Flashback – “The Asphalt Jungle”. Noir, or Distress Familiarization Course.

        Have you watched the film The Asphalt Jungle? This work of art really belongs to 1950. It’s important to note the time of the film, as it comes from a period of celebrated tragedies. Why? Because the 20th Century people champion in all of the recorded history in terms of exercising violence, ignorance, bigotry, social Darwinism, pseudo collectivism, militant nationalism, and all other kinds of narrowmindedness converged in a hundred year. Of course sinister ideals are sharpened both sides, so the people at that time seems to be visiting Cinema to shave the bitter taste off from their own lives by watching other people suffer (sounds crazy, but it works in a crooked way). You will find Marilyn Monroe in her prime (what she’s doing in this mess?), and other monochrome actors all suffering from many kinds of manmade calamities. As the 20th Century People were so much used to with distress and hardship, they needed a similar kind of entertainment to alleviate their existential pains. From time immemorial we have made close bonds with our very own sorrows, suffers, and miseries. Can we really move on from these long term mates?

        Alas! To mitigate life’s discomforts people took the addictive and dangerous way of consuming even greater pains in the hope of overshadowing what’s already there. Rather than indulging into pleasant activities, which should have been the sensible way, people seems to have chosen tragic things. That is only suffer, pain, destruction, and death. If you cast a closer look into their film, music, and literature, you will find a common underlying keynote that denotes the people were used to with such a harsh and merciless way of life, they couldn’t tolerate happy materials in entertainment. Seems like they saw happiness and joy as something frivolous/ childlike/ meaningless in a short term, and something to be attained in lieu of a lot struggle, pain, sufferings, and fights in the long term, where even that was not always true (look up Citizen Kane, Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid). Suffering to achieve happiness, not being happy to achieve happiness (a roundabout way it is). That is why their films were so full of pain and distress (like Bicycle Thief), because people did not know better, and there certainly were reasons to not know any better. Films have always represented the world in a much intense form, as some selective aspects have been showcased in high frequencies in the Cinema. Also it’s again the Cinema that have worked as a lighthouse guiding the collective psyche of its viewers to make them follow its course towards materializing their reality.

        A bunch of short time criminals plan for a jewel heist, but due to bad luck their heist does not end up in a profitable way. Calamity after calamity continue to happen. Out of nowhere a buddy of the group gets shot. The sponsor refuses to pay the jewel thieves after the fact. The detective assistant of the sponsor dies in an ensuing brawl. All adding up to the trail left behind for the law dogs. Even the police prove to be over enthusiastic in their suppression of crime. So The Asphalt Jungle can be called a worst case scenario for criminals in crime. You may wonder, what’s the purpose of melodramatic worst case scenarios serving the ticket buying Cinema goers?

        The film is a noir by genre. It was supposed to contain crime, criminals, money, police, detectives, drugs, women, and existential crisis providing a dark entertainment, which weren’t meant to be jolly things though. Even then the film seems to be so full of unnecessary and irrelevant melodrama. This is of course the effect of the time it was built in, right in the middle of the most reckless of century in history. Everyone in the film suffers from severe distresses that sometimes escalate to death, or sometimes they become worse than even death. A postmodern or digital day Asphalt Jungle would have gone straight to the point, come less the melodrama, and wouldn’t have become such a cathartic mess.

        Dix the accomplice Hooligan has been tormented by a constant trauma for losing his family and estate. Doll suffers an existential crisis, as she nearly gets homeless. Emmerich has squandered his riches, and now he deceives his infirmed wife with elaborate lies and a made up facade of false persona to get hold of the Angela girl, and the lawyer cheats casual criminals for some ready cash. Angela is financially helpless to the point she has been taken refuge by the sugar daddy Emmerich for her upkeep. The Doc has become desperate for some female company to the degree that he gets caught by the police in the process of watching some young woman dance. The physical deformity of Gus the driver, and his acute frustration. Safecracker Ciavelli’s death, and the family’s mourn. Finally Dix’s apparent passing out. Unhappiness and gloom to their maximum. There’s no pleasant thing in this film.

