Surly Curmudgeon

   The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
-- Robert A. Heinlein
  • Somewhere in the crusty outer layer of small towns surrounding the warm creamy center that is Oklahoma City.
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    Saturday, April 30, 2011


    I was first introduced to Justified through a coworker of my wife's, who thought I would like it. I tuned in for some random episode, I believe the season 2 opener, and wasn't really impressed. Nothing about the characters really spoke to me.

    My wife then put season 1 into our Netflix DVD queue, and after a little harassment managed to get me to agree to watch it. After the first three episodes, I was hooked.

    Justified could be called a couple of things by way of categorization. It certainly fits into the mold of a modern-day western, except the cowboys are U.S. Marshals and the Indians are small-town drug dealers and other criminally inclined folks. The style is certainly more that of a typical western.

    It could easily be labeled a "cop drama", though that usually evokes images of big-city police departments instead of small town, rural America. Given my antipathy toward cop dramas generally (with exceptions only for Criminal Minds, which is more of a psychological thriller, and Castle, which is more of a mystery/dramedy show), one might expect me to hate it, and if it exhibited any signs of being as preachy and condescending as Law & Order: SVU, I certainly would.

    Justified is more of a television version of my favorite mini-genre of movies, that which I call the "small town" genre. It's No Country for Old Men for the small screen. It stops short of being an apologist for its criminals, but also doesn't deify its cops. It presents each character as an interesting human being instead of a two-dimensional caricature. Raylan Givens might be the picture of a Sheriff in the Old West, but he's also a wounded man with anger management issues and a disturbing family background.

    If I had to pick three reasons I love Justified, they'd have to be the following:

    3: Raylan Givens. The main character of a modern-day western would be expected to have some serious gunfighting skills, and Raylan has them. To keep the series grounded however, Raylan's gunfighting seems to cause more trouble than it solves, beyond the immediate resolution of a violent conflict. He's constantly hounded by the aftermath of various shootings, both in the form of legal troubles and friends and associates of the deceased out for revenge.

    He's also a man given to wrath, though this is perhaps one of the things I think the show could do better. Malcolm Reynolds of Firefly was a character who showed the simmering anger beneath the surface. Raylan Givens' anger is more talked about than displayed, though it does pop up on occasion, as when he intentionally goads two guys into a bar fight while on administrative leave. It's clear that he has "issues", but sometimes I wish the show's writers would draw them a little more clearly.

    2: The Dialogue. As a person who loves words and language, I am completely enthralled by the dialogue in Justified. Characters speak in poetic language, an excessively formalized speech that I haven't seen since Firefly. Rather than go for the typical portrayal of uneducated, backwoods southern slang, the characters use vocabulary that one might expect from a literature professor. It might be out of place, and unrealistically so, but it is so beautiful that I can't help but love it. It tickles my brain in so many wonderful ways.

    I'm hard-pressed to come up with great comparative examples, but here's what I mean: In Firefly for example, Malcolm Reynolds needs to express the idea that he thinks the Alliance are generally idiots. But rather than say "the Alliance are idiots", he says "I never credited the Alliance with an overabundance of schooling."

    In the same way, a young girl in Justified is suspicious of Raylan's motives, and rather than saying "whatcha want?", as might be expected from a typical teenager, she says "might I inquire as to your purpose in this visit?"

    It's a small thing, and it probably turns off some viewers as much as it turns me on, but it's a huge part of what keeps me coming back.

    1: Boyd Crowder. Boyd is my favorite character from the show. He starts as a criminal, a vicious man who leads a small racist gang in various illegal enterprises, occasionally attempting to justify his attitudes by spewing twisted interpretations of scripture. After his moment of reckoning with Raylan lands him first in the hospital and later in prison, he claims to have a conversion experience, and seeks to live his life for the Lord.

    Boyd is the most forthrightly religious character I've ever seen on TV, where the faith is not turned into a caricature, or belittled, or made into something more than it is (ie, it doesn't give him superpowers). He is also faced with the problem that all of us face, post-conversion: we may have changed, but the world hasn't. Boyd's problems are not magically solved by Jesus; he's got a huge mess of his own to clean up, and there is evil in the world that he feels responsible to address because he helped create it. He's a broken man, trying to sort out right and wrong after having done so much of the latter in his day. His approach to problem-solving draws on his criminal skills, and he seems to be in the process of learning hard lessons with regard to ends and means.

    Unlike similar characters from other shows or stories, it's neither immediately nor completely apparent that his conversion is genuine. People who've known him (Raylan, his father, his sister-in-law, and others) are suspicious of his claims of being a new man, and if the viewer wants to blindly accept his conversion, the writers do their level best to force the viewer to question it too.

