Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Heroes In Hard Times

Heroes In Hard Times

Neal King
Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 282
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Heroes In Hard Times
    Book Description:

    According to Neal King, cop action movies point both an accusatory finger and homoerotically murderous race at powerful white men. A close look at a massive and hugely popular fictional culture,Heroes in Hard Timesconsiders the over 190 cop action movies released between 1980 and 1997; examines the generic moral logic that they offer; and explores the crisis in American masculinity that, King argues, propels the action in their stories.King studies how, in the cop action genre, working-class police officers weigh in on such topics as racial justice, homosexuality, misogyny, unemployment, worker resistance, affirmative action, drug use, poverty, divorce, and the use of violence to deal with social problems. Facing their enemies with wisecracks and firepower, these men prove themselves at once complicitous in a system of violence and corruption and worthy to "blow away," with neither hesitation nor remorse, their -- society's -- menacing threats. The central male figures in these stories are heroes in their fight against criminals, but, as individuals, they fell undervalued by women, unappreciated by their bosses, and out of place in a society where fat cats and liberals have all the power. Such "hard times," King's study reveals, position them to simultaneously long for, disdain, and heroically -- if violently -- stake their frustrated claim to white male privilege.Discussing such topics as white male guilt and the rage of the oppressed and examining such films asLethal Weapon, Die Hard,andSilence of the Lambs, King's book notes the socially-charged roles given to American culture's fictional police heroes. The last artisan in a culture that has become increasingly corporate and bureaucratized, the movie cop is the last 'real man' in a world that has emasculated men and the last non-conforming patriot in a world that pays more attention to rules than what is morally right.A book that shows how modern mythology makes sense of rampant corruption (and provides entertainment in its punishment),Heroes in Hard Timeswill educate and provoke those interested in American popular culture, film, and gender studies.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-819-7
    Subjects: Performing Arts, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. 1 Losing Ground at the Movies
    (pp. 1-11)

    “Fuck that, fuck you, fuck that! Look at him. He’s nothing. The guy’s a piece of shit.”

    Joe the piece of shit (and the Last Boy Scout) is a private eye, captive of a wealthy criminal, and object of a thug’s abuse. Joe asks the latter, “You got a cigarette?”

    “Cigarette? Yeah, sure, I got a cigarette.”

    “You got a light?”

    “Yeah, I got a light.” But with the light comes a painful crack to Joe’s jaw.

    The thug chuckles over the bleeding captive, “Hey Baby, I thought you were tough. See, Pablo,” he says to the other thug, who...

  5. 2 Out in the Cold
    (pp. 12-40)

    Having lost ground means that real men do work that is both devalued and difficult but vital to a sick world’s survival. Cops may be all that stand between their communities and chaos, yet they have a hell of a hard time making their bosses respect them as valuable workers. This chapter first specifies the cop hero’s status as “everyman,” usually white and male. These heroe’s problems begin in the corruption eating their world. Lovers and families, when cops have any, reject them at home for acting like insensitive louts. Bosses deride them for their slapdash approaches to work. Cops...

  6. 3 Back Home Again
    (pp. 41-64)

    “Welcome to the party, Pal!” yells the hero, John, ofDie Hard) as he sprays a coworker’s cruiser with machine gunfire. The black cop has not been doing what John wants him to do and apparently must earn John’s respect. Though John has already fired off a “Stevie Wonder” joke about the man’s driving, and plays fast and loose with his physical safety, the two will get along nicely and grow close because the partner, or sidekick, devotes himself to John’s cause and does not question his tactics. Their boss proves less indulgent and calls John an “asshole” (the worst...

  7. 4 White Male Guilt
    (pp. 65-102)

    Cops struggle with their anger toward demanding and intruding others, and then turn it back toward the most racist and misogynist of white men. The analytic literature often attributes to these movies a blindness to their own racial dynamics, as if its moral logic were not so logical after all, or at least not very self-aware (and perhaps only available to professional class academics) . In a running engagement with that literature, I show, however, that cops layout their paranoia and contempt for all to see before they turn their firepower on the criminal class, whose tempting company they abjure...

  8. 5 Rage of the Oppressed
    (pp. 103-122)

    Identification with the oppressed grows on heroes as they think about what’s screwed up their world. Aligning with the downtrodden can help them make sense of the impotence they feel without propelling them into neo-nazi or misogynist rage. To rebuild the sidekick and family relations from which they draw sustenance, cops often admit to and then always punish the hostile impulses they share with the Aryan criminal class. They harness the rage of their embattled class and turn it against those most guilty of the sins that have both so profited white men as a group and degraded the loving...

  9. 6 The Criminal Class
    (pp. 123-149)

    The story thus far presents cops disrespected by a service economy open more to communication skills than to muscle, and by angry lovers who will leave if cops do not shape up. They are out of luck and nearly out of work. Sometimes they take the advice of sidekicks about relationships. Always they prove their value as protectors from deadly evil. Sidekicks, neighbors, lovers, and even some authorities thank them for saving their lives. Heroes patch romantic bonds, strike friendships at work, align with the oppressed, and blow criminals away. They have a hard time repudiating white male rage and...

  10. 7 Sodomy and Guts
    (pp. 150-201)

    The story to this point generally focuses on men, as though the female cops mattered little. Why and what has that to do with lost ground? Violent bonding remains a boy’s game and women, when they intrude, must explain themselves. They fight a fair number of battles, yet stay pointedly female. In the genre white women and girls, like men of color, carry the burden of a heightened moral status. They are the innocents whose suffering drives cops to their heroism and the voices of reason who counsel restraint. What becomes women most in this genre is an absence from...

  11. Conclusion: Good Guys?
    (pp. 202-212)

    Cops feel forsaken by the supports they recall with nostalgia. Their children doubt them; their bosses, coworkers, and wives demand skills they do not have. Cops fess up to their paranoia to sidekicks, find criminals on whom to practice their one trade, and so regain as much ground as they can. They bond across their differences with sidekicks and then identifY with and don the rage of the oppressed against the criminal class. Finally, cops target white men in positions of authority as the source of their biggest problems. The bigoted and reckless bonding of criminals causes the problems that...

  12. Appendix: Using Movies
    (pp. 213-250)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 251-274)
  14. Index
    (pp. 275-282)