        So the film is a cocktail of different kinds of human torments that showcased in too much a concentration that weren’t necessary for a crime fiction. Now it has become clear, these extra painful features were really the projections of the contemporary time’s psychological standpoint. It partially answers, why the 20th century citizens of the world were so militant in nature. Two World Wars, one Cold War, numerous other battles, lots of mass murders, and complete destruction of humanity all simultaneously happening throughout the world letting the film people devise this “Noir” thing as a kind of mitigation device against their own life vicissitudes that counterproductively becomes the influence too to a significant extent guiding the viewers towards becoming destructive again.

        20th century people have seen a collection of tragedies in their practical lives. High mortality from every kind of disease, insufferably unsafe working conditions, distresses caused by human ignorance, and an all-time chronic warfare. Then as a result the similar scenario appeared in a clustered and cherry picked way in their literature, entertainment, films, and other mass media alike. The people kind of grew a familiarity or tolerance to sufferings and pain, and finally they have grown used to it to such an extent, when there remained no cause or presence of any distress it would look just not okay, and people would have attempted to make it right by creating their own cause of misery by themselves in order to feel right about the situation. (Pain can be enjoyed, okay?) Happiness was not something normal and spontaneous. Prolonged happiness and peace of mind seemed unreal and therefore wrong, as they were taken for something to be attained in exchange for a long endured hard time. Life is about suffering. So not only had they got used to it, but they got used to it a bit too much that they grew an affinity with hard life, and as a byproduct they couldn’t tolerate happiness anymore.

        Radio, Television, Cinema, and Literature continuously broadcast curated melodrama, and basically little else. People used to learn from their mass media, how to be a perfect sadist individual. Aside from noirs, contemporary comedies weren’t out of this feature too. If you look into the works of Keaton and Chaplin; all of them are based upon the then insufferable aspects of general life. Of course the comedians mocked their inhumane and sadist society in an efficient manner, but they inadvertently failed to showcase a standard model of life to allow or let inspire their viewers to follow. The life-struck viewers (just like their film characters) would have got some temporary satisfaction out of the Comedians’ making fun of their merciless reality, but the viewers obtained nothing worth to equip themselves enabling them really change their miserable condition by taking control of their surrounding situation. They would just consume melodramatic video content over Cinema or TV, or watch comedians roast the harsh common life, only to get back into their unbearable lives unchanged taking their lives for something rigid and permanent.

        So we see an infestation of sad contents in the 20th century everywhere. This was of course the reaction to the continuous warfare, ensuing poverty, plethora of still immedicable diseases, uncertainties of life, and the resultant anxiety that continued forever following the history of mankind finally reaching the 20th. An irony, for people always thought it was the other people’s fault, so the world was like this. A reactive way to interpret and consequently respond to the world that’s what it is.

        “It’s the people in other tribes, communities, and eventually countries that are conspiring against us to enslave us enriching themselves that is why our lives are this bad”.

        To solve it there only one way remained. The militant nationalist way.

        “Bring the enemies under control capturing their lands, or colonize them, or outright vanquish them by warfare, so they can’t keep up with their vile agenda of profiting themselves creating artificial distress in our people’s lives.” (Countries needed economic growth, alright?).

      You will see an elaborate blame game wherever you will look into the past century.

        WWI –

        “Fault of the other countries conspiring to make us look bad”,

        WWII –

        “Fault of the other countries and the Semitic people conspiring to make us look bad.”

        Cold War –

        “The evil communists are conspiring to siege our freedom”. Contrarily,

        “It’s the privileged bourgeoisie conspiring to sabotage our communist heaven.”

        Conspiracies, agendas, cliques, and coups take two to happen, and from a distance it’s impossible to say who’s what. It’s only for the emergence of a widespread media that made this dreadful century recorded for future evaluation, so now we can judge the time for what it really was– An elaborate vicious cycle.

        The content creators used their surrounding reality to reflect upon in their crafts. They did not know better, because misery and sufferings in life were taken for inevitable reality. That is why The Asphalt Jungle sits right in the middle of 20th century acting as both the fruit and seed of contention signaling how melancholic and unhappy the time actually was.

