For about the last year, I’ve been trying to understand why I have taken the time to read all 20 books in the Jack Reacher series.
They’re competently plotted. The execution is fine. The characters—even the title character—aren’t usually all that deep, but Jack Reacher does have an interest in the trivial that appeals to me: it’s present in the first book, where he gets off a bus because he dimly remembers that the town it’s stopping in is where Blind Blake died, and it’s present here, where he gets off the train because he wonders about the origin of the name of the town in which it’s stopping.
Ultimately I suspect it’s my need to have words on a screen to read like a shark needs water to swim through, combined with a certain appreciation for the “Jack blows into town, stumbles on bad stuff, justice is done” plotting. I continue to enjoy superhero comics, after all.
But at the same time, as I alluded to in my review of The Deep in February, I find this genre to be a disturbing reflection of our society.
Probably the scene in The Wire where Bunk and Omar agree that “A man got to have a code” is the best known instance of that idea—it’s certainly the one that seemed to get referenced most when Sandor Clegane said the same thing in Game of Thrones—but one of John Wayne’s characters said roughly the same thing. It’s not a new thought.
What it is, though, is a reflection of a notion on masculinity—because you’ll notice that everyone who says it is inevitably male—that asserts a right to act in ways that are explicitly, egregiously, counter to any sense of respect for the law.
Sure, in most of the fictional instances, there’s always that sense put forth that the law is insufficient, or it is corrupt, or incompetent: that they only way to find true justice is through this extra-legal “code”.
But that’s a fucking frictionless slope.
Are we really going to pretend that these stories don’t help convince people that they only way they’ll get “justice” is to take it into their own hands? What if their idea of “justice” involves punishing people for rejecting them? Or simply punishing the world for their own sense of failure? Or seeking confrontation over some besmirching of their honor?
I’ve been in the back seat of a car when a friend of mine—incidentally, built a lot like Jack Reacher is described in the books (which is the very amusing opposite of Tom Cruise in the movie)—decided that someone in another car had been disrespectful to him, executed a quick turn and then floored it to catch up to him and…what?
I’m going to guess that involved the gun—that is still the only firearm I have ever held in my hands—that he had stashed under his front seat. Or perhaps it was just going to be a round of at least intimidation, or maybe actual force, to garner an apology.
Either way, redress for the imagined slight on his honor was something that his code demanded, and if there hadn’t been three of us to talk him down from his rage-high, who knows what might have happened.
It is certainly true, guns don’t kill people, people kill people—but we have created a society that tells itself stories constantly about how your only option is to fend for yourself, to take matters into your own hands, to “do what needs to be done”—and then we make it easy for things to go wrong by making guns easy to get.