Monday, April 08, 2013

Is The Killer Inside Me an anti-anti-intellectual manifesto?

Discussion at Adrian McKinty's blog has turned to anti-intellectualism in American popular culture.  One comment links to an article that traces anti-egghead prejudice to World War II; other sources say the tendency has been around longer.

Smart. Very smart.
What, if anything, did Jim Thompson have to say on the subject? Here's Lou Ford, the psychotic, aw-shucks protagonist of Thompson's The Killer Inside Me, published during those post-World War II years (1952):
"I took down a bound volume of one of the German periodicals and read a while. I put it back and took down one in French. I skimmed through an article in Spanish and another in Italian. I couldn’t speak any of those languages worth a doggone, but I could understand ’em all. I’d just picked ’em up with Dad’s help, just like I’d picked up some higher mathematics and physical chemistry and half a dozen other subjects."
Ford is simple on the outside but in fact reads at least five languages and uses reason and scientific knowledge to bamboozle less-sophisticated adversaries. On the other hand, he did not acquire his knowledge at school. Rather, he just picked it up reading his father’s books (and his father turns out to have been pretty warped, too). And, of course, he's a sadist, a psychopath, and a killer.

Is Lou Ford's clandestinely acquired knowledge, which lurks beneath the cornpone exterior, subversive? Is Thompson saying that in America in the 1950s, to be literate, multilingual, and acquainted with science was to be an outcast?

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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12 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I wonder if that many sociopaths really are smarter than other people or merely willing to do things other people would never dream of doing.

I'll bet the IQ of sociopaths is a bell curve that mirrors the rest of the population.

I like the Killer Inside Me but I cant help thinking that it helped contribute to the serial killer sub genre. A plague from which contemporary crime fiction is not likely to escape soon.

April 08, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

To put it another way, there are probably a lot of ordinary, boring dopes in jail.

I think Thompson was more interesting as a sociologist than a psychologist, which is one readon I found Pop. 1280 a better book than The Killer Inside Me (which I liked).

April 08, 2013  
Blogger Max Allan Collins said...

I believe this aspect of THE KILLER INSIDE ME proves a point I've tried to make from time to time -- that much of Thompson shows the strong influence of Horace McCoy's KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE, with its college-educated sociopathic narrator.

April 08, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You could well be right, though Thompson approaches his character differently. Cotter and Lou Ford are both self-centred, but McCoy's protagonist is an arrogant shit, while Lou Ford can be charming if he wants to be. Cotter is a spoiled brat. Lou Ford is a psychopath.

April 08, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

OK, what difference does that make? Cotter is something like a caricature of an educated intellectual, while Lou Ford is more a workingman's answer to an educated intellectual.

April 08, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

I think American anti-intellectualism is real, though how deep it goes, I don't know. But what I find interesting are stories of people like Frank Sinatra who didn't really get the whole reading culture early on, but later on got a real thirst for knowledge, and became a big reader. I think Bruce Springsteen may have been of a similar bent. The 'sissification factor' of intellectualism is a real handicap for American men, I think. It's always interesting to me why people reject things that are in their own best interest because other people dissuade them in some way.

April 08, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana: Mr. Collins, who has written lots of historical crime fiction set in mid-twentieth-century America, might be on to something with his suggestion of Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye as an influence on Thompson.

That novel's protagonist, Cotter, is an intellectual bully. Lou Ford is more a manipulator than a bully, intellect just one of his weapons, and used more rarely than others. McCoy's character is a bad intellectual, Thompson's a misfit one, for purposes of this discussion.

As for intellectualism and American males, I read somewhere (and I can't vouch for the anecdote's accuracy) that for a while some years ago, Sylvester Stallone would make it a point to be photographed reading. One day someone blew up one of these photos and found that the book he was "reading" turned out to be a dictionary--commendable for consulting, or maybe, just maybe, for browsing, but for deep reading? I think not.

April 08, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Well, reader or not, he is at least smart enough to support gun control.

Uh, despite starring in a new movie called "Bullet to the Head".

April 09, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ha! When did he come out in favor of gun control?

April 09, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Or maybe he believes firmly in putting bullets in people's heads only with duly registered handguns.

April 09, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

February 6th of this year. Apparently it made news because he is in favor of, while that other action icon, Bruce Willis, is not.

April 09, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Second try, as Blogger is eating comments again.

Sounds as if Stallone has plotted the course of his career carefully. As he passed beyond plausible age for a tough-guy movie icon, he makes a bid for political respectability, or what passes for it in Hollywood.

April 09, 2013  

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