Monday, April 30, 2007

God Save the Village Green

(Hot Fuzz spoilers ahoy)

About a year ago, National Review writer John J. Miller sent a peice called "Rockin' the Right: The 50 greatest conservative rock songs" spiraling into the blogosphere. There are plenty of legitimate choices (Sammy Hagar, Charlie Daniels... I don't know who thinks these guys are "great," but they certainly are conservative), yet, most of the list (and Miller's follow-up list) is inane: The Who? Black Sabbath? The Sex Pistols? Dead Kennedys? (Are you fucking kidding me?). I have no interest in playing these right-wing/left-wing games, yet there was one recurring group that interested me. The Kinks show up more than any other band on Miller's lists, and this selection is what interested me most.

Miller describes the songs on his lists as needing to meet this requirement: “The lyrics must convey a conservative idea or sentiment, such as skepticism of government or support for traditional values.” Speaking of "traditional values" as a quantifiable set is troublesome, but I'll leave that alone for now. While Miller hops all over their discography, he suprisingly doesn't mention The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society. A great album by any means, I've often wondered about the philosophical leanings of TKATVGPS. Here, The Kinks clearly look back at an idealized past, and seem to yearn for the "traditional values" of Old England (whether or not this idealized past actually existed is another matter). The nostalgia of the record points to radio serials, tea and biscuits, lazy weekends and simple pleasures like cats and taking pictures of your friends. I'm not sure if this is actually a conservative idyll as much as a uniquely English nostalgic holiday. An equal argument could be made from the left: The Kinks here lament industrialization and the the 40-hour week, as well as the potential confines of the traditional family unit. Note this lyric: "We are the skyscraper condemnation affiliates." The Human League's "Empire State Human" is, by contrast, much more conservative in the relevant sense ("High-rise living's not so bad!")

I thought about this tension the other night when I went to see Edgar Wright's Hot Fuzz, which uses the opening cut from TKATVGPS, "We are the Village Green Preservation Society" early in the film, in a remarkable, thematic way (I bet you were wondering what the payoff to all this was). Not to give too much away, the villainous force in the film is a kind of literal Village Green Preservation Society. The film imagines a kind of Village Green Secret Society, in fact, an enterprise to keep the imagined traditional English values alive, no matter the cost (no matter the "externalities" to use the language of economics).

Complete with Hammer robes, clandestine rituals and secret catacombs, the town elders in Hot Fuzz dedicate themselves to what Miller thinks The Kinks are getting at in Village Green, and more than a conservative/liberal contrast, this is a philosophical position, ultimately. The elders here represent a kind of Kantian absolutist morality, one in which the Good isnt good because its good, its good because it is "the Good." The externalities of upholding the Good (the murders staged as accidents) are irrelevant to the Good. Hot Fuzz provides a counter-point in cop Nick Angel (Simon Pegg), who speaks of "the greater good" in a different way. Angel here represents the Utilitarian ethic: greatest good for the society, not the greatest Good for the sake of an abstract, ideal good. J.S. Mill found Kant's categorical imperative a thorny ethic, and sought to draft a more pragmatic form in the notion of utility. Mill's moral theory is just as problematic, but the two work as interesting counterpoints, as do Pegg and The Village Green Secret Society in Hot Fuzz.

This may be all a fancy way of saying that I think Hot Fuzz is a really smart flick.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If lifes for living, whats living for?