        Watching The Asphalt Jungle one will of course become aware of the consequences of crime, which looks like the sole purpose of the film. To make people know, what it’s really like to get involved in felonies, as it can go sideways anytime, and following a safe course in life is worth it to avoid hassles of law. Deliberate or not, that seems to be the plan. However, what really happens a lot more- the viewers become familiarized with a lot of dreadful life experiences that otherwise was not possible, for they have been handpicked and curated into a two hour presentation making it a device of nightmare that becomes much more influencing for the unusual heap of dreadful life experience’s cumulative impact upon the viewer’s mind. Counterproductively in the purpose of vilifying crime by asserting punishment, the film stresses human torments establishing an effective device to promote sadistic behavior in humans. Not only suffering is being spread, but also the viewer is getting used to with it. Unnecessary and avoidable torments are thus getting glamorized and made look heroic, as it made look charming to suffer a lot. (It’s in the TVs and Cinemas. The movie stars are doing it after all). You have certainly noticed, when there remains no cause to suffer, one just manufactures some issue to drag along (like Mr. Dobbs in The Treasure of Sierra Madre). All this repeated display of sad scenario implies and strengthens this message—

        “Living well in a pleasant life is not fundamentally okay”. (that’s what’s been implicitly being told by other media too).“Because life is tough, and one must get used to and even surpass his ability to cope up with the harshness of life in order to survive it in a merciless world.”

        To endure life it demands to become as indifferent to pleasure as one can be. Closing off the finer mental faculties, clipping off pleasure and delicate feelings reception threads simply to endure the existential pain– that is life. Better to be as obnoxious and as masochistic a person one can be. All the cool people are rough and tough. The cinema people are doing it. Glamour is in suffer. Life is not a bed of roses, alright?

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        Here, people have been tormented for eons by repeated warfare, incurable diseases, bad economy, and outright human ignorance. Then to mitigate the horrible situation the content creators created poetry, fictions, novels, and films all glorifying endurance, resilience, struggle, and triumph over the vicissitudes of life by getting hardened with life’s hardships.

        But:

        In order to glorify these seemingly good virtues, there is an invisible first law acting behind– to take misfortunes, sufferings, and pain to be granted as something normal and inevitable to the point of essential.

        And none asked the question, why getting hardened to a life that is not a bed of roses to be endured, instead at least trying to make life something pleasant to be enjoyed? The answer might be in the reactive stance of people’s mentality. People reacted to the unfortunate features of life by becoming tougher, as a response the world around them kept on getting harsher, finally cornering the people into a total defeat that manifested through unconquerable forces that escalated beyond the limited power of the most resilient of people no matter how much rough and tough they have made themselves, for it’s impossible to continue the process of indefinitely getting resilient to endure life in a world that responds by continually becoming a more savage place up to the infinity.

        So you take life for what it appears to be: perilous, unbearable, full of strife, and you take some measurements to cope up with the harsh realities. Create films and literature that glorify resilience against life’s vicissitudes. Added with showcasing of the pain of existence in order to mitigate the existential angst by cathartic processes. Then in turn people will only learn to become more ease at pain, and their world won’t improve. Pain and sufferings will become normalized to some extent glorified in the perception, how much a person can endure a tragic life is a hero to be hailed and followed. Whose life is more tragic, he is cooler. Look how Dix in the film defeated the corrupt detective like a hero, took a bullet, and finally collapsed in his country-land escaping all those wicked policemen and their mean informants. And Dix has Doll- a fair lady as his loyal companion. Young people will of course want to be like Dix. Take bullets, escape law, get the girl, and collapse like a beat up Lion. It’s made look glamourous dying a heroic death.

        It’s in the attitude of the 20th century people. They so much glorified suffering like it was something supreme. You listen to their logic, it is usually like this— “Life is tough, so one must get used to with suffering as much as possible in order to cope up with the terrible realities of life.” (Comfort is the enemy will they say). Then the resultant people will only look for suffer and pain, while both actively and subconsciously discarding happiness and joy.

