Espionage Science Fiction and Realism

Some of the most creative efforts within TV noir have extended the noir sensibility beyond the stock images of Chandleresque private detectives, urban architecture, and shadow-filled streets into the less familiar vicinity of espionage, science fiction, and mixed genre series. It is instructive, of course, to watch the oneiric episodes The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove from Secret Agent, with its noir iconography of doors, windows, staircases, mirrors, and clocks, Shadow in the Dark from Miami Vice,...

Mulder and Scully and Clifford and James

In exploring their respective amnesias Scully and Mulder are, indeed, quite different. In fact, in exploring virtually every case, Scully and Mulder use distinct detective methodologies for getting at the truth. And at the end of the episodes, we get summaries of these methods as they narrate the reports of the cases they have just investigated. Here we get their two perspectives and explanations of the same phenomena the believer and the skeptic while leaving the viewer to ponder the truth...

Why Not Noir

So far we have identified a number of noir elements woven into the fabric of Twin Peaks the crime storylines, iconic characters, stylistic elements, and broodingly existential atmosphere. Are these elements, taken together, sufficient to peg Twin Peaks as noir It might seem so. We should consider, then, some preliminary objections to the notion that Twin Peaks is noir. First, it might be observed that noir has not only a typical subject, crime, but also a typical setting, the city. Noirs are...

The Influence of Graham Greene

Graham Greene's novel The Ministry of Fear was presented to the public in 1943 as a spy thriller. In 1944 it was released as a film directed by Fritz Lang with Ray Milland starring as Stephen Neale, a Londoner who inadvertently stumbles upon a nest of Nazi spies trying to smuggle important photographs out of England. The film Ministry of Fear unquestionably takes place at the exact time it was made, that is, during the London blitz. The backdrop for the story is a city being destroyed by daily...

Dragnet A Different Kind of Realism

Webb's development of Dragnet is a case, to put it in Darwinian terms, of ontogeny repeating phylogeny, or, in plain language, an instance of the development of the individual replicating that of its species or type. Under the influence of the worldwide postwar fashion for realist film, noir underwent a rapprochement of sorts with the other Hollywood genres that could more fully accommodate themselves to this new aesthetic. The types most affected by this new taste for and evaluation of realism...

Existentialism Crisis and Revolt

Questions about the meaning of life and doubts about its point enter into the central preoccupations of many of TV noir's principal characters, even if they themselves do not always articulate their concerns this way. These questions reflect and are reflected by existentialist philosophy. The existentialists were by temperament and life choice not only philosophers but also authors of essays, novels, and plays upon which much of their reputation depends. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, precursors of...

God and Gary Cooper Are Dead

Tony Soprano's belief that he inhabits a world of collapsing values is a major theme of the series. The ways he attempts to deal with such a world at first waver between life affirmation and life negation. But as the series progresses, Tony becomes more and more of a nihilist in the most negative and life-denying sense of that term. He is as much a victim of his own psychological weaknesses as he is a man who has been thrown into fated circumstances that weaken him. He is a mob boss whose power...

The Sad Clown

Tony's character is complex, in the sense that his personality appears at times saturated by an attitude of nihilism while at other times he struggles actively to overcome such a life-negating stance. As the series progresses, Tony's struggle to conquer his own moral weakness and inner emptiness becomes more intensified. And yet we begin to realize that his is not a success story in trying to rise above these defects, despite his participation in analysis. The transformation of Tony's character...

CSI as Procedural Noir

CSI is related to both the hard-boiled detective film from the 1940s and the police procedural film. Features of CSI that are in part derived from the hard-boiled detective film include the idea of the corrupt city shown primarily at night, detectives who are largely unfazed by crime and the criminal element, and an ironic tone. The parallels are not perfect, of course. The hard-boiled figure can typically take a beating and give one, which does not particularly carry over to CSI, although...

Shades of Noir

Twin Peaks comprises thirty episodes. The pilot was released, with additional footage inconsistent with the series proper, as a movie, Twin Peaks David Lynch, 1990 . The series was later followed by the film prequel Twin Peaks Fire Walk with Me David Lynch, 1992 . The series consists, ancillary and relatively minor plotlines aside, of two consecutive narratives that focus, in the bizarre, dreamlike logging town of Twin Peaks, on FBI special agent Dale Cooper Kyle MacLachlan . The telos of the...

