Friday, February 10, 2023


L-R: Thief, hacker, hitter, grifter, mastermind
I've said before that if my life depended on naming three modern television shows I'd be a gonner.  We don't watch much current programming, either aimed at kids or adults.  Most of our fare comes from pre-70s television, with a smattering of later shows (MASH or Monk for example) that the kids have picked up.  For my wife and I, we'll reminisce around a viewing of Magnum PI, or Simon and Simon.  But that's about it.  We don't watch much television anyway, preferring movies on DVD or even VCR - a subversive approach to be sure. 

The most 'modern' show we started watching is a show called The Librarians, and its predecessor Leverage.  I say predecessor, not because the show has anything to do with The Librarians, but because many of the same individuals were involved in both productions. 

Basically Leverage is a 21st Century reimagining of the old A-Team show.  That is, a bunch of world class outlaw mercenaries band together to help the little guy.  The premise is that the main 'mastermind' (played by lawsuit wielding Timothy Hutton) lost his son when the insurance company he worked for refused to pay for the child's experimental medical treatments.  As an internationally successful executive, he was able to pull his resources to right similar wrongs made against others. 

The band is a 'Robin Hood' gang of outlaws: The honest guy mastermind trying to right the wrongs done to little people (and avoid becoming as bad as the corruption he fights), the thief (a mentally unbalanced super-thief with nerves of steel and no self-censorship), the grifter (a terrible actress wannabe who nonetheless shines when deceiving people with her acting), the hacker (who is what every hacker dreams hacking computers could be), and the hitter (that is, hit man and assassin - the darkest character of the bunch, but also the most sensitive to others, especially vulnerable people and children). The whole show centers around your typical 'bad guys make better good guys' theme. 

There was one episode in this series I admit is pure enjoyment.  It follows the 'Rashomon' storyline. It is named "The Rashomon Job" just to drive the point home.  I touched on another famous example of this plotline some time ago here.  Named after a Kurosawa movie that some say popularized that type of plot, it's when multiple people relay their version of an event, and you see how radically different each one sees things.  

In this case, they are reminiscing about the five year old robbery of a priceless Middle Eastern dagger from Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.  Each one claims to have stolen it, only to have lost it again.  As the accounts unfold, it turns out they were all there together vying for the same prize, but back before they knew each other.  The fun part is when each character is 'revealed' by the next person's version.  So in the first account, the 'grifter' tells of running into a handsome young doctor who was charming and quite attractive to her.  Only when the 'hitter (hit man)' tells his tale does she realize the doctor was him in disguise (remember, they didn't know each other).

It's cleverly done, and allows the characters to take potshots at each other as they saw themselves in the best light, while the others didn't.  For instance, the 'hacker' saw himself surrounded by dozens of adoring women, hanging on his every word.  But when the 'thief' tells her version, he's simply a bumbling computer hacker in a tux with a few nearby women rolling their eyes then walking away.

Standard for this storyline.  But there was one interesting difference.  In each account, the museum's head of security is seen as a major threat.  He's mean, he's all business, he takes no prisoners.  And each character has to dodge, avoid, or somehow escape his bulldog tenacity while he's guarding this precious artifact. 

Until the reveal.  The reveal is the point in this type of story where the 'reliable' witness finally stands up and explains 'what really happened.' In the All in the Family episode, it was honest Edith Bunker who set the record straight.  In this episode of Leverage, it was Timothy Hutton's character.

Naturally he sees everything from a different point of view - supposedly the correct one.  But when it comes to the security chief, he shows they were not only wrong, but all wrong the same way.  It turns out the security chief's stalking the hallways, barging into rooms, and accosting the different characters, was not because he  was this ruthless force to be reckoned with.

Nope.  Turns out he was a guy with a middle aged crush on the 'grifter's' disguised character (she disguised herself as a scientist working in the antiquities department). He was just trying to ask her out.  That doesn't mean he was a buffoon.  Quite the contrary, his character helped wrap things up in the end and save the day.  But each time he confronted one of the characters, he was merely trying to work up the courage to ask the young woman out on a date (and failing miserably).  

