Part 4: Enter The Ladies, plus a new take on Legal-Aid
Had Robin Hood not been glorified in status through ages of storytelling, he’d likely be remembered as plain old Robin-Git, if indeed he was remembered at all; but as with the ballad of Jesse James, the original story has been sweetened up to render it palatable for those with moral sensibilities, and, of course, to package it as solid-gold saleable. For instance, did you know that there’s more evidence to say that the James brothers held up a train wearing Klu-Klux-Klan headgear, than there is to show that they divvied up a single penny of their booty with the poor?
But it all goes to show that when it comes to stories of old, we like our heroes to be heroes, even if they’re killing people, meaning we’re okay with anti-heroes, just not out-and-out thugs.
Yes, vigilantes go back a long way, having a firm root in legend and mythology, though only later becoming firm figures of justice, the kind of men who stand up to corrupt, oppressive authorities, and in doing so benefit the common man in some way, be it in the form of a renewed sense of security, a plump pheasant leg or a wad of cold hard cash.
But enough talk about men; when did the women kick in?
Well you can read all about ‘Vigilante Women in Contemporary American Fiction’ in an in-depth study by Alison Graham-Bertolini.
As this spot is for the ladies, we’ll come back to the Dirty Harry films a little later, but I will mention here the fourth film in the series, Sudden Impact, 1983, which contains a scene that opens something like this: it’s a bright sunny day, a man sits peacefully reading his newspaper in a deck-chair on the beach; enter an angelic looking blonde, artist Jennifer Spencer, who raises a gun and shoots the fellow right in the nuts. He’s allowed enough time for the pain to register and to raise his aghast face to look the lady in the eye before her second shot cracks through his forehead.
We later learn that the artist, who’s restoring the pier’s Carousel, was gang-raped at that spot ten years earlier, along with a sister who lives out her existence in a catatonic state. This guy was the first; she’s only just begun.
Since the turn of the new millennium we’ve witnessed a rise in female justice figures. One prime example in film-form came in the shape of The Brave One, 2007, starring Jodie Foster.
This action movie harks back to the Death-Wish series mentioned in chapter 3, in that it’s a Joe Average (Josephine in this case) who loads up the bullets to shoot her way through a tirade of revenge killings following the violent death of her fiancé.
But the rise of kick-ass ladies is not confined to fiction, game and film, but is escalating around the world where real crime affects the lives of real women.
Here are some examples of how vigilantism takes shape in real life situations:
Power in Numbers
For a glimpse at a 400,000 strong vigilante army of women read about India’s Gulabi Gang, a force to be reckoned with:
(And please don’t let the pink fool you. These women, fighting for the right to not be raped and beaten, mean business.)
Mexico is witnessing a similar rise in female justice groups. Read about the mysterious ‘La Bonita’ (the pretty one) who’s Remington R-15 rifle can kill a man at 300 paces, and probably has, in a vigilante war on drugs cartels.
Other cases of real life vigilantism and how it can go horribly wrong, can be viewed at:
Onto the law, and those acting within it, or without it, if necessity dictates.
So, back to the movies. The Fourth Amendment to the USA Constitution provides that:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
A law brought in effectively to protect innocent suspects from overzealous and potentially corrupt policing. The obvious downside is that a little incompetence in dealing with a suspect can result in that suspect getting off scot-free. In the 1970s, US film studios jumped on this aspect of the legal system with exaggerated vigour.
Dirty Harry (1971), aka Inspector Harry Callaghan, played by Clint Eastwood (also the drifter cowboy of episode 1), who’s catchphrase “Go ahead, make my day, punk” sets the tone for his particular brand of ruthless Justice. No pen-pushing, red-tape sticking police captain was telling him to take it easy, not where lives were at stake, or when he was just plain pissed off with the bad guys.
More comedic versions of the vigilante cop followed in the 1980s with Eddie Murphy and Bruce Willis; tough cops acting outside their own jurisdictions, to force justice where, by their standards, the local law enforcement failed to come up to scratch.
But it’s not only policemen that get exasperated with the system. In The Star Chamber, 1983 (a title taken from a notoriously ruthless 17th century English court), Michael Douglas plays a judge who winds up sitting on a panel of legal professionals who, behind the scenes, release a hit-man on those they deem to’ve escaped justice.
And although the film didn’t achieve rave reviews, the idea remains an original one; and at least this storyline does highlight the potential for disaster and injustice where do-it-yourself law is concerned.
I’ll end the vigilante series with this handsome horror:
Rated number 1 on IBM’s top 10 vigilantes, Dexter is the unique character of the same-named US hit TV show. The first series, 2006, was based on the novel ‘Darkly Dreaming Dexter’ by Jeff Lindsay. From there the ensuing scripts were originally crafted by screenwriter James Manos Jr; and well-crafted at that.
After witnessing the death of his mother at a young age, Dexter harbours homicidal urges. With the help of his adoptive cop father, he cultivates a mask of humanity, charm and an air of social responsibility, classic hallmarks of a psychopath. In his job as a ‘Blood Splatter Analyst’ with the Miami police department, Dexter gains access to criminals who have slipped through the justice system, and it is with these miscreants he sets up his stall. No mobster, human trafficker, paedophile or rapist will escape his scalpel. Needless to say, he knows all too well how to cover his tracks.
But imagine a vigilante so powerful that he, or rather it, has no fear of being caught, whose ruthless methods only serve as a calling-card for a police force impotent to delay, let alone stop their progress.
OUT ON RELEASE December 11th 2014 – MELT, a horror novel:
‘Desecrating an ancient graveyard can unearth enough trouble to shake up the world.’