Jack Bauer Noir Protagonist

Most significant for present purposes is the fact that Jack Bauer fits the profile of the noir hero. Characteristic of noir is the presence of a strong male protagonist, a hardened but sympathetic figure who struggles, sometimes unsuccessfully, against violence and corruption. Conventionally a detective or an individual otherwise involved in the investigation of crime, the classic noir protagonist tends to be an intense but emotionally guarded individual whose integrity is put to the test by...

Realism and Documentary in the Film Noir

The immediate postwar era in Hollywood witnessed the sudden emergence of a generic hybrid what critics of a later age have called the noir semi-documentary. Earlier entries in the hitherto somewhat slowly developing noir series had been largely based on the American roman noir, the high voltage fiction of James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, Cornell Woolrich, and others whose work was beginning to appeal to a broadly middle-class audience.5 These stories of seedy private investigators and murderous...

Nihilism Noir and The Sopranos

The nearly irremediable darkness of The Sopranos is redeemed by moments of piercing light into the moral psychology of its recurring characters. Its darkness comes from its nihilism. Film noir and, by extension, TV noir, is anchored in nihilism, a values-denying and life-negating vision that has cast its shadow upon modern Western culture since at least the nineteenth century and most conspicuously in the postwar years of the twentieth century. The view that nothing matters, that meaning and...

Alien Noir

Film scholars agree that classic film noir emerges most prominently in the early 1940s with The Maltese Falcon John Huston, 1941 and The Big Sleep Howard Hawks, 1946 , and lasts until Touch of Evil Orson Welles, 1958 , setting the basic template a hard-boiled detective in trench coat and fedora investigates a murder, interviews suspects, encounters a dangerous and beautiful femme fatale, navigates through a labyrinth to solve a mystery, and kills the killer. From the 1940s to the 1970s,...

Why Drake Is Not Bond

Although the literary James Bond appeared in 1953, Secret Agent predated the first James Bond film, Dr. No Terence Young, 1962 by two years, and because of his popularity in Secret Agent, Patrick McGoohan was originally offered the role. McGoohan's decision to reject the film initially seems puzzling while of course he had no way of knowing how successful the Bond franchise would become, it is hard to see why a television actor would refuse the chance to star in a major motion picture,...

Mulder and Scully as Noir Detectives

As a neo-Sherlock Holmes, however, Mulder is also a very noir version of the classic detective just as Scully is a very noir Watson . Of course, there are no hard and fast rules about what makes a noir detective, but there are several elements common among many noir stories. Among these, first, the lead character or characters is typically a detective. And essential to virtually all noir detective stories is the idea of the labyrinth. In fact, the classical myth of the labyrinth is the ancient...

R Barton Palmer

Conceived by radio actor Jack Webb, who also starred and directed, Dragnet was one of the longest-running and most critically acclaimed dramatic series of 1950s American television, with a phenomenal total of 263 episodes broadcast from 1952-1959 and a reprise for which there was little precedent in the industry in 1967-1970 that generated a hundred more programs. No doubt Webb's police drama dominated the airwaves in the earlier decade. The initial version of the show was designed for radio,...

Detective Semiotics and the Absence Sign

The surprising fact that sets these abductions in motion the result , is always a sign or, what in detective stories is called a clue a point that brings us back momentarily to the myth of the labyrinth central to all detective stories . Remember, Ariadne gives Theseus a clue of thread so that he can enter the labyrinth and then find his way back out after killing the Minotaur. As the detective story evolved through Sherlock Holmes and noir, the clue of thread became transformed into the thread...

Problems with Cultural Relativism

I will discuss only three problems with cultural relativism even though there are many that could be specified. The first major issue is that the word culture is so unclear that for the most part the very statement of the putative position is neither true nor false but simply gibberish.19 That the ordinary meaning of culture is unclear is not surprising most ordinary meanings are. Consider, for instance, the ordinary meaning of old man. There are some things 108-year-old men, 97-year-old men...

The Authentic Number

While the villagers believe Number 6 has no values, Number 6 maintains that he has different values. He is thus estranged from the world around him he displays the freedom to create his own self-identity, a freedom which is now foreign to the villagers. And so, our dark hero is all alone in a world that appears upside down, a world where, through his eyes, everyone else has gone mad. Notice, however, that Number 6's steadfast recognition of himself as a free man, and his subsequent isolation...

The Carceral Archipelago and the Panoptical Regime

It would be difficult to name a television show that appeared before The X-Files and Millennium in which a greater number of governmental departments, agencies, projects, and entities were either directly represented on screen or alluded to in the course of the action. I confess to never having had the patience to compile a comprehensive list of them, but even a cursory review of a few episodes of The X-Files and Millennium provides a prolific number of encounters with or references to the FBI,...

