About Rex
Name: Rex Stetson
Occupation: Masked Avenger Type
Base of Operations: Washington, DC
E-Mail: rexstetson@yahoo.com
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 Other Blogs of Interest
The Young Curmudgeon
Notes from the Lounge
Reason Hit and Run
The Anal Philosopher
Justice Junction
Perverted Justice
Mr. X
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Friday, September 05, 2003

Attack Of The Tomatoes Killer: Rex Tells You What To Think

This interesting news item is one of the rare instances of vigilantism where readers will find me- (gasp!)- critical of vigilantism. Apparently, some Amish and Mennonite men in their late teens and early twenties were hiding at an intersection, in an adjacent cornfield, throwing rotten tomatoes and shooting paintballs at the passing "english"- the modern Americans driving by in their cars. The Amish and Mennonites are religious sects which reject modern technology. When one driver stopped and chewed them out for this, warning them not to do it again, guess what? They did it again as he drove off. He returned a few more times, and after exchanging some words, he finally ended up shooting one of the ringleaders dead. My first thought was: maybe Charles Bronson didn't really die this past weekend. ( I just picture the tomato- splattered car stopping, and Death Wish's Paul Kersey stepping out, smiling...)

Now obviously this is an extreme overreaction. The use of deadly force is justifiable only in self defense: in a life-threatening situation, or in a situation where the aggressor has used violence and could likely escalate into use of deadly force (such as a burglar or rapist ). Paintball-firing and tomato-throwing at cars barely qualifies as violence, let alone life-threatening violence, though I suppose that throwing tomatoes at cars approaching an intersection could cause a fairly serious car accident. Even so, just about any other response would have been more reasonable: Perhaps "beating the guy up" might have been more appropriate, or even "putting a scare into them" by firing into the air. Forcing them to clean off his car, or making them eat all the rotten tomatoes at gunpoint! Returning with tomatoes and paint of his own! But no, this guy just lost it and went psycho.

However: This annual "prank" as the local Amish call it, has been happening for years and years. Apparently this is silently sanctioned by the Amish leaders with a "boys will be boys" attitude. Maybe this targeting is religion-based, or maybe it's ethnicity-based, or maybe it's just the Amish equivalent of anti-technology vandalism/eco-terrorism. It doesn't matter- this conflict breaks down perfectly along cultural lines, in a Huntingtonian (Clash of Civilizations) sense: ethnic, religious, cultural. The backward, religious traditionalists target and attack the users of modern ideas, lifestyle, and technology. Does this paradigm sound familiar to anyone? How about you folks out there in the Middle East? In Lower Manhattan?

I don't especially care what the motivation was, because what this "harmless prank" looks like to me is a hate crime, pure and simple. Imagine if this were white teens and young men throwing rotten tomatoes and shooting paintballs at black motorists. Or straights doing this to gays. People would be championing this guy as a hero, or at least excusing what he did to some extent as understandable if not condoneable. After years of community-sanctioned harrassment, and after words failed, someone in the oppressed group finally said "enough".

Again, I am not excusing the man's actions. In fact, I would fully support a vigilantes from the Amish community bringing this man to justice (presumably with a pitchfork or whatever) using deadly force if they wish. His overreaction, though understandable, is inexcusable, and he should be punished- his short fuse extinguished, or at least kept away from all of society's potential flames forever.

"Legitimate" authorities who continually look the other way when one group is systematically attacked, oppressed, and/or humiliated by another are effectively begging for people to take the law into their own hands. Ever heard of Columbine? That and many other school shootings are the less the result of violent videogames and Marilyn Manson music than the result of kids being bullied to the point where they go off the deep end and strike back at the bullies, and the students and administrators that stood by and let it happen. Again, these are horrible, unconscionable crimes, and I support allowing teachers or principals to carry weapons -like pilots can, and for similar reasons: so that they can defend themselves and those in their charge from anyone who would do them harm.

Whenever protecting the innocent and punishing criminals gets to be too overwhelming or too uninteresting a job for those entrusted with that authority, count on a vigilante to appear and take the authority back. In that sense, they're sort of a report card on community satisfaction with their law enforcement. Somehow, I doubt that that the Tomato Killer is getting many hurrahs from his community right now!

Thus he is not really a vigilante in the literal sense- one who is vigilant against criminal activity. He is not fighting for community values or the status quo ( they hadn't had a shooting death in 30 years!). He is just an unstable, violent, and dangerous nut- who was provoked.

To put it more pop-culture referencey terms: He is more like notorious over-reacter The Hulk, than a true vigilante like say, Batman or Daredevil.

The lesson in all of this, dear readers? Apart from "be careful who you throw things at"? Be Careful not to look the other way.

