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Name: Rex Stetson
Occupation: Masked Avenger Type
Base of Operations: Washington, DC
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Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The Free Market Works ( For Policing, Too! ) UK Vigilante Update!!

According to this item in the Telegraph, due in part to fears of vigilante activity, and increasing reliance on private security providers, British Police have finally responded to the public outcry for better policing.

More and more citizens, frustrated about sparse and ineffective police presence, have been turning to private security to guard their crime-ridden neighborhoods. Sir Ian Blair, head of Metropolitan Police, admits the force has been less than responsive so far:

At times they promised more "bobbies on the beat" but removed them frequently to deal with more serious crimes.

But while the public understood the need to tackle organised crime gangs or terrorists, they were more directly affected by intimidation from young thugs and theft and damage in their homes and cars, he said.

Sir Ian conceded that the public might wish increasingly to protect themselves but added: "We do not want to go towards vigilantism. We need to be sure we live in a society in which people don't put themselves at risk. There are too many knives about. You need the training." (emphasis mine)

In response, the cops are going to institute "teams offully-fledged police working with wardens and civilian 'police community support officers' (PCSOs), who would not be removed from their beat to deal with other issues."

Sounds like an improvement to me. Good old fashioned "community policing", with a bit of neighborhood watch, and a "block guard" to boot.

Two additional thoughts:

1) This is the free market at work, folks! Just as competition in education (through privately-run schools) allows for for students to get better education than under a government monopoly, competition in policing allows public demand ( in this case, the demand for more crime deterrence and swifter justice) to be met more efficiently than under a government monopoly. Pressure is put on the government to institute policy reforms, minimally.

2)This is yet another example of the powerful deterrent value of vigilantism! Not only does fear of vigilantes deter actual criminals, but apparently it also deters police departments from excessive incompetence or unresponsiveness. "If you're not part of the solution...." and all that.

Posted by Rex @ 1:26 PM

Monday, April 12, 2004

Vigilantes Sieze Multiplex, Draw Media Attention

Taking the law into your own hands seems to be all the rage at the box office these days, according to one source:

This AZCentral piece takes a look at the common themes of "revenge" films such as Kill Bill, The Punisher, and Man on Fire:

"Are we in a block of time where vigilante movies would work better? Yes, I do believe that," says Jonathan Hensleigh, who wrote and directed "The Punisher." "The American zeitgeist, in terms of its passion and aggression, does seem to ebb and flow. And we live now in an era of heightened passion and aggression."

At a time when everyday citizens struggle with the predicaments of unemployment, health insurance, terrorism and war, these films offer one-stop-shopping wish fulfillment. "People are craving simple answers for very complex issues," says Lawrence Bender, the producer of "Kill Bill Vol. 2."

Personally, I think the piece is a bit of a stretch, and a bit of an exaggeration: Lumping The Alamo into the "revenge film" genre, for example, let alone the "vigilante" sub-genre. While the Punisher and Walking Tall may belong there, I wouldn't find the assortment of films mentioned any more revenge-oriented than those of years past- countless Batman films, Steven Segal and Jean Claude Van Damme revenge-films, the Rambo series, even In The Bedroom, for crying out loud.

Revenge is certainly a powerful driving force, and coupled with a sense of justice, makes for an appealing character audiences can relate to. Criminy- Hamlet is a revenge story, for crying out loud! And as the article admits, there is nothing especially unique about :

The plots are as old as "The Iliad" and "Othello." At the start of "Kill Bill Vol. 1," Tarantino quotes the proverb "Revenge is a dish best served cold," which dates back centuries. Revenge and vigilantism tales also have been a Hollywood staple for decades, shaping narratives in everything from "The Godfather" to "Star Wars."

But revenge scenarios have become nearly as common as sequels, and several such stories -- including "21 Grams" and the Oscar-winning "Mystic River" -- were among last year's most acclaimed releases.

"It's a complicated world, and there is some living out of a fantasy by seeing injustices that the police and government don't take care of handled by a citizen," says Gary Foster, who produced last year's vigilante hit "Daredevil."

I think he may be on to something here, of course. A more interesting piece would have examined how filling this "fantasy" fufills the innate human desire for justice, to see wrongs righted. And if there are trends of ebb and flow present in the popularity of this type of wish-fufillment, what real-world situations are they tied to, and why?

The Death Wish and Dirty Harry films of the '70s (along with the original Walking Tall, and other similar films) correlated with the urban crime waves of that period. Could the Unilateralist foreign policy of the post-911 world, for example, correlate with the desire to see swift justice served- extralegally if need be- by a lone redeemer, or a lone superpower?

Still, the piece does at least begin, in a rudimentary way, to examine the idea that there might be something else going on with these movies besides mere entertainment- so that's a start.

Posted by Rex @ 6:04 PM

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