Dear Writers of HBO

Dear Writers of HBO,

I recently saw one of the trailers for your latest series True Detective. I’ll be honest: it looks like a thoroughly forgettable mashup of Justified and Silence of the Lambs. I could be wrong about that, of course – but I doubt I’ll be sticking around to find out.

And anyway, that’s not why I’m writing this.

I’m writing this because of something Matthew McConaughey says at the end of the trailer, during a conversation with Woody Harrelson. It goes like this:

WH: “Do you wonder ever if you’re a bad man?”

MM: “The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.”

Which is where I start scratching my head and ask, “Since when?”

Call me woefully old-fashioned, but I thought that job belonged to the good guys. So did I miss something? Was there a transfer of responsibility somewhere somehow that I simply failed to notice?

I’m not asking for men in spotless white hats, mind you. I’m only wondering why I ought to give a damn about your good and evil when the biggest difference between them seems to be that one is a lighter shade of black.

Again, call me old-fashioned – but it’s a little hard to carry the fire when all you’ve got is a pocketful of cold, grey ash.

6 thoughts on “Dear Writers of HBO”

  1. I suspect that what is intended in that sentence is a bit of equivocation. “Bad” men (meaning hardened, tough guys) are needed to keep the other “bad” (i.e., truly evil) men from the door.

    Or maybe not, I’m not sure. It does say something, I think about the tendency in our culture to prefer antiheroes over true heroes. There was a time when the “good guys” in the movies were actually squeaky-clean good, but those days ended a few decades ago, probably around the time that Dirty Harry arrived. Maybe this way is more realistic, since even the best heroes in real life do have feet of clay. But the tendency in pop culture is, as you noted, to portray the good guy as merely a “lighter shade of black.” In this, as so many other areas, our postmodern culture blurs the line between black and white till the line vanishes in a sea of grey.

    1. It could, perhaps, mean that – but given the context (and what I know of HBO), I very much doubt it. :)

      There’s a place for the Antihero, I think, but these days he appears to have usurped the place of the Hero in our storytelling. And as you said, when that happens, we’re stuck in a sea of grey. Which is a nice color, unless we’re talking about morality. ;)

  2. This is exactly what Stuart MacAllister was discussing in RZIM’s Just Thinking magazine in his article “Rebels without a Pause.” He was talking about how in the re-envisioned Star Trek, “The ‘bad’ good guy does what it takes to overcome the ‘bad, bad guy’ with the help of, for a limited time, the ‘good’ bad guy.”

    Like you said, every hero doesn’t need to wear a spotless white hat, and like Tom said in the above comment every human hero has feet of clay. That’s how we identify with them of course, because they have all our flaws and yet for the sake of right and good and their fellow man they do great things.
    And it sometimes happens that a bad man will do a good thing, but being a lighter shade of bad than the villain does not a hero make. That would be a scary day if my little cousins go to a movie and come out thinking that one guy is good and the other is bad when there is no real difference between them.

  3. Corey. This is just beautiful. :)
    My favorite line – “Again, call me old-fashioned – but it’s a little hard to carry the fire when all you’ve got is a pocketful of cold, grey ash.”

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