We all know that modern, industrial society has carelessly wounded the Earth’s environment. Sometimes we ask ourselves some fairly deep questions. What role did we have in creating this mess? What type of people cause it? What can be done? All of these questions have apocryphal answers. Ted Lewis, in one of the best noir fiction novels ever; gives us intelligent speculations.
The novel Jack’s Return Home (1970) is known by the title of the movie adaptation Get Carter.*,** It is short, puts bottom line up front, and terse to the point of making Ernest Hemmingway seem long-winded. It focuses less on environmental issues than more modern authors in the Crime Fiction genre. However, by describing the environment and having the characters interact with the post-industrial ruins, Lewis offers insights regarding the polluted and ravaged environments in 1970’s Northern England. These can easily be universalized to describe similar ruin in modern America.
The book involves protagonist Jack Carter, who returns home to see to the affairs of his honorable and decent deceased brother, Frank. He quickly decides that foul play was involved and proceeds to turn over every rock and step on every roach in the entire corrupt burg trying to set things right for his posthumously defamed brother. It’s a classic novel in the category of “this town needs an enema” fiction. In the course of vicariously exterminating all the roaches, we learn about how the world can be trashed and just what sort of person does the trashing.
At first there’s just the blackness. The rocking of the train, the reflections against the raindrops and the blackness. But if you keep looking beyond the reflections you eventually notice the glow creeping into the sky. At first it’s slight and you think maybe a haystack or a petrol tanker or something is on fire somewhere over a hill and out of sight. But then you notice that the clouds themselves are reflecting the glow and you know that it must be something bigger. And a little later the train passes through a cutting and curves away towards the town, a small bright concentrated area of light and beyond and around the town you can see the causes of the glow, the half-dozen steelworks stretching to the rim of the semicircular bowl of hills, flames shooting upwards – soft reds pulsing on the insides of melting shops, white heat sparking in blast furnaces – the structures of the works against the collective glow, all of it looking
like a Disney version of the Dawn of Creation.
We quickly see that that seedy pubs and industrial blight only reflect the inner natures of the deficient and hateful people who abuse the contaminated, dying town. They have schemes to get rich quickly and will use anyone they need to get there. The men are all callous and resort to violence without remorse. The women are empty, disloyal, and hypergamous the way females in monkey tribes behave. Nobody thinks about the future beyond a one to two day window of consequence. It’s a good thing people like that don’t decide anything in America.
The leading citizens; Mr. Kinnear and Mr. Brumby, were dishonest mob criminals who make half-hearted attempts at respectable facades. Everything these characters do involves low-life activities and false premises. Jack ultimately discovers that Mr. Brumby and Mr. Kinnear were involved in producing child pornography films. Life in some American towns imitates noir crime fiction.
Brumby and Kinnear were busy exploiting the town they ran and trying to hide from opprobrium. Meanwhile, the local steel mills were openly dumping molten slag*** in a nearby ditch with no penalty or consequence. One can imagine Detroit beginning to rot as Mayor Kilpatrick got fitted for his orange jumpsuit. The death of nature corresponds in time and location with the moral decay of man.
In fashionable, Progressive circles, the Beautiful People claim to care about the Important Things™ like Global Warming.**** Al Gore can still spend an evening peddling snake-oil for dollars. The Jeremy Kinnear of the American Environmental movement was recently at it again. Just send him money, and it absolves you like a purchased indulgence. Once you’ve blamed “Capitalism,” The Man In The Mirror gets off scot-free.
So what solves this problem? We need to demand more. Our towns our cities, our very society all need an enema. We cannot accept the leadership of people who peddle easy fake solutions to long-term problems. The rot and the dinge of a dying natural environment are symbols of corrupt humanity and a sickened society the way a fever of 105 indicates that you may have an Ebola problem in your near future.
We can fight to make the people who govern us account for the results that they deliver and expose their promises of infinite healthcare and changing ocean tides to condign and meritorious skepticism. We can clean up our leadership and ethical environment or we can watch our natural beauty fade from view along with our wretched souls. We can rise above the noise and pollution and fix our toxic culture, or we can wind up dying in a filthy, polluted puddle of waste – just like the protagonist of Ted Lewis’ noir classic Jack’s Return Home.
*-Michael Caine’s performance alone makes this movie one of the best examples Noir Cinema ever made as well.
**-Stallone did a version later on, but I’m only discussing legitimate works of art.
***-The scene where Carter tosses an enemy thug on to the slag heap to burn so that the police can’t ID the body is almost reminiscent of how Nebuchadnezzar disposed of people in The Old Testament.
****-Which inconveniently stopped happening almost two decades ago.