there, it’ll be watchable, even engrossing, on that level. But this is a character who seems like he shouldn’t have a first name, he doesn’t wear it well, that he has an ordinary first name like an ordinary person is jarring and slightly creepy. You imagine that if he could just get rid of it, he would. Or maybe he wouldn’t bother, who knows? What the people want is for House’s frustration to finally terminate, but House wasn’t made to deliver that relief anymore than Iago was made to explain his motives — because without people being walking mysteries, House can’t function, anymore than Indiana Jones can function where his own agonistic relationship with God is made too thoroughly absent.

    Or…is that all really what I meant to say? Not being cute, here, it’s just that I’m way overcaffeinated. Really not sure that all came out right.

    Oh well, if it didn’t I can always fix it!

  6. I’ve just borrowed Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade, the better to consider Indy’s conflicts. They aren’t obvious to me; certainly I’d never have thought of Indy as fundamentally antogonistic to God. At present I see things more in Matthew’s way: God is Indy’s client, or the damsel in distress, or something.

    Pardon me if I say something outright that’s rather harsh. Indiana Jones is cast in the dime-novel mode, where there’s none of that deep conflicted stuff. He’s meant to be free of all that — Independence Jones, with no inhibitions. Also with no inherited ethics to slow him down. Audiences got the point when the big Arab with the scimitar bore down and Jones shot him without hesitation. The code of heroism says you have to face up even to unfair odds. Well, so much for the code.

    Suppose he’d had to scramble and whimper, maybe surrender, and he’d had a revolver on him the whole time. We’d snicker at his old-fashioned sense of fair play. Instead, Jones is crafted so as to pander to that in Generation X (as has been noticed, though of course the generalization is unjust and it’s not what I believe in general), that they keep their declarations of ethics close to their chest so that nobody will ever get to snicker at them. So it’s strikingly cool when Indy is so pragmatically effective. So sheathed in ethical Teflon.

    What you only think of afterwards is that this puts Indy in the class of folk whom you don’t approach with less than a tommy-gun. He’s forfeited the right to represent a world where brave men meet face-to-face without mechanical advantages. He now stands for the end of any such world. He’s a colonialist. But it’s exactly the thrill of entering such a manly, risky world which the Indiana Jones pictures are promising.

    Now my point here is that Indy is shown as ethically slippery — and so any Bogartian balance he seems to affect is likely to be a gloss. My straw Gen X likes their heroes Bogartian — a shade dark as well as being stripped for action. sigh Wolverine sigh It’s an incredibly bad mix, signifying both pessimism and self-excuse. It leaves you unable as a writer of the character to let Indy make any specific affirmation of values, other than outrage at obvious atrocities — because that would weigh him down. And somebody might snicker at him.

    Instead, it’s the McGuffins which make the affirmations of values on his behalf.

    That’s how the trick is done.

    So you will see that I’m a long way from seeing Indy as personally carrying the load of an Ahab or a Job.

    Nevertheless, it is quite possible to see him as God’s pawn. It’s just that you have to stop weighing Indy up, and instead look hard at the McGuffins; because that’s where the values are exposed.

    The real hidden treasure is ethnicity. It’s the soul and pride and identity of a people, which is manifested in these occult singulars.

    It is as if God has singled out one people and another for approval, endorsing their ways, their character, their stories, their memory. Each such people, God endows with a miracle. While they keep it close and care for it, their golden age endures. When it is lost, the people are merged back into mundane history, diluted; and then only scholars and a few obscure keepers of the old ways remember what once was. But the miracle retains its power, and while it continues to exist it is still possible that Britain could be Camelot, the Tribes of Israel invincible on the battlefield.

    Woe betide modernity, when it carelessly trespasses on the hidden designs of God.

    Now Indy is not greedy beyond his impulses; nor is he blind to worth. His motives are pretty clean: curiosity and freedom to operate. This means that when modernity or tyranny, blind to worth, do so trespass, Indy is the jackass pawn of destiny who can be counted on to put the miracle back where it should be for now. Whether that’s back in the keeping of gentle Indian peasants, or back in the Nth dimension.

    Our reward as viewers is that for a few minutes there, history came to life. Tableaus of immemorial India or King David’s Israel claim our imagination, we confront the knowledge that all this was once believed in. Our modernity is challenged. Perhaps there were worths we are blind to.

    Now for my money, that’s all Indiana Jones really has to do. If family is going to catch him up in the end, well nothing lasts forever, but it’s not especially relevant to what he is.

