My friend Aaron Aradillas writes:
I saw Gran Torino last night and was wondering if you were thinking of creating a thread on your blog so it can be talked about, spoilers and all? I think there should be some kind of discussion where non-Paulettes can argue against the film.
In short, I think the film is enjoyably watchable faux-melodrama. I didn't believe it for a minute. To papraphrase Tropic Thunder, Eastwood didn't have the courage to go full racist. He's the kind of racist the audience can feel comfortable identifying with. And, yes, the audience is meant to share Walt's POV almost from frame one.
Anyway, think about creating a place where the movie can be talked in more detail.
Hmm. Well, I had been thinking about it, and in fact I implied I'd be doing some such thing back when I first wrote the picture up, but I don't know now—the way Aaron poses the question seems a little loaded to me. What am I gonna, do, put up two signs, one saying "SPOILER ALERT," the other "NO PAULETTES ALLOWED"? That doesn't work for me. Also, I see that over at Ann Althouse's blog, she's already started an open thread on Gran Torino, and I don't want her to think I'm ripping off the idea. God knows how much grief I got the first time I pissed her off. That said, I do notice that her site seems to have a fair number of posts pertaining in some way to Gran Torino, and there seems to be some theory afoot that the oft-played-for-laughs deployment of racial epithets in the picture, when considered in tandem with a years-old video of England's Prince Harry, now makes it okay for one to refer to, say, one's Jewish friend as a "kike" to his face. Or some such thing. Maybe I'm reading the posts wrong or something. But if I'm reading them right, I do have to take a little issue with the idea, which goes back to Lenny Bruce. As some of you may recall, Lenny Bruce was trying to tell you many things before he died. One of them was that the putatively taboo nature of racial epithets is what gave them their "power...violence...viciousness." And that if we just hammered away at such words via repetition, they would lose that power, just become words.
Well, that didn't work out, Patti Smith's "Rock N Roll Nigger" notwithstanding. And the way Eastwood's Walt Kowalski tosses around the racial epithets in Gran Torino is, I think most reasonable people would agree, a reflection of his particular character and the social milieu he's most comfortable in, rather than a proposal as to how the rest of us ought to speak to our friends and peers. Not to say that I myself would take extreme umbrage if you were, say, to refer to me as a "stupid looking Irish pig;" it's just that I'm not going to make assumptions about what you are likely to take umbrage at.
So where was I? Oh, yes. So, Mr. Aradillas (and right around this point a bolder blogger than myself would come up with a really juicy racial epithet, ar ar ar) feels that Gran Torino lacks, because Eastwood's not willing to go "full racist" in it. I think this rather puts the cart before the horse. A Walt Kowalski who was "full racist" would have been agitating to keep the Hmongs out of his neighborhood months if not years before the film's action even began. He would never have deigned to speak to Sue or Bee, let alone become so invested in their fates. Yes, of course Kowalski is the kind of racist the audience feels comfortable identifying with; his bigotry is a bigger-than-average rendering of the bigotry that's part of quite a lot of people's normal social conditioning. If Kowalski were the full-on racist Aaron seems to be asking for, the resultant film wouldn't be Gran Torino; it'd be Joe.
So, here's your open thread. Have at it, Paulettes and non-Paulettes. Don't get mad at me, you-know-who. Now I gotta get back to work.