Carnivale and Religious Film Noir

One example of a noir protagonist struggling with religious conceptions of good and evil is Robert Mitchum's haunting portrayal of Reverend Harry Powell in Charles Laughton's Night of the Hunter 1955 . In truth, there is not much struggle going on he is pure evil. From the outset, before we ever meet Reverend Powell, we are reminded that the Book of Matthew cautions us, Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves 7 15 . We soon realize...

The Corrupt City and CSI Storylines

CSI is set in Las Vegas, a city represented as catering to extremes of self-interest and desire. Las Vegas instantiates the noir trope of the corrupt city. It is the sort of place where even some of those charged with upholding the law have selfish motives. For instance, the sheriff is concerned only about the optics of a crime and how they might affect his career, not about justice Table Stakes . CSI makes it appear as though Las Vegas is a city where everything is possible and, nearly...

Notes

Thanks to Jon Weidenbaum for introducing me to Carniv le and Steven M. Sanders for first pointing me to Graham Greene. 1. Steven M. Sanders, Film Noir and the Meaning of Life, in The Philosophy of Film Noir, ed. Mark T. Conard Lexington University Press of Kentucky, 2006 , 92. 2. Interview with Daniel Knauf, The Making of a Magnificent Delusion, http www.hbo.com carnivale b ehin d daniel_kn auf.shtml 3. Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory New York Penguin, 1990 , 200. 4. Greene recounts this...

Jason Holt

Any fan of Twin Peaks who encounters Goya's lithograph The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters 1803 cannot help but see an obvious connection to the landmark TV series whether series creators David Lynch and Mark Frost had this connection in mind is of little importance. The lithograph depicts a sleeping figure slumped over a desk. From behind, almost out of view, the somnolent head, emerging from an indeterminate place that seems not quite real, are the so-called monsters identified, together...

Amphetamine Theatre

Greater Miami is an unexpected setting for a TV noir series. In the early episodes of Miami Vice, which are shot in a glossy array of pinks, whites, turquoises, and mint greens, the stylish location photography reflects a warm, sunny, and opulent atmosphere, hardly what one would expect to find in noir. In fact, Miami Vice's use of color is one of the most striking breaks with TV noir of the Dragnet, Naked City, and Fugitive variety. As Nicholas Christopher observes in connection with color...

He Walked by Night

Because of its influence through Dragnet on the development and subsequent history of American television in the 1950s, the most important noir semi-documentary is He Walked by Night, which is based on an actual case the killing of two policemen by a fellow member of their own Pasadena, California, department who worked in the fingerprint records division. In the hands of screenwriters John C. Higgins and Crane Wilbur, this rather mundane criminal becomes a self-taught and sociopathic genius,...

Its All a Big Nothing

Nihilism's life-negating orientation is evident in season 2 as well. Here, Anthony Jr. Robert Iler becomes acquainted with the teachings of existentialism through his new high school English teacher. On the eve of his Catholic confirmation, A.J infuriates his parents by spouting nihilistic paraphrases of ideas from Nietzsche Nitch, as A.J. calls him and Albert Camus. His recent homework assignment is Camus' The Stranger, a novel that deals with a nihilist who no longer cares about anything...

Nihilism and Film Noir

The immensely popular and award-winning HBO series The Sopranos is rooted in a nihilistic vision that reflects a general moral decline in contemporary American culture.1 Nihilism is most generally defined as the belief in nothing at all, the conviction that nothing matters, not even oneself. It is an overall attitude toward the value of life, one evidenced by the words and actions of many of the characters in the series but most especially by those of its morally ambiguous protagonist, Tony...

Eric Bronson

In the first season of HBO's Carnivale, a vagabond, not quite as dirty as the others, sits around a campfire, largely keeping to himself. As the liquor gets passed around, and stories told, the runaway Methodist minister loosens up enough to speak. What has brought him so low, he is asked. Did he lose his girlfriend His job After taking a hearty swig, Brother Justin despairingly replies, I lost my God. In many ways, Brother Justin's response is vintage noir. As has been well documented, film...

The Logic of Abductionthe Other Abduction

What Mulder is doing, however, is using a logic that all detectives use, and which is called the logic of abduction which is meant in a logical, different sense than aliens stealing bodies .11 Perhaps we should not blame Mulder for not knowing what he is doing, because really no detectives brilliant as they appear to be have the slightest clue what they are doing. Even the best of them, Sherlock Holmes, mistakenly identifies his logic as deduction. The logic of abduction was pioneered by...