    But is there a conflict implicit in Indy’s role as God’s tool? Does it load him with burdens, is there something he must resolve?

    How has he come to see the world, say by the end of The Last Crusade?

    If he wants to say it, it’s a pretty different world he’s living in. Where God plays Notting Hill, and he has his favoured postage-stamp kingdoms all picked out, and don’t mess with them.

    But I don’t think he has to change much, to say that.

    The only thing I think really needs changing is a shift of perspective — which ought to be a wrench to audience identification and audience assumptions, more than to Indy himself.

    It’s not about his supreme individualism: it’s about heritage. His own, that of the peoples he’s met if only through their relics, that of the human race. Multiculturalism is the hidden treasure.

  7. Gorgeous, Jonathan!

    Just got to go away and find food, while I mull it a bit…sometimes I think you should be writing these things instead of me…

  8. I agree with Jonathan, in lots of ways.

    Indy doesn’t have a troubled past, as far as I can tell. He has a past, sure, which shaped him, but as far as I can tell there was nothing traumatic about it. And he’s got a pretty nice life–good job with Marcus at the university, rewarding fieldwork, all the women he can handle… He could go on like that forever, quite happily.

    It’s only when he runs into an Ark or a Grail or those stripy stones that he realizes that, good as his life is, every now and then there’s other stuff to consider, and he has to step up his game.

    There’s a very good reason why Indy is such a good GenX hero, and that’s because he’s a member of the Lost generation (b. 1883-1900) (note: Bogart was also Lost), and the Lost and GenX are both Nomad generations. If you want it in analogy form, Lost:X::1920s:1990s. (Roughly.)

    I also like the idea of Indy being the guy who preserves the miracles for the different cultures. In my mind, that’s the kind of thing he does when he collects stuff for the museum. I know that it doesn’t match real-world ideas of the best ways to treat other cultures and their artifacts, but to me it’s acceptable action-movie shorthand for respectful behaviour.

    As for House, I had another thought about him, which is that his perpetual self-defeating behaviour is kind of in the spirit of punk rock. It also reminds me of one of my favourite Warren Zevon songs (not that Zevon is punk), “If You Won’t Leave Me, I’ll Find Somebody Who Will.”

    • There’s a very good reason why Indy is such a good GenX hero, and that’s because he’s a member of the Lost generation (b. 1883-1900) (note: Bogart was also Lost), and the Lost and GenX are both Nomad generations.

      He’s got no home! That’s the obvious thing I’ve been missing. That’s his conflict.

    • Could remind me of any number. But the homeless one who comes to mind is Bogie’s Rick Blaine. Paris is a home he’ll never come back to, now; but the Marseillaise stands for what he can only midwife. Just like Indy’s Grail.

      • Sorry, I’m being very flip here, as I’m passing in and out of the house…not engaging sufficiently. Promise when I get back from Task #9 I’ll be better! But I guess it’s fairly plain to see I was indicating the Israelites there…

        …And, yeah: Rick, naturally. But I suppose I would say, parenthetically while acknowledging that (because I’m sure you know I think the genius of Raiders is how it jams together the mercenary adventurer Lash LaRue serial thing with the Casablanca thing), that it’s not like we can discount the Northrop Frye angle on Casablanca either, and it’s part of the genius of the Indiana Jones thing…

        But I’m not going to just defend my “God as antagonist” thing beyond reason, guys, so don’t think that’s what I’m doing. Indy’s past isn’t tragic (well, he doesn’t have a home, and that’s pretty tragic I guess), but it isn’t just a past…there are a couple different reasons why he doesn’t have a home!

        Sorry, gotta dash again, but will definitely be back soon to be a bit more on the up-and-up with this here dialogue!

  9. Not to whiz on anybody’s campfire; if you can get some mileage out of the no-home thing then great, but that’s not really how Strauss and Howe intended the word “Nomad”. (They were trying to be a bit, oh, new-agey about it, I guess; they called the four generational types Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist. In an earlier book they used Idealist, Reactive, Civic, and Adaptive instead.)

  10. Ah, then it’s serendipity! Even better, I think.

    I think it’s great: I remember Sean kinda blowing my mind with his realization that Neuromancer was about a world without family in it…I was recently thinking, myself, that some of the more interesting late Nineties nanotechnology SF was really about a world without counting, but that’s not yet here nor there…but a weird world, a weird sort of alienation, obviously!…but Indy as the man without a home, it’s wonderfully multivalent, very fitting to such a mashed-up character.