    Boyd's character is a study in how faith is a struggle, between one's own inclinations and the demands of faith, between one's desire to be seen as good and the way others remember the past, and between the demands of faith and its consequences. I believe (or want to, anyway) that Boyd WANTS to do good and to be good. I can imagine a character arc that would be positively beautiful, but the writers have artfully sewn enough doubt in my mind that it draws me into an emotional investment in the character, pitting my desperate hope for him against the long hard times to come.

    I think it would be a real tragedy for the series if Boyd were to be written off, and I might even stop watching if they did. I don't think Raylan is interesting enough on his own to carry it. For the moment though, Boyd seems to be hanging around, so I guess I will too.

    Posted by Tom, 4/30/2011 9:41:52 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Friday, April 29, 2011

    Quote of the Day

    "The Devil's huggin on my boots, that's why I own a gun."
    -- Gangstagrass, Long Hard Times to Come

    Posted by Tom, 4/29/2011 5:13:18 AM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, April 19, 2011

    Quote of the Day

    "Ask your doctor if getting off your ass is good for you."
    -- seen on the internet

    Posted by Tom, 4/19/2011 7:28:37 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, April 18, 2011

    Thought for the Day

    I'm waiting in breathless anticipation for some wag to proudly announce that he bootlegged Atlas Shrugged off of a bittorrent. In the world of my mind, that would be enough irony and cognitive dissonance to cause spontaneous human combustion.

    Posted by Tom, 4/18/2011 7:58:21 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Quote of the Day

    "Civilization's veneer is wearing thinner all the time."
    -- Charlton Heston

    Posted by Tom, 4/18/2011 7:57:25 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, April 17, 2011

    Thought for the Day

    I was raised in a church that taught me that Eastern religions were wrong because they believed there's part of god/God inside every one of us. But that same church taught me to invite God to live inside of me.

    It makes me feel really stupid... it took me 30 years to notice the contradiction.

    Posted by Tom, 4/17/2011 7:00:03 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Quote of the Day

    In an earlier chapter, we explained why kids say "I don't know". Usually it is because they learn very early in life that adults use questions to get kids to expose themselves so the adults can attack them. In that context, the safest response to any adult question is "I don't know."
    -- Jane Nelsen & H. Stephen Glenn, Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World

    Posted by Tom, 4/17/2011 5:39:24 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, April 14, 2011

    Thought for the Day

    Passion doesn't reveal Truth. Reason does.

    Posted by Tom, 4/14/2011 4:24:35 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Quote of the Day

    It was six men of Indostan
    To learning much inclined,
    Who went to see the Elephant
    (Though all of them were blind),
    That each by observation
    Might satisfy his mind.

    The First approach'd the Elephant,
    And happening to fall
    Against his broad and sturdy side,
    At once began to bawl:
    "God bless me! but the Elephant
    Is very like a wall!"

    The Second, feeling of the tusk,
    Cried, -"Ho! what have we here
    So very round and smooth and sharp?
    To me 'tis mighty clear
    This wonder of an Elephant
    Is very like a spear!"

    The Third approached the animal,
    And happening to take
    The squirming trunk within his hands,
    Thus boldly up and spake:
    "I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
    Is very like a snake!"

    The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
    And felt about the knee.
    "What most this wondrous beast is like
    Is mighty plain," quoth he,
    "'Tis clear enough the Elephant
    Is very like a tree!"

    The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
    Said: "E'en the blindest man
    Can tell what this resembles most;
    Deny the fact who can,
    This marvel of an Elephant
    Is very like a fan!"

    The Sixth no sooner had begun
    About the beast to grope,
    Then, seizing on the swinging tail
    That fell within his scope,
    "I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
    Is very like a rope!"

    And so these men of Indostan
    Disputed loud and long,
    Each in his own opinion
    Exceeding stiff and strong,
    Though each was partly in the right,
    And all were in the wrong!


    So oft in theologic wars,
    The disputants, I ween,
    Rail on in utter ignorance
    Of what each other mean,
    And prate about an Elephant
    Not one of them has seen!

    -- John Godfrey Saxe

    Posted by Tom, 4/14/2011 4:20:52 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, April 6, 2011

    Quote of the Day

    "If you want to skydive naked into a vat of urine-soaked peanut butter, fine. Just don't get any on me."
    -- Ted Nugent

    Posted by Tom, 4/6/2011 7:40:14 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, April 5, 2011

    Thought for the Day

    Sometimes I think that the greatest moments in life are those when I can honestly say to someone, "I caught a momentary glimpse of your heart, and what I saw there was beautiful."

    Then it happens with an enemy, and I realize how badly I underestimated it.

    Posted by Tom, 4/5/2011 7:54:28 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, April 2, 2011

    Quote of the Day

    "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."
    -- Yoda

    Posted by Tom, 4/2/2011 6:25:43 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, April 1, 2011

    Quote of the Day

    "If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it. "
    --Mark Twain, The War Prayer

    Posted by Tom, 4/1/2011 7:10:42 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...