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Pop Culture
Sep 10, 2015, 07:04AM

Hard Case Crime: the Beauty of Male Passion

Today’s social justice warriors don't like a sexy damsel in distress.

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I love the publisher Hard Case Crime. Inspired by the pulp paperbacks of postwar America—books with sexy painted covers and written by tough guys like Mickey Spillane, Laurence Block, Donald E. Westlake—Hard Case Crime is more than nostalgia. It reinvigorates the idea that male passion is good and beautiful. In the age where fights are waged by texting and belching gets one sent to sensitivity training, this is no small thing.

Hard Case publisher Charles Ardai started in 2006 with the intent of self-publishing a few contemporary crime novels whose content and format were inspired by the pulp fiction of the past. What began with a couple titles has now blossomed into a major publishing house, with bestsellers, a TV series based on the hit man character Quarry, and a genuine blockbuster, Stephen King’s Joyland. Hard Case also features gorgeous covers inspired by the golden age of pulp fiction in the mid-20th century. The covers all feature women in various states of undress and in some form of danger. The titles are classic: So Nude, So Dead, Murder is My Business, The Cutie.

Social Justice Warriors would say that this is “damseling”—making a woman a passive damsel in distress who needs rescuing. They ignore that generally speaking women are less violent and more moral than men (look at the prison population), and thus elicit more sympathy from readers when put in dangerous situations. There’s also the pulp tradition of the bête noir, the woman who is sharper and crazier than any man and maneuvers the protagonist to his doom. Of course, then the feminists complain about pop culture always making females characters the enemy.

The simplest explanation for the popularity of Hard Case Crime is that the books, like most pulp fiction and the film noir movies it inspired, are about animus—the Jungian term for male passion. Like a Scorsese film, they depict men on the edge when the world is increasingly hostile to dangerous and flamboyant men. In the 1950s, writers like Jim Thompson and Dashiell Hammett brought readers into a world where carefully manicured lawns, Jell-O and white picket fences hadn’t taken hold. In He Walked by Night, one of my favorite films from the era, the killer literally works underground, sliding into the dark labyrinth of the city’s sewer system to escape detection. Carl Jung wrote about “the shadow,” the part of us that is dark, horny, creative and a bit crazy. In bright and sunny Eisenhower America, crime fiction and film noir were the shadow.

Today’s social justice warriors aren’t comfortable with the shadow. Like the censors of the 1950s, they are forever trying to block, eradicate, change or stamp it out. They’re the people that Vanity Fair’s James Wolcott calls our “hall monitors.” Thus a simple and effective car ad that celebrates a young man’s bravery in the name of love gets described as “rapey.” Hollywood films, from American Beauty to Foxcatcher, neuter men who are passionate leaders in fields of the military or sports. Every sitcom dad seems to be an ineffectual schlub.

In comparison, the criminals, cops, junkies, hit-men and sex-obsessives found in Hard Case Crime seem fully alive. They aren’t liberals, but they also aren’t lad culture conservatives—juveniles like Gavin McInnes, always dropping his pants to get a reaction from the feminists.

Every man who’s fit to live has his own stories about the time, like a Hard Case character, he ducked the police, got in over his head with money, or abandoned himself in pursuit of love or sex. We’ve all climbed up windowsills, driven all night, and gotten into fights over a girl. Of course, a man must be able to read a woman’s signals, and it’s a good thing that feminism is teaching young men that no means no and yes means yes. But there’s also that ambiguous middle ground, where the woman seems interested and indicates, whether verbally or not, that the man needs to prove himself to her. And if that man is any kind of man, he’ll allow himself to feel the awesome power, the wonderful beauty, of uncontrollable male passion.

Hard Case Crime, and pulp fiction in general, is not about controlling and hurting women, although there’s some of that. It’s an expression of authentic male passion, of sweaty sexiness, in a world of pajama boys, government-mandated health food, and reactionary conservative blowhards.

Discussion
  • Social justice warriors seem to function as a convenient strawman here; like, do you have an example of anyone actually objecting to these books? Where did you get the term "damseling"? I've never heard of it; possibly it exists, but why not link to someone using it then?// The idea that women are "more moral" than men is old, and not especially convincing. Yes, there are more men in prison...but maybe that has something to do with who is seen as criminal, and other factors, rather than some innate propensity. It could be both, but just handwaving at prison doesn't tell you much (just like the fact that there are more black people in prison doesn't mean they're innately immoral.)// And "authentic male passion"? Yeah, cave men scrawled pulp fiction on the walls of their dwellings in authentic male poop. I like some pulp fiction too, but evopsych is mostly crap, and this kind of dumbed down bastardization is completely crap, imo.// I wish there's been some vague effort here to talk about the actual books and why you like them. Fun pulp can be pulp, but the only thing you seem to actually enjoy about them is that they annoy some phantom censors in your head. That doesn't seem like much of a recommendation.

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  • Oh boy do I love your providing that link illustrating "male passion", I remember seeing that in a movie theater when the movie first came out and it was one of the most powerful and affective scenes in a movie I had ever seen--I almost shouted out loud when I saw that, because it was such a great illustration of a very powerful truth. Yes, a man has to use his discernment and possibly experience in order to determine how "acceptable" he actually is to a particular woman who, herself, may not happen to be sure whether she wants you or not at that particular moment (hint--if you are drunk, the answer is probably an emphatic NO). Sex IS a very powerful force that is being set in motion, and while it is a contest of "may the best man win" out in the sexual world at large, it is also basic biology when one understands the concept of hundreds or maybe thousands of sperm cells madly swimming upstream to be THE one that will make the "the fittest" baby. That's what's really going on INSIDE. In a way, one might say that "he who hesitates is lost", but to me, that is a NUCLEAR reaction, one to not get near to touching unless you intend to be in for the very long haul (in other words, essentially a vow to remain together for a lifetime--but then, I am very conservative). However, we need to be realistic and realize that many (most?) are not going to be as conservative as all that. So both people are now stepping onto shaky ground, like a scale that is tipping up and down on both sides. You described this situation extremely accurately, Mark. I think that with a couple of teenagers awkwardly fumbling around while drunk, the concept of one of them being vulnerable to being accused of "attempted rape" is really pretty extreme when to have even gotten to that point in the relationships it is most likely that "rape" is far from being the goal, whereas a hoped for mutual enjoyment is the goal. This is a case where the male passion can became too loud (or too slow) to discern the "no" that it should have been determining, which is, I think, a danger in the whole culture of free love and sex before marriage. I think it SHOULD take a great deal of getting to know a person in both directions before the thought of acting upon a sexual desire enters the picture. Simply meeting an attractive woman at a party is not enough, despite how appealing the possibilities may be. Our culture needs to stress that much more than it seems to be doing, but criminal accusations afterwards (sometimes decades afterward) seems like not only an unrealistic and unjust tactic, it is also not an affective protection since by then it is entirely too late.

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