The dialogue was pretty much the same - and that was the brilliance of the writing.  Its merely changed context.  So when he barked at the 'hacker' that 'This job is his life!' (hence he will not fail to capture the perpetrators), in the 'reveal', he laments that 'This job is his life' - which is why he's so lonely.  It was a clever take that most such storylines don't have.  Usually they simply change the dialogue, along with everything else, to fit the version.  In the All in the Family version for instance, Archie sees Ron Glass  (complete with five foot afro) whip out a switchblade and say 'Black is beautiful baby', while Mike's version has the same character saying no such thing, but instead cowering and begging forgiveness from Mr. Bunker in his best Uncle Tom manner.  

Version #1: The grifter nervously avoids security's questions
But the part that hit me was that unlike the usual approach, where almost everything is seen differently by different characters, all of them saw security the same, dialogue and all: They all saw him as a threat (kudos to the actor for being intimidating in most of the episode, then the lost and helpless romantic beat puppy in the final reveal). Except for Timothy Hutton of course.  

When we watched this, my sons brought up an interesting point.  No doubt it was the point intended by the show's writers.  That is, Timothy Hutton's character is supposedly 'the honest one', working with all these thieves, con artists and mercenaries for the greater good.  Thus he sees things as they are.  The others, all dishonest and crooked in some way or another, saw things as dishonest people see things.  And we all know when a person is a thief, they assume everyone else is as well. Or at least they see the world as divided into victims and authorities.  Which is how they saw the security chief.  Being dishonest, they all saw him as a threat.  Because being robbers and crooks, that's how they measure things.  While the honest man saw him as the well meaning, if not awkward, museum security that he was. 

And that got me to thinking, as I am wont to do. Let's face it, how we see others sometimes says more about us than about those we see. When I've taught history in the past, I said the history you read will often tell you more about the historian than the history you're reading.  Same with many things. Sometimes the way we see others speaks volumes for ourselves. 

For instance, we live in an age that has elevated bigotry, especially racial bigotry, to the top of all human evils.  As predicted, it is now far worse id a white man rapea and murdera a black woman than if he merely raped and murdered a white woman.  And slavery?  African to African slavery is no big thing, because not racist.  Nor Asian, pre-Columbian American, or any other slavery.  But when it's whites owning non-whites, that's when it hits the fan - because slavery is one thing, slavery based on certain skin colors is a whole new ballgame. 

It's not just racism, however.  It can be gender, sexuality, religion, you name it.  A month or so ago I saw a new story that men who  have sex with men made up the lion's share of new HIV cases last year.  Why?  Because of homophobic bigotry, that's why. What does that even mean?  It matters not.  What matters is bigotry.  

Yet, I wonder.  An age that sees in everything bigotry, prejudice, discrimination, even full on racism - could it be because the ones who see it this way are, in fact, the bigots?  I think on all those pro-feminist men who were all about fighting for women in the War on Women.  Yet how many of them during the #MeToo stampede fell under accusations of all manner of sexual misconduct - from mere harassment all the way to charges of attempted rape.  Some accusations apparently had merit, and the bulk of the high profile offenders were those men who were proud liberals all about supporting women.  Makes you wonder if their easiness in calling other men sexists was projection.

I think on that when I see the speed with which we not only throw 'Bigot' onto the court at the drop of a hat, but how those who do so see things.  When you insist you can always tell a racist by the color of her skin, you have to admit.  Or if you talk about certain groups, often your own, in ways we would consider to be bigotry if applied to others, it makes me wonder.  I mean, if you see nothing but bigotry everywhere, see bigotry in everything, and often talk about people as mere caricatures of various groups you are here to save or condemn in a manner you would consider bigotry if applied to those groups by others, is it possible that you're the real bigot in the room?   Perhaps that's why you see bigotry everywhere, since it's ultimately a mirror you're looking at?  Makes me wonder.  Don't think I don't. 


