Friday Flotsam: Another Odd Fact, Villains, and Agatha Christie Quotes

1. An odd rollercoaster of a week; I had some days of great consolation and happy productivity, and others of intense depression and extreme lethargy, where I simply could not seem to get anything done.

At the moment I’m mostly okay, but yeesh, I really feel the need of a change.

2. Got into an interesting debate with Riders of Skaith a few days back on free speech (here if you want to see it). I’ll probably go into the subject in more detail in its own post, but she made a point that struck me and I wanted to think over:

“Your argument seems to assume that the theoretical government has a vested interest in curtailing harm to its citizens. This is utterly incorrect. Government–at any level–is interested only in sustaining itself.”

Leaving aside the truth or falsehood of the point, this where we come upon what seems to me to be one of those ‘odd’ facts; things that every knows, but which no one seems to notice and which don’t seem to fit. It’s that American conservatives tend to have exactly this kind of attitude towards government; that politicians are always corrupt, that government is only interested in expanding its own power, that it’s always incompetent, malevolent, and indifferent to the needs of its people.

Yet at the same time, they’re very proud of our particular form of government and claim it’s the best and more rational form in the world, that our Constitution is the greatest of its type, and so on.

Basically, we love our government in theory and loathe it in practice. We proudly have a government ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’, yet we can’t believe that any government would actually care about its people.

In short, Americans talk about having the best form of government, but we don’t talk as if we did. Quite frankly, we talk more like abuse victims: “sure, my husband hits me, but all men are like that.”

3. The other hand, from the sampling I’ve had, more traditional forms of government see to produce a much more positive view of it. The good king and the noble knight are stock figures of feudal and monarchical countries; the crooked politician is a stock figure of liberal ones. Of course, so are wicked kings and evil knights, but no one took it for granted that of course the king would be selfish and corrupt (whether he in fact was or not).

Just as an example, Chaucer depicts his knight as one of the most positive and genuinely admirable of his pilgrims, when he has no qualms at all about lampooning other prominent social figures.

Basically, people living in traditional societies seemed to have at least assumed that it was their rulers’ jobs to have a care for their welfare, whether they did so or not. People living in modern, liberal societies (at least the most aware and sensible of them), assume that their rulers only care about themselves. Yet, the latter supposedly chooses their own leaders and exercises some control over them. Those who claim to have the best form of government have a very negative idea of government in general, while those who have what we would call an oppressive or substandard form have a much more positive idea of it.

Again, it seems to me a disconnect. Make of it what you will.

4. On a related note, term limits seem to me an admission that democracy has failed (or republicanism, or whatever brand of representative government you want to use). Because theoretically, if a given politician is ever obnoxious or harmful to his constituency, they would simply remove him. That is more or less the whole idea and justification behind the system; for the people to exercise control over their rulers. If we have to impose term limits, that is, limits on the number of times the people can signal that a politician is a doing a good job, we are admitting that it doesn’t work that way.

It also dilutes and, for the final term, completely removes any kind of restraining influence that public opinion may have on a given politician, since there are now no personal consequences for misconduct. He’ll both be out of office soon (and hence not available to take the blame for anything) and not be facing any kind of potential consequences unless he out-right breaks the law in a manner too blatant to ignore.

5. There used to be something of a trend in adaptations, where when they brought in an iconic arch nemesis, they would try to hastily back-fill their relationship to try to give their conflict the same weight in one story as it originally had after being built over the course of several.

Spectre was something of the gold standard for this, revealing that Blofeld not only was (somehow) behind the other three films of the Craig era, but also that they were stepbrothers! Neither assertion was particularly believable, and they certainly didn’t make up for this version’s patent lack of menace (the fact that his base is blown up with one well-placed shot from a hand-gun doesn’t help).

The proper way to go about it would have been to have had the foresight to tease Blofeld from the beginning and build him up as a looming, shadowy figure of evil pulling the strings from behind the scenes, until finally bringing him face to face with Bond, whereupon you cast an absolutely first-rate actor who can successfully project enough raw malevolence and cold cunning to counteract Bond’s physical advantage.