Deborah Knight and George McKnight

We analyze CSI as an example of TV noir, but before turning to the series, it is worth asking Just what sorts of narratives count as noir, and why We find examples of noir in literature, film, and television, but wherever such examples are found, noir is a hybrid of elements. Film scholars have persuasively argued that noir is not and has never been a genre in its own right. Silver and Ward, for example, suggest that the relationship of film noir to genre is a tenuous one at best and conclude...

Jack Bauer Existential Hero

Having enumerated the features of Camus' man of revolt, it should already be clear that there are striking similarities between 24's Jack Bauer and Camus' existential hero. Indeed, Jack displays all of the characteristics discussed. Most notably, he exhibits the principal traits of the man of revolt, namely lucidity and courage. Whether it is natural to him or an ability born of experience, 24's Jack Bauer displays remarkable insight. He is astute. He displays real acumen. Where those who...

Graham Greenes Whiskey Priest

As Graham Greene writes It would be enough to scare us God's love. It set fire to a bush in the desert, didn't it, and smashed open graves and set the dead walking in the dark. Oh, a man like me would run a mile to get away if he felt that love around.3 Powerful words, especially when one has warmed to the speaker, the last hard-drinking priest in a fictional Mexican region, the night before he is shot by the state for attempting to administer last rites to an unrepentant American bank robber....

Mulder and Scully as Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson

The Mulder-Scully relationship is modeled on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's characters of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. And both Mulder and Scully are quite aware of the similarity. For example, Scully says, So Sherlock, is the game afoot And Mulder responds I'm afraid so, Watson Fire . This line comes from Conan Doyle's The Adventure of the Abbey Grange, in which Holmes says, 'Come, Watson, come ' . . . 'The game is afoot.'5 Scully's right Mulder is Holmes. He even looks like Holmes well-dressed,...

Relativism of Morality and Normality

It also permeated the relativism of the anthropologist Ruth Benedict, among the first to argue explicitly for the relativism of both normality and morality. In a classic statement of the relativistic position, Benedict maintained No one civilization can possibly utilize in its mores the whole potential range of human behavior. . . . The possibility of organized behavior of every sort, from the fashions of local dress and houses to the dicta of a people's ethics and religion, depends upon a...

Individual Relativism

Individual relativism maintains that the rightness or wrongness of an action depends exclusively on the standards of the actor. The major difference, then, between individual and cultural relativism is that cultural relativism takes the standards of the culture as the only foundation of morality, whereas individual relativism considers cultural standards per se to be irrelevant only the standards of the individual actor determine the morality of his or her behavior. Each individual has his or...

Cultural Relativism

Today, the primary advocates of cultural relativism are many but certainly not all anthropologists, sociologists, social-work theorists, educators, and various government officials. Often under the heading of multiculturalism or cultural pluralism, we are told or at least led to believe that no one culture is better or worse than another, that they are just different, and that we have to be accepting of all cultural differences. Most important, it is emphasized, we cannot use the moral...

Historial Cycle Of Film Noir

Sanders and Aeon J. Skoble for their enthusiasm and hard work in reading and providing insightful and helpful comments on previous drafts of this essay. 1. Some identify film noir with a historical cycle, specifically 1941-1958. For us, however, noir is not a historical claim but an essential one it is essentially characterized by a certain style and a certain content. In this sense, we have neo-noir, which extends beyond the historical period of classic noir...

Be Seeing

When we first take up the question of selfhood that is, what it is to be a self it may be tempting to confine our attention to the physical dimension. This dimension concerns the physical, corporeal features of individuals. It deals with the things about our nature that make us palpable creatures driven by needs, urges, and inclinations and that give us particular constitutions or temperaments, for instance, more or less energetic, lethargic, passionate, or apathetic. Our selves on this level,...

Steven M sanders and Aeon J skoble

Publication of this volume was made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. An Introduction to the Philosophy of TV Noir copyright 2008 by Steven M. Sanders Action and Integrity in The Fugitive copyright 2008 by Aeon J. Skoble Noir et Blanc in Color Existentialism and Miami Vice copyright 2008 by Steven M. Copyright 2008 by The University Press of Kentucky Scholarly publisher for the Commonwealth, serving Bellarmine University, Berea College, Centre College...