        Now, we see what it really becomes- not only an elaborate vicious cycle, but also a steep downward spiral that will keep on going down, if not taken control of. You might be thinking, “Why nobody in the past did recognize this cycle? This looks so self-explanatory. They should have actively rejected pain and sufferings while pursuing the pleasant things in life. It now looks so easy.”

        The answer might be, pleasantness, incessant joy, growth, and happiness is a recent phenomenon. Throughout history mankind had been plagued with continual painful experiences from their birth to death. They did not have the opportunity or luxury to know any better. Even if someone had figured it out by himself, it was no use trying to confer his knowledge with the commoners due to powerful impediments and a lack of appropriate medium. (And this knowledge is of such kind that it must be collective to be useful). There were Kingdoms that required a constant supply of soldiers, and there were plentiful of monopolistic faiths that required their followers in ignorance. If people knew too much about happiness and their power over their own situation, the Kings wouldn’t have got soldiers to fight their battles for made up causes (which is still going on), and the faiths wouldn’t have got their control over people playing the single card of life’s sufferings and consequently becoming the sole distributor of tickets to heaven, forgiveness from God/deity, or just plain peace of mind (also, still going on). There were no widespread media accessible to the most common of people to allow spread the epiphanies of a scholar or a genius common bloke about his findings that life had always been trapped into a vicious cycle of unnecessary pain and miseries, and it’s the active pursuit of pleasantness that might break the cycle. Only books were there, which were studied by a select group of privileged people– other scholars. Writing books were tricky, and books due to their physical nature could have been lost or easily confiscated, burnt, or banned maintaining they didn’t comply with the imperial interests, or they allegedly spread blasphemous themes.

         “How dare you defy God’s punishment (or experiment) that’s what this insufferable human existence is, and you can think of vile pleasures? (Die once, and you will see fun). Moreover, we shall accelerate the process of an early demise for you for the greater good. Sinner! Arrogant! Selfish!”

        For so long seeking pleasure had been condemned to the point of getting demonized. The word ‘playboy’ has its original meaning of “a man who lives a life devoted chiefly to the pursuit of pleasure”. Does it sound bad? You see, what’s wrong in seeking pleasure? The opposite of which is becoming a sadistic prick. But it’s the playboys that had been subject of scold, not the sadist pricks.

        World is full of bad things by default. In fact bad things outnumber multiple times the pleasant matters to happen in life, so if one does not actively seek pleasure, his life will automatically become infested with a lot of bad experiences. Worse is, he will gradually get accustomed with unpleasantness, unhappiness, pain, and sufferings, (and these things have a habit of getting into the bones; once entered, cannot be thrown away). The result of which is a masochistic or sadistic individual, who takes pleasure in observing pain from other people, which is bad. If he doesn’t find other people to watch them suffer, he himself will take the role to fulfil his sadistic cravings, which is even worse. A messed up phenomenon all of which could have been avoided for the betterment of everyone if he were a hedonist in the first place.

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        The police harassment in the film that has showed through the humiliation of visible gentlemen is unnecessary and frightening to the point the viewers will think twice about getting involved in crime, or what will happen more– the viewers will become used to with seeing gentle people humiliated. The bad people look good for their humanity is showcased, whereas the so called good people, the guardians of law are seen as unnecessarily cruel, and their cruelty is not generated upon some basic need but from the sole willingness to deliberately inflict pain, humiliation, and suffer on others in the excuse of law.

        So goodness / righteousness becomes the shield that really covers up the intention to harm.

        Real virtuous can’t help but act doubtful in their own nature and intentions, for it’s really that complex to determine good versus evil, for appearance is most of the times deceiving. It’s the opposites that are confident they are the righteous ones, and it’s their self-prescribed duty to establish justice over others, even at the cause of violence and/or psychological damage inflicted on purpose, for deliberately inflicted torments have always been taken to be the necessary evil to establish the absolute good. The end justifying the means. And if you look around, all over the world this end justified the means throughout time. Even now some pockets of unenlightened portions function in this way. But the outcome is unintended consequence. And a dire consequence at that.

