• 64°

Leonard Pitts: 'Gran Torino' drives home a point

Clint Eastwood has had it up to here with sensitivity. “A lot of people are bored of all the political correctness,” he recently told the New York Times. “…The country has come a long way in race relations, but the pendulum swings so far back. Everyone wants to be so” … and here, he gave a make-my-day grimace … “sensitive.”
As it happens, Eastwood was talking about a fellow for whom sensitivity is not a problem: Walt Kowalski, the retired Detroit autoworker he portrays in his latest film, “Gran Torino.” Kowalski is the unlikely hero of a tale of redemption and sacrifice … unlikely because he is a cantankerous cuss with a mouth full of bigotry and invective, a guy who has it in for the “dagos,” the “micks,” the “hillbillies” and, most pointedly, the “slopes” … i.e., the Hmong refugees, an influx of which has left his once white, working-class neighborhood unrecognizable.
In the years since he stopped acting opposite orangutans, Eastwood has become a fascinating filmmaker, willing like few others to confront the nettlesome gray areas of human existence. “Gran Torino” is a worthy addition to that canon but for all the nettlesome grays it illuminates, the most nettlesome might be one it suggests only obliquely: the notion that we are drowning in our own sensitivity.
Here in the United States of the Aggrieved, there is no malady, mark, mannerism, mindset or malformation too miscellaneous to have its own support group, along with a cadre of lobbyists and lawyers hyper-vigilant for any suggestion of mistreatment or actionable discrimination. Largely as a result, American English has become a morass of compound constructions and newly invented terminologies designed to leave no one out, give no one cause for offense. Sometimes you wonder if, in so radically revising the way we communicate, we have not compromised our ability to do so.
A few years ago, I showed one of my college classes an episode of “All in the Family.” The students were offended. Nor were they persuaded by my protestations that the show was: (a) hilarious and; (b) a satire that condemned bigotry by making it ridiculous. They are children of a different era where you simply cannot say the things Archie Bunker did, even to ridicule them.
Sometimes, I think that’s progress. Sometimes, I call it something else entirely.
Archie Bunker and Walt Kowalski are icons of a white America that is fading away … meaning not simply one that was freer with ethnic insult, but one where it was possible, among friends, to speak those insults in good humor, with no malice intended or imputed.
Indeed, Kowalski gets as good as he gives from his barber, an Italian, each slurring the other’s ancestry with good-natured brio. Yet when Kowalski confronts a group of black street punks, the script has him calling them “spooks” … not the more obvious epithet that rhymes with “trigger.” Eastwood doubtless knew using that word would have rendered the character irredeemable.
That the script allowed Eastwood to fire at will at his Italian friend but required him to pull up short in dealing with black thugs is telling. It speaks not simply to script dynamics, but to dynamics of American history and culture, to the question of who has assimilated enough that we deem them fair game and who has not.
It’s not difficult to appreciate the nostalgia Eastwood … and, likely, many white Americans of his generation … feel for the easy banter between Kowalski and his barber. It bespeaks a less touchy time where friendly insults helped pass the time of day.
But for there to be friendly insults, there must first be friendships, with all the reserves of trust and affection that term implies. The “sensitivity” Eastwood deplores is stark evidence that all too often, there is not.
– – –
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

Comments

Comments closed.

Crime

Blotter: Man brandishes AR-15, runs over motorcycle at Rockwell-area gas station

Crime

Salisbury man charged with exploitation of minor

Crime

Road rage incident results in assault charges

Local

Dukeville lead testing results trickle in, more participation needed

Education

Faith Academy interviewing staff, preparing site for fall opening

News

Volunteers work around obstacles, alter procedures to offer free tax services to those in need

Education

Education shoutouts

Local

Retired Marine gets recognition for toy collection efforts

Local

March issue of Salisbury the Magazine is now available

Education

Five get Dunbar School Heritage Scholarships

Education

Education briefs: Salisbury Academy fourth-graders think big as inventors

Education

Bakari Sellers keynote speaker at Livingstone College Founder’s Day program

Nation/World

Biden aims to distribute masks to millions in ‘equity’ push

Nation/World

Chief: Capitol Police were warned of violence before riot

Nation/World

GOP rallies solidly against Democrats’ virus relief package

Nation/World

FDA says single-dose shot from Johnson & Johnson prevents severe COVID

High School

Coaches, lawmakers react to governor’s order expanding sporting event capacity

Coronavirus

Three new COVID-19 deaths, positives remain below triple digits

BREAKING NEWS

Gov. Cooper announces end to curfew, changes to restrictions affecting bars, high school sports

Crime

Blotter: Two charged after call about package

Crime

Salisbury Police investigating two shootings

Crime

Chase involving Kernersville man ends in woods behind Carson High School

News Main

North Rowan girls end season with playoff loss to Murphy

Education

Rowan-Salisbury EC department plunges in place after raising $1,300 for Special Olympics