    A little bit on his past, then, all that considered: as the mashed-up character he is, and springing as he did apparently out of pure instinct from Lucas’ imagination, you don’t expect much in the way of conscious design out of him. At least I don’t: since I still think the Lucas/Spielberg team manages to somehow miss their own point in Temple Of Doom and Crystal Skulls. But back to that disagreement in a moment, first: even if his design is unconscious, Indy’s got some interesting beats to him in the Nomad sense. There’s Abner Ravenwood, for example, who we can perhaps easily read as Indy’s second attempt at finding a father…I don’t think that’s illegitimate? But then he fatally screws up (pardon me) that relationship. So he definitely burns the bridges that lead to Home, becomes isolated. Maybe, he thinks perhaps, it wasn’t the old man’s fault that his home disappeared. Maybe the fault was always in him. He names himself after the dog. he falls back on his credentials. He becomes, as Belloq says, a mercenary — having lost his own connection to history, he abandons himself to other people’s history, but no matter how he studies, no matter what basic respect he has (Belloq has the same!), he can’t crack the nut of belonging. InMarcus he finds a confidante, at least in Raiders proper a co-conspirator, a man tougher or at least sharper than he looks — one of the things I like about Marcus is that we actually don’t know a thing about him, and never think to ask. Ahh, Denholm Elliot, Roger Ebert usedta say that if you knew he was in a movie, you knew the movie was probably good…

    So all the sophomore girls are crushing on Henry Jones, Jr., just as you say Matthew…but if we factor in the Ravenwood stuff that can’t be a comfortable fit for him. Guilt, guilt, guilt for things done and left undone…’til the Ark rcomes along to reconnect him, the antenna that forces him to pick up the signal again. He’s given up on Fathers by this point, and they’ve given up on him…all except the Big One? But then the road back homeward needs faith to walk it, and he’s given up on that too. So: antagonist?

    I don’t know. Maybe I spoke to colourfully too soon, but I think it could be considered a plausible interpretation. Jonathan has a nice point with Indy being God’s tool; but I think the emotional core is found in the contrary idea that this is all for Indy (at least in Raiders and Last Crusade, although it’s certainly worth noting that in Crystal Skulls he’s confronted with his own fatherhood…but the movie doesn’t seem to care much about that, ALAS THAT DAMNED HALF-HEARTED MOVIE!), but he doesn’t want it, or doesn’t think he wants it, he would prefer not to accept this possibility of return as real…would prefer to think of the Ark (not to say the Covenant!) simply as an historical, practical, tangible artifact of culture…but in the end, like Rick, he finds himself as an idealist again, and leaves the cynic behind. Returns home? To a more meaningful independence than the he’d cultivated because he thought there was nothing else left for him to cultivate.

    But, okay, let me get into this a little more:

    “I also like the idea of Indy being the guy who preserves the miracles for the different cultures. In my mind, that’s the kind of thing he does when he collects stuff for the museum. I know that it doesn’t match real-world ideas of the best ways to treat other cultures and their artifacts, but to me it’s acceptable action-movie shorthand for respectful behaviour.”

    Honestly, it gives me a lot of trouble, though. I think the Indy at the end of Raiders, he can do this, since he’s finally cracked the code of value, become enlightened…seen that the way he attempted to engage with other cultures’ deep mysteries was a half-measure, a band-aid solution, really an attempt to negotiate the tension between his own state of belief and rejection? Unconscious, fumbling attempts to give what respect he can…he’s better than Belloq deep down, but he doesn’t know it until the first story ends. He wants to be a faithful servant, not a priest-king. Belloq is magnificently charming, but Marion chooses Indy. Hmm, tempted to immediately break out the baby-book, or I guess the Bible, and look up the meaning of “Marion” in it! Maybe in a minute or three…

    Damn, my computer just spontaneously rebooted, and I have no idea why…better post this right now, continue in a minute…

  11. Try again. And, Matthew…Zevon isn’t punk?

    But yeah: there’s a little “no future” to House, for sure. Ironically, from a certain perspective that attitude is totally of the concept of futurity — infinite continuation, no resolution, no fate, just stuff</i. Fall into the border of the Mandlebrot Set, forever neither one nor the other, no end to the story and so no resolution. Life, as I think I put it once, as a value opposed to happiness and contentment.

    But all that aside:

    “Instead, it’s the McGuffins which make the affirmations of values on his behalf.”