Posted by Rex @ 2:57 PM

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

"Death Wish" Vigilante Dead

Beloved movie tough guy Charles Bronson, best known for his portrayal of bleeding heart liberal-turned- kickass urban vigilante Paul Kersey in the "Death Wish" films, died Saturday at age 81 of pneumonia.

In the 1970's and '80s, city dwellers across America were beleagured with high crime rates, ineffective police protection, and court decisions which tended to favor the rights of accused over those of the victim- leading to a living urban nightmare. Films like Death Wish and Dirty Harry offered audiences some escapism, and much to the chagrin of the police, some hope. When real-life mugging victim Bernard Goetz grew frustrated at the lack of police protection and prosecution of his attackers, he bought a gun to protect himself. His next attackers on a NYC subway weren't so lucky. The subway vigilante recieved enthusiastic public support after shooting his attackers, he was referred to as the "Death Wish Killer" by the press. Real Vigilantes began riding the subways soon, taking back their neighborhoods, and the night, and the cities- striking fear into the hearts of criminals.

Said Bronson of the "Death Wish" films: "I think they provide satisfaction for people who are victimized by crime and look in vain for authorities to protect them. But I don't think people try to imitate that kind of thing."

The quality of film series quickly decline, and Death Wish was no exception (nor was Dirty Harry). But the message of Death Wish is as true today as it was in 1974: If you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem. And Mr. Bronson, as Paul Kersey- reluctant hero, grim-faced angel of death, and role model- was definitely a part of the solution to problem of street crime.

Mr. Bronson is also rumored to have appeared in some other movies, too, like "Magnificent VII", and... "A Great Escape" (is that right?)

Posted by Rex @ 2:47 PM

Rex Visits Mall Of The Living Dead

Driving Back from my Labor Day vacation, I happened to pass right by the Monroeville Mall just outside of Pittsburgh, PA. This Mall as the filming location for one of my favorite movies, Dawn of the Dead. The Mall looks fairly different 25 years later, but the basic layout is the same Unlike many malls built in the 1970's that have been allowed to decay ("dead" malls- ha ha) the Monroeville Mall refuses to die (ha ha) and has all the popular stores. The Ice Rink used by the survivors of the Zombie Apocalypse has been replaced by a food court. And except for the JCPenney's, the old "anchor" department stores have been replaced- one ironically by a "Lazarus". Since absolutely NO ONE thinks this is funny but me, let me explain that Lazarus is a biblical character who was raised from the dead. Get it?

Anyway, it was still kinda creepy ( although it would have been creepier after closing I bet), and I made sure to seek out a few old-timer-looking security guards and employees, for details on where the filming took place in the mall. I saw the Bank that they characters robbed in the film ( I would have gotten an ATM receipt from the ATM, but I had honestly just visited one.) Like a few other places in the mall, the bank still had the original faux-brick walls from the 70's, with little pieces missing. I suspect the peices were taken by fans like myself and were not the result of accumulated wear and tear. Sadly, though, the Mall didn't have any T-Shirts or memorabilia tie-ins at all, which was a shame- not even in those "make your own t-shirt" kiosks, which you'd think would be the ideal place for a low-overhead, geeky impulse buy operation like that. I went to the SunCoast- thinking that they would be stocked up on Dawn of The Dead DVD's, but NO. The clerk claimed that the film is out of print, and offered me a copy of the sequel, Day of The Dead- which is also a fine film, but not the point! I wanted a copy of Dawn of The Dead, maybe even a "Living Dead" Box Set (I would have even been willing to pay SunCoast's inflated prices) with a Monroevill Mall reciept to prove it! I am skeptical of her "out of print" claim, there have been numerous versions released on DVD. But rumor has it that the Definitive Ultimate Super Duper Kick Ass Version from the "treat every film as a work of art" Anchor Bay Entertainment is due this year or maybe next, so I have been holding out. The film is also being remade this year, which I have mixed feelings about, despite the remake being written by the writer of one of my other cult favorites, the Specials.

Lest you think I am alone in my Fanboy movie geek Mall nostalgia, dear reader, check out this article about 400 other fanboy geeks who paid $10 a piece for a guided tour of the Mall in April, hosted by the film's actors and the building manager. Wish I coulda been there... Luckily, I found this page, on which another (better-informed) fanboy geek has posted his pictures of the 25th Anniversary Celebration and Mall tour. This website also has all sorts of information on the "Living Dead" films, as does this totally overboard fansite including vintage maps of Monroeville Mall, a retelling of the Anniversary Tour news on the remake, and more production and background info that even I need....

Lovers of Zombie Films are invited to read my other Zombie-related post of a few weeks back.

Posted by Rex @ 12:14 PM

REX STETSON: ARMCHAIR VIGILANTE character name and distinctive likeness thereof: TM & © 2003 Armchair Vigilantism, Inc. All Rights Reserved.