        First of all, the end will always follow and continuously morph according to the means to get there. End and means are connected, not separate entities. If a thing has to be obtained by misery, the end result will also become something similar to misery or worse. And contrarily if a thing has been obtained through pleasant manners, the end result will also become beneficial at best or pleasant at worst. There is no such thing as necessary evil. There’s only good and only evil in this particular matter of achieving things. Police brutality in The Asphalt Jungle to establish law will only incite more crime than anything else, for the ‘would be criminals’ will learn from police!

        Secondly, this kind of thinking pattern comes from a place of taking the surrounding world as it is. Like some unchangeable fixed entity that must be complied with. This is certainly inertia, and seemingly nobody significant enough thought about taking charge of the situation to change the detrimental aspects. (Yes, I am making a deliberate mistake by saying ‘nobody’). Where in fact there certainly had been a lot of people thought in this way, but their thoughts did garner least fruition, for it was not possible to share their concepts with mass people. It was a handful few that entertained the luxury to contemplate about their surrounding world in their precious little leisure that was bought in exchange for their selective labor, which did not allow them to fully realize these ideas. Scholars as well as commoners were busy people unable to fancy some whimsical thought that was not profitable too. It was until the arrival of capitalism and the resultant ease of life for everyone, added with a magical match of accessible information by technology finally it becomes apparent.

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        In the film the bookie kept his close alliance with the copper only to get humiliated in the end. This can be a textbook example of what happens if you play with your enemies. Instead the bookie should have got rid of the policeman by changing place and identity or just by minimizing the interaction. Only then the copper couldn’t have discovered Doc by his sudden visits and finally arrest bookie added with needless harassment becoming certain of his involvement in the jewel heist. It’s another instance of taking the surrounding world for as it is.

        The despicable statement “Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer” had struck such a massive blow into interpersonal relationships that nothing else could. You keep your enemies closer, so that the enemy can hurt you from a close proximity, as you let the crocodile come into your personal space by deliberately opening up your waters only to monitor the reptile’s motion, so that you can outsmart it (as you like to think). Sounds like another roundabout trap, aint it? If you didn’t bring the crocodile acting upon some crooked maxim, you wouldn’t have to constantly look your back.

        Promoting the enemy, while automatically demoting the friends? Then why should people become your friends? It’s better to be your enemy then. Here look closely. The statement has taken it for granted that there will always be enemies and there will always be friends alike in life. Where in fact none of them should be taken for fixed. Enemies should be seen as an error that must be solved, not to be taken as they appear to be. Also friends are not something to be taken for granted, for friendship is one thing that requires continuous work to keep it alive. You take your friends for granted, and you keep your enemies closer, then your friends will (or should) leave you, or they will join your opposition. (You are promoting it after all). Finally you will become surrounded by a bunch of enemies that are at each other’s throats given the chance, and you have become one of them the fake friend (from a distance it’s impossible to say who’s what), who in disguise is a sworn enemy that have kept the enemies closer only in certitude that you are capable enough, or you are just hopeless to the point like you have nothing better to do with your spare time and effort than to observe your enemies’ every insignificant move, who really despises them for what they really are- a bunch of enemies. You invite fakeness, negative attention, hidden enmity, constant surveillance- looking out your back that you don’t get backstabbed unguarded, while forfeiting pleasantness, peace of mind, happiness, joy, delights of life, and good experiences. A resultant anxiety and bitterness for your unintended degeneration will continue plaguing you lifelong for the sole cause you kept your enemies closer out of sheer hubris or complete naïveté.

        Or take the statement for its other alleged use. ‘To keep the enemies’ information and whereabouts close to take countermeasures against their moves.’ Even then it’s a bad idea (unless you are some military or diplomat, whose job it is to keep track of enemy’s every step). More you know about someone or something, more you research and contemplate, more you will become that entity. Knowing is becoming. Your enemies’ traits will manifest through you, as you regurgitate over and over again your enemies’ every step, you will become your enemy. Your enemy will win once more. Previously by bringing you down into their pig pen, now by outright converting you into their liking. This time they won intellectually, and more complete a triumph over you.