    Indeed, and in the truest superheroic tradition: God’s not Indy’s client or his damsel in distress, Indy’s the damsel in distress, and God saves him. Not a colonisalist, but a mercenary in the service of colonialism, for his own ends: it’s finding the treasure and beating the death-traps that he likes, not seeing the stuff shined-up in a museum, even if it is the Smithsonian. Ethnicity itself is the hidden treasure, I completely agree! But Indy’s lost his, so he has to substitute other peoples’ for it. That may sound like a reach, I admit…Indy’s lost his ethnicity, what? He’s not a white dude from a little college town anymore? Well…first of all, when you see him in the jungle, no: he’s not that white dude from the college town, he obviously doesn’t want to be that, that’s just his Clark Kent…or is it his Superman? His self-identification’s all messed-up, I think. But more importantly, what is “ethnicity”, in its role as “treasure hard to attain”, anyway? I want to use the term as Jonathan seems to, in a defamiliarized way: not “ethnicity” but ethnicity, is the hidden treasure. And Indy doesn’t have it: he doesn’t properly belong to anything specific. “Freedom to operate”, that’s the only country he’s got left….his ethics, when they surface, are an imaginative echo of the place he might’ve belonged. No?

    Well…

    Anyway, I dig this: “Each such people, God endows with a miracle.” Sure, yes! And Indy’s uniquely well-placed to put those miracles back where they belong, I completely agree. Not Job, maybe…but a reluctant Mithras, soldier-god of duty and oathtaking, maybe. And the oaths one takes must, I think, mainly bind one to tasks one doesn’t want…or at any rate, tasks one thinks one doesn’t want. But really we do want them. We’re nothing without them. However, you can see how Mithras might resent the Sun, can’t you? And view him as an antagonist…hey, sometimes the patient fights the doctor! Jonathan, you espouse a wonderfully positive view of Indiana Jones as God’s tool, here. And I do think there’s good basic structure in Crystal Skulls, but I think it’s buried. Temple Of Doom, I dunno…I still think Temple Of Doom’s awful, this is the pre-Raiders Indy after all, the guy who perversely renders the relics dead by putting them into an American museum, who doesn’t put the ethnic treasures back where they belong…you might say his gig before Raiders is to experience the vivacity of the miracle of culture in the hunt, the quest, the decoding, the adventure…absorbs the culture’s vivacity into himself through the experience of getting the goods, re-experiences somebody else’s ethnicity in place of his own, but then the treasure ends up behind glass in Washington, D.C. or whatever. Dead as a boiled chicken.

    Oh, I seem to be droning on.

    But MAN that movie destroyed my brain as a kid, I absolutely LOVE arguing with you guys about it!

    So…more?

  12. There’s a classic story I can’t remember, it might have been Fritz Lieber, with a last line people still quote. There’s this guy, and after he’s learnt his lesson or done his task, there is nothing left for him but to go home.

    But he took the long way, around the world.

    Sure, more on this coming.

  13. Much to respond to.

    Fine on Abner Ravenwood as Indy’s other father. But I don’t know about guilt over Marion… I mean, it fits okay; I just don’t see any signs of it in the movie. (s).

    As for the comparison between Indy and Belloq, I had an idea about this in one of our earlier conversations on this subject: one reason Indy is better than Belloq is that Indy is afraid of snakes. He knows he’s not a pure nice-and-smooth ass-kicking globetrotter. Nobody is. But Indy knows it, because of the snakes, and Belloq doesn’t.

    No, Zevon isn’t punk. “Ain’t That Pretty at All” is, kind of, Zevon looking at punk and shaking his head bemusedly.

    he’s not that white dude from the college town, he obviously doesn’t want to be that, that’s just his Clark Kent…or is it his Superman? His self-identification’s all messed-up, I think.

    Kind of depends on your take on Superman. I guess it’s true that Indy’s most himself when he’s got the hat and the jacket and the bullwhip on; he doesn’t seem like a very good teacher, he ducks out of answering his students’ questions and reading his mail, and he’s preoccupied and ill-at-ease in his classroom. But that doesn’t mean that he’s messed up about it. He’s reached a modus vivendi. An Ark or a Grail can shock him out of that life, but I don’t see any evidence that he finds that life empty.

    There’s a classic story I can’t remember, it might have been Fritz Lieber, with a last line people still quote. There’s this guy, and after he’s learnt his lesson or done his task, there is nothing left for him but to go home.

    But he took the long way, around the world.

    Terry Pratchett’s Witches Abroad ends like that; I think the exact line is, “But they went the long way, and saw the elephant.” I believe that another line at the end of that book is, “There are a lot of places like home. But only one of ’em’s where you live.”

  14. Pingback: “I Don’t Like To Lose” | A Trout In The Milk·

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