You know, exactly what they did in the original films, which resulted in 5’6” Donald Pleasance successfully appearing as an intimidating threat to 6’2” Sean Connery and becoming one of the most recognizable villains in cinema.

6. Now, if you had to do Blofeld in one film, though, you would need to have him pull off something really horrible and personally devastating on Bond, we’re talking murdering M or something. Basically, have him win against Bond in their first encounter.

The Nolan trilogy pulled this off excellently with the Joker, not only thanks to Heath Ledger’s performance, but by having the Joker successfully murder someone very close to Bruce over the course of the story. That is, Batman loses one of their most important confrontations.

If you want to give your villain real weight in a short amount of time, you don’t do it by shoehorning in a past connection. You do it by letting the villain win; by letting him hurt the hero.

7. Mad Genius Club was posting some good Agatha Christie quotes! I’ll offer some of my own:

“A madman, monsieur, is always to be taken seriously. A madman is a very dangerous thing.”
The ABC Murders

“Evil is not something superhuman, it’s something less than human. Your criminal is someone who wants to be important, but who never will be important, because he’ll always be less than a man”
The Pale Horse

“What do most people mean when they say that? So young. Something innocent, something appealing, something helpless. But youth is not that! Youth is crude, youth is strong, youth is powerful—yes, and cruel! And one thing more—youth is vulnerable.”
Five Little Pigs

“Nothing, I believe, is so full of life under the microscope as a drop of water from a stagnant pool.”
Murder at the Vicarage

“He played the part of the devil too successfully. But he was not the devil. Au fond, he was a stupid man. And so – he died.”
“Because he was stupid?”
“It is the sin that is never forgiven and always punished, madame.”
Cards on the Table

“As a matter of fact I don’t care two pins about accuracy. Who is accurate? Nobody nowadays. If a reporter writes that a beautiful girl of twenty-two dies by turning on the gas after looking out over the sea and kissing her favourite Labrador, Bob, goodbye, does anybody make a fuss because the girl was twenty-six, the room faced inland, and the dog was a Sealyham terrier called Bonnie? If a journalist can do that sort of thing I don’t see that it matters if I mix up police ranks and say a revolver when I mean an automatic and a dictograph when I mean a phonograph, and use a poison that just allows you to gasp one dying sentence and no more. What really matters is plenty of bodies! If the thing’s getting a little dull, some more blood cheers it up. Somebody is going to tell something – and then they’re killed first! That always goes down well. It comes in all my books – camouflaged different ways of course. And people like untraceable poisons, and idiotic police inspectors and girls tied up in cellars with sewer gas or water pouring in (such a troublesome way of killing anyone really) and a hero who can dispose of anything from three to seven villains singlehanded.”
Cards on the Table

One thought on “Friday Flotsam: Another Odd Fact, Villains, and Agatha Christie Quotes

  1. “Jim is the worst husband on the block, except for all the others.” You’re right, you know, that doesn’t sound like a stable marriage.

    Anyway, a couple more Dame Agatha quotes for your collection. Not necessarily the greatest, just the first few I thought of (alphabetically by book):

    “You do not understand. To you it is unbearable that anyone should be hurt. But to some minds there is something more unbearable still – not to know… To the scientific mind, truth comes first. Truth, however bitter, can be accepted, and woven into a design for living.” (The Hollow)

    “The trouble with her is that either she thinks that at last she’s got to that spot or place or moment where everything’s like a fairy tale come true, that nothing can go wrong, that she’ll never be unhappy again; or else she’s down in the dumps, a woman whose life is ruined, who’s never known love and happiness and never will again… If she could only stop halfway between the two, it’d be wonderful for her – and the world would lose a fine actress.” (The Mirror Crack’d)

    “I never have thought much of the motto ‘Safety First’. In my opinion, half the people who spend their lives avoiding being run over by buses had much better be run over and put safely out of the way.” (The Seven Dials Mystery)

    “It is true that I can speak the exact, the idiomatic English. But, my friend, to speak the broken English is an enormous asset. It leads people to despise you. They say – a foreigner – he can’t even speak English properly. It is not my policy to terrify people; instead I invite their gentle ridicule.” (Three-Act Tragedy)

    Liked by 1 person

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