        That’s why you’ll see, how people make friends nowadays. They instigate quarrel first. Then following the ‘keeping enemies closer’ mindset they get closer. Time wasting, energy consuming, and mentally exhausting, that’s a roundabout way to do a simple and pleasant thing like friendship by turning it upside down that neither makes sense, nor it looks like a straightforward and noble activity, for ‘taking the world as it is’ reactive stance has been jeopardizing seemingly everything including simple human interactions. Now even friendships have to be done in crooked, roundabout, and wicked ways.

        So the only way to solve enemy problem is looking into it from a proactive stance, not from a reactive one. As what it really is—‘An oversight that must be corrected’. If the enemy does not evolve into a friend or even neutral, then it is best to get out of their history. This is proactive move, for the enemy will be forced to change their ways from sole enmity to friendly demeanors, for you actively promote only friendship and cooperation, not enmity and hostility, for you don’t take unintended part in foisting the enmity more transforming yourself into an accomplice, so you keep on getting the best out of your interpersonal relationships, for you even force your enemies to change into friends too. The revised version of the statement should become- “Keep your friends close, and keep your enemies out”.

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        Now, hedonism and pleasure seeking have been discouraged and vilified for ages. But really, what’s wrong with a healthy hedonism? In life it is still now the bad things are prevalent and abundant (and will continue to be so). Even when the situation looks good, it takes a little slippery slope to fall into a world of nastiness messing up life before one knows it, for a good life can never be taken for fixed, as it requires continuous work to keep it that way. A well rounded life might be lost should one not pay attention. That being said, if one doesn’t actively pursue good feelings, he will automatically fall into some terrible mix of pain and suffer for no good reason. Worse is, with time suffering becomes a habit. No matter how you might want to glorify your sufferings or create film noirs to praise resilience, suffer is suffer. It’s against life, and it’s an error.

        You can testify in favor remembering the times you have got used to with sufferings. It never ended up with it. Instead it always crept up becoming more in degrees until it reached the point you broke finally from the cumulative strain upon your mind and physique no matter how strong you stood up against it, for the only way to win misfortunes and suffer is to avoid them, not to fight them. You can never win.

        And you certainly know, misery loves company. Suffering gradually becomes a collective affair making it more intense brewing a grudge against the happy ones. Contrarily the one whose life has been pleasant doesn’t have issues with other people’s happiness. In other words happy people don’t really care about other people’s lives, for they are too busy with their own affairs. Looks and sounds like a good thing, because most of the troubles with humans result from deliberately peeking into other people’s lives.

        Hedonism had been condemned forever. This life is meant to suffer told by Kings and Clerics alike. Followed to the letter by their unsuspecting followers like it’s something fundamental, unchangeable, and fixed. So if a self-respecting individual wanted to live a pleasant life, he had been deemed as selfish, arrogant, and moreover wicked. A cheat escaping his share of sufferings.

        Life for the most part in history had been full of arrays of misery. All of which could have been solved should all the people together just avoided bad feelings following good. Of course taken for one does not hurt others in his way of seeking pleasure. They would have been outcast, and for the most part it doesn’t happen. It is ignorance that breeds a tormented life that also wants other people in their miserable company finally becoming more ignorant, whereas to know is virtue, and science is proactive.

        A long time inertia won’t just go away by itself until situations are taken control of following a proactive stance leaving behind the reactive one that had been plaguing every aspect of life taking the form of both the reason and result. You finally see, nothing should be taken for as it appears to be, and one must actively and continuously work to shape things into their beneficial forms. Age old reactive stance will only breed downward vicious cycles like it has always done, whereas a new proactive stance has already started breaking it up into beneficial ones. 21st Century people are not anymore used to with distress and hardship, so we don’t need cathartic reliefs consuming melodramatic sad contents anyway, therefore we learn to get indulged into some more delights, joy, and pleasantness, so we escape distress and harsh lives some more. An upward going spiral has already taken off due to collective exchange of information, as we finally have learned to keep our pleasant things close, and distressing things out.

 

Bicycle Thieves (1948)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

Citizen Kane (1941)

Great Expectations (1946)

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Seven Samurai (1954)

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

The Treasure of The Sierra Madre (1948)