The Sixth Deadly Sin

Anger Transformation, image via Bidita Rahman

The Sixth Deadly Sin

Anger begins with folly and ends with repentance – Pythagoras

I’m no stranger to anger – I’m not proud of this – but I’ve poured beers over people’s heads, assaulted deaf heaven with bootless cries, smashed my brothers’ model of the human skeleton on a hardwood floor and shoved each individual bone beneath the door of his judiciously locked bedroom. 

Even though I was much, much younger than Will Smith when I committed these examples of Deadly Sin Number Six, I can relate to rashness, the fire in the veins that short-circuits the pauser reason, the anger-spawned and awful daring of a moment’s surrender, the explosion, the exhilaration, but also the subsequent miasma of guilt-ridden regret, which, if you’re like me, might suddenly rise to consciousness a half century later and make you cringe as you recall your lack of human decency.

At least, in my case, my acts of assholedom weren’t caught on camera, much less viewed by millions. It’s bad enough reliving grainy reruns in my memory. [1]  

Will Smith, on the other hand . . . 

At any rate, I find it much easier to forgive the slap than the subsequent speech, which I heard live, a shameful, weepy, entitled, excuse-ridden justification that quoted the Gospels as Smith claimed to aspire to be a “vessel of love.”

No, man, that was some Old Testament smiting shit you were throwing down. For your own good, embrace shame because it serves you right to suffer. Take a month off, read Crime and Punishment or the Brothers Karamazov.

Uh-oh, my prose is starting to rhyme, which means it’s time to shut the-you-know-what up.

Nighty night. Until next time, indulgent readers.

[1] I realize many of my fellow Lefties believe we shouldn’t be talking about Will Smith’s bitch-slapping Chris Rock when there’s more serious badness afoot: to wit, a coup sparked by a President and partly organized by a Supreme Court Justice’s whacko wife, who later cajoled the White House’s chief-of staff to overthrow the election, not to mention the Ukraine horrorshow, tactical nukes, WW3, etc. etc. 

But, hey, the Academy Award assault is interesting, worth contemplating, fun to talk about. I’m a big fan of Chris Rock, a fellow South Carolinian who has described our home state as “the dirt road not taken.” I didn’t dig his getting backhanded. Anyway, all existential angst and no schadenfreude makes Wesley/Rusty a dull [mannish] boy. Or, as the Underground Man puts it, “I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.”

True Detective: Existential Nihilism for the Masses

In his 1996 novel Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace has a seventh grader, Hal Incandenza, write an essay contrasting Hawaii Five-O and Hill Street Blues, an essay that ponders the evolution of American television heroes.

Remarkably observant, young Incandenza underscores sociological differences in the programs. For example, Five-O’s Steve McGarrett has the luxury of working on “one case per week” in an office that resembles “the libraries of the landed gentry, hushed behind two heavy doors and wainscoted in thick, tropical oak.” On the other hand, Hill Street’s Frank Furillo, a precinct captain, juggles several cases at once in the chaotic confines of a cluttered cubicle-crammed station house teeming with clashing personalities. Essentially, “McGarrett is not weighed down by administrative State-Police-Chief chores, or by females, or friends, or emotions, or any sorts of conflicting demands on his attention” whereas Furillo “is beset by petty distractions on all sides [. . .] with suspects and snitches and investigating officers and angry community leaders and victims’ families all clamoring for redress.”

Colbert Root in his Summer of Jest, a handy on-line scene-by-scene summary and analysis of the novel, recaps the essay for us:

Where McGarrett exemplifies the modern man of action, Hal argues, Furillo typifies a man of postmodern “reaction.” Both protagonists are heroes of their own show’s culture, but both are also ill-equipped for the other’s world. McGarrett, as the modern man of action, is single-minded, acting to “refashion a truth the audience already knows into an object of law, justice, modern heroism.” Contrariwise, Furillo succeeds because he is cast within a large system; he excels at being a cog in a very large and bureaucratic machine [. . .] That Furillo comes after McGarrett as a typical US protagonist reflects a shift in US cultural preferences. Audiences, Hal says, want the stoic bureaucrat. His successes and shortfalls more closely align with their own. But, Hal ponders, what comes next? What hero will succeed Furillo?

from left Rust (McConaughey) and Marty (Harrlesson)

from left Rust (McConaughey) and Marty (Harrlesson)

Well, if we look to the current HBO crime drama True Detective, the answer is Rust Cohle (played by Matthew McConaughey), a nihilistic metaphysician, an agoraphobic detective who considers human consciousness “a tragic misstep in evolution” that enables us “to labor under the illusion of having a self” when we’re merely “accretions[s] of sensory experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody is nobody.”

This cat makes Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and Mike Hammer seem downright dewy in comparison. His partner Marty Hart (played by Woody Harrelson) considers Rust “the Michael Jordan of being a son-of-a-bitch,” and when Rust says shit like, “It’s all one ghetto, man, a giant gutter in outer space,” Marty virtually begs him to shut up. You see, despite having kinky handcuffed sex outside of his marriage, Marty is a family man, a Christian who holds essentially a Medieval view of the cosmos, a belief that divine reward or punishment keeps folks (though obviously not himself) in line. Rust responds, as you might expect, with scorn:

If the only thing keeping a person decent is the expectation of divine reward then, brother, that person is a piece of shit. And I’d like to get as many of them out in the open as possible. You gotta get together and tell yourself stories that violate every law of the universe just to get through the goddamn day? What’s that say about your reality?

Set in the semi-industrialized backwoods of Louisiana, the narrative features superb characterization and brilliant acting as the two detectives try to solve a series of grisly ritualistic murders. So many symbolic crosses (e.g., aerial shots of perpendicular lines of trees) sneak into the story I can’t help but wonder if its creator, Louisiana fiction writer Nic Pizzolatto, is making some sort of statement.

Whatever the case, Rust is not the fellow you want your sons to grow up to be. He’s a bit of a throwback, a cross between Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man and a Zen Buddhist.

He’s also about as fascinating a character as television has ever produced.