  1. (Tom New Poster)
    We are a conformist culture with a long-standing tendency to moral panic that goes back far enough for De Tocqueville to mention, and probably goes back to the Puritans (notoriously self-righteous and not very self-aware), who have an outsized influence on America because of their commitment to education in New England, and the influence of New England writers and educators on the culture. Over time Puritans began first Congregationalists, then Unitarians, then progressives, but the change in name has not changed the attitudes much.
    Too many think of themselves as God's prophet raised up to discern the will of the lord/people/planet and "save" his/her/its people Israel/America/world, and of course anyone opposing the Prophet is really an enemy of God/people/world. Self-righteous intolerance naturally follows. This is what happens when Calvin's idea of "every man for himself" interpreting the Scriptures replaced the Catholic idea of a Pope and bishops interpreting Scripture and tradition.

    1. I don't know that I'd pin it all on those puritans. My whole life I was told broadening our moral relativism was the only solution to ditching that old puritanical foundation we had. When not all the things we ditched had anything to do with the puritans. Plus, sometimes we sort of merge puritans with Victorians when the two were not the same thing. For instance, I had a professor (in a state university of all places) say the old notion of puritans as a bunch of fuddy-duddies is a bit exaggerated. After all, Thanksgiving remembers a three day party celebrating their famous harvest. When was the last time any of us partied for three days straight? Not that there weren't problems with the puritan approach, but the solutions we've embraced to get away from that approach appear to be far worse than anything they concocted.

    2. (Tom New Poster)
      It's less the rules (and the Scrooby Separatists were not quite the Puritans who settled Boston), but the cultural imperatives and source of authority that flow from Calvinism. The Old Testament with its God-summoned prophets looms very large in their preaching, and having rejected bishops and kings, who governs the community but some powerful leader who attracts the people (male heads of households) with a riveting message? It started with preachers and over time became highly-educated (well-credentialed) intellectuals, and has been a breeding ground for demagoguery. We must follow the prophet to be saved from Hell (or racism or climate change) and the "rebels" must be expelled from the people or God/Nature will punish the whole community, like he punished Israel for the sin of Actor (Book of Josue). Conforming results in "salvation".

  2. Heh. Well put. I... sort of enjoy Leverage. I find it's a show enjoyed best in segments, but it bugs me too much if its binged. Which is a shame because I adore a lot of the actors in it. (Christian Kane - the hitter - is a favorite and was in Secondhand Lions.) It's probably because the Hacker (another good actor I like) may as well be named "the wizard" with what he does and as a computer guy, sometimes I feel like the show "cheats" a solution now and then by just having him magic up a solution.

    I do remember the episode with the church and a statue and liking that one, though.

    Rashomon style stories can be a lot of fun when done, giving us great insight into both a character and how they see other characters. The first one I saw and always remember was the Perfect Strangers episode where they went to a cabin in the woods.

    But yeah, the lesson does seem to be that if you are honest with yourself, then you can find the honesty and truth in the world. Never thought about it but I think you're onto something.

    1. Yep, Kane is interesting because his character is basically himself. Martial Arts expert, gourmet chef, musician. At least in the original run of the series, he was the fight coordinator and did most of his own stunts. He also took what opportunities he could to display his prowess with various handheld weapons (a couple episodes show his knife skills that prove his training as a chef). His character was also the most interesting of the bunch. And yes, Hacker becomes more and more a cartoon. By the end of the first series they definitely bought into the 'if you know one science, you know them all' template.

      The honesty idea came to me reading Two Towers some time ago. When Aragorn and the gang meet Eomer and the riders of Rohan. Eomer tells him that he people of Rohan are true and honest, and therefore can see honesty or lies easier. I thought then there's truth to that. That's why a media that assumes everyone has an ulterier motive makes me wonder.

    2. Isn't Leverage the show that would repeat, "you cannot con an honest man"? Or am I thinking of another show? I would enjoy a lot of these when given the chance (though Burn Notice and The Good Guys - though only 1 season - were favorites).


Let me know your thoughts