Over the weekend I had a chance to watch the Irish movie, The Guard, starring American actor Don Cheadle. Structurally, it is a standard cop buddy film, the kind where two completely dissimilar police officers are paired up together to solve a crime, like the great Nick Nolte/Eddie Murphy film 48 Hours. Don Cheadle plays a straight-laced FBI agent sent to Ireland to intercept a large drug shipment from shipboard smugglers, and Irish actor Brendan Gleason plays an aging Gardia (Gardia is the Irish police, and hence the title is an Anglicization of that name) sergeant who is serving his pensionable time in a remote Irish village where most people still speak Gaelic, and who is far enough along in his career that he doesn’t give a damn what people think of him, or how offended they may be over his political incorrect observations.
For one example of the banter between them, during a PowerPoint briefing to the Garda, Cheadle’s character shows mug shots of the suspected drug dealers to his colleagues. They are white and Irish. Gleason’s character comments out loud that he thought all drug dealers were “black... or Mexican.” Cheadle responds, “That’s racist!” Gleason retorts, “Sir, I’m Irish. Racism is part of my heritage.”
To prove that Cheadle is not being subject to extra treatment simply because he is black, every group of people not from the small town where the events take place is subject to insult and mockery of some sort. For instance, every form of vice and folly is ascribed to Dubliners by the non-Dublin Irish. Another example is the widow of the sergeant’s partner: a Croatian babe who only married the officer to get an Irish visa. Throughout the movie she is referred to as ‘a Romanian’, even after she patiently explains that she is Croatian. But to the Irish, any dodgy Eastern European chick is a Romanian. Of course, it goes without saying that Protestants, the English and Americans are subject to similar verbal abuse.
In other words, this is just the way they carry on. They don’t hate blacks like Don Cheadle any more than they hate Dubliners (though they do hate Protestants and the English). This depiction of ‘casual racism’ strikes me as realistic. As a summer student at an Ontario Hydro power plant, I worked predominately with English, Scottish and Irish fitters and welders. They were always trading insults like this to one another - while hanging out together in the lunch room. It seems they had a derogatory name or rhyme or story about every little village in the British Isles. For instance, I learned from them that people from Hartlepool are called monkey hangers.
However, over and above the realism, this movie demonstrates that the Politically Correct lie - that any non-PC comment is the moral equivalent of racial terrorism - is hooey.
To take an example from the world of politics, consider President Harry Truman. He integrated the US Armed Forces and championed civil rights for blacks so passionately that the Dixicrats split off from the Democrat Party in 1948 and ran Strom Thurmond against him, splitting the Democrat vote. But in private, Truman used the n-word and enjoyed black jokes. Is civil rights champion Harry Truman a racist? Today’s PC zealots would say yes. Whoever wrote the screenplay for The Guard (as well as common sense) would say no.
Conservatives are fond of complaining about how the film industry produces nothing but crap. However, if you look carefully, there are quite a few gems out there with a positive message. I think it is incumbent on us to patronize these films to encourage more of the same. For this reason, I will continue to periodically highlight such movies and (increasingly) TV shows.