Sunday, December 20, 2009

Steven Seagal: Lawman – Season 1 Episode 6 – "The Student Becomes the Master"

False modesty is a disease, a damnable scourge afflicting the citizenry with pandemic efficiency. The streets are lined with countless darkened imprints of a vanished modesty. Faces skirt past sidewalks beaming a contrivance – a suit mid-stride offers words to erect a facade of humbleness. The victims constitute a number too large to write. They are the fathers of sighs, the wobbling pens of polemics too obvious to compose. Seventy mouths echo in one monotone scream a line spoken by Tartuffe: “I do far less for you than you deserve.” Vile masticators of kudos, they downplay their actions to engender the praise and respect of others.

Sailing past this woeful scene is Steven Seagal. He straddles the bow of the ship, trying to avert his gaze, using hands to block out the empty rhetoric that threatens his ears. But the island Earth stimulates his sympathy. He can’t resist its pitiful murmurs. Seagal cries out in a bellowing baritone voice, causing a strong wind, trees to sway, monkeys to run for cover: “Do you not know the damage you are doing? Humanity! Have you not heard my sermons? Do you not heed my teaching? Have you not seen Under Siege?” And with that Seagal shakes his head and sails onward to Hades, a supreme ass-kicking on his mind.

Lessons only function if listened to. Parables only work when read. Seagal is only efficacious if heeded. When followers decide to ignore his wisdom, Seagal becomes the paragon of blamelessness. The propagators of false modesty have clearly cast from their minds the message of Under Siege. They have through their actions excoriated the fine words of Seagal, words perhaps his finest, a sweep of syllables that exemplify his modesty: “I’m just a cook.”

During this season of Steven Seagal: Lawman, Seagal has understated his fame. He’s consistently deflected the spotlight, shoving it away from himself with modest Seagalian gusto. An early episode featured a group of bystanders chucking tributes at him – a challenge to his modesty. But he absorbed those applauds and moved on, giving the limelight a mere minute to gild his person. Another example: a felon gets slightly star-struck in episode five when he’s arrested by Seagal. He requests a handshake, which proves difficult as he’s handcuffed and facedown on the ground. Seagal’s ego feels nothing.

Episode six sees an explosion of fanfare hit Seagal. On a routine drive through the neighbourhood frantic shouts whack the side of the car. A tense moment of vibrating jowls and the expectation of imminent danger quickly passes as locals are seen waving to Seagal from their lawns. “Hey, that’s Steven Seagal”, they yell. Smiles appear on their faces as hands are pointed towards the icon. A head protruding from a kitchen window exclaims, “Now there’s a sexy man.”

Seagal accepts all the epithets thrown his way. Yet his modesty never dims. In fact, this outpouring of fanfare helps Seagal and his deputies to forge ties with the community. A close relationship with the people is a crucial aspect of police work and nothing breaks the ice better than, “Hey, look: Steven Seagal.”

Aside from the community work, this episode also has Seagal reminiscing about his old chief, a manly inspiration to Seagal who died a year ago. The bereaved family has Seagal arrive for a visit, where he nostalgically regales them with tales of the past, before they all go and visit the grave. In sombre tones Seagal speaks about continuing the good work begun by his fallen leader.

Seagal is a man entrenched in history. Notions of legacy and continuity contribute extensively to his nature and deeds. The present is constructed from the past. The present is a constant, a condition of seeming perpetuity, but the past is a site of expiration, a dwindling nexus of cherished love and life. Our retention of the past – yes, even Seagal’s – is an agonising chain of forgetting. Time is grasped precariously by hands too weak to hold it. History is subject to the whims of random chance and has little connection to the will of the individual. As Walter Benjamin once wrote: “The past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognised and is never seen again.”

Seagal’s history is a sequence of images. Not only are his films a chronicle of a man’s flight through time, but Lawman too reeks of the past. Episode six ends with the swearing-in ceremony of the new police chief. During the ceremony Seagal cries pictures of a younger Seagal posing with his deceased mentor. A skinny fresh-faced Seagal flashes upon the screen, stealing a second of recognition, before vanishing into the vacuum of the past, doubtless never to be seen again (until the rerun).

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Steven Seagal: Lawman – Season 1 Episode 5 – "Firearms of Fury"

There’s a gene for masochism. There has to be. How else can we explain why the people of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana persist in breaking the law? Scientists have yet to scale the double helix in the detail necessary to reveal the hidden pores of these masochistic desires. The white coats stand aloof, shrugging shoulders in a gesture of undiscovered knowledge. The answer they murmur is no. Yet we see, week after week, a populace intent upon injuring the status of the law, bringing upon themselves a heavy dose of ironclad justice.

But that in-itself isn’t overly masochistic. Individuals are sometimes coerced into criminality. Be it an impulse born of poverty or exploitation, a range of determinants foist upon the good and the decent a life formed solely by illegal pursuits.

Where an unambiguous self-hate becomes manifest is when we consider he who is the harbinger of justice in this equation. Most parishes in Louisiana have sheriffs made of bone and blood – numerous flesh creatures ambulating through time and space. These are men and women whose lives are fraught with imperfection. They are professionals who defecate between patrols, entertain lusty thoughts about co-workers, and cry at forgotten memories just remembered.

Jefferson Parish, on the other hand, has to contend with a force so utterly perfect as to make us laugh outrageously at the actions of criminals and wrongdoers. At the core of their law troop stands Steven Seagal. Yes, that’s right: Steven Seagal, deputy sheriff.

To break the law in Jefferson Parish cannot be anything other than a purposeful attempt to satisfy deep psychological neuroses. The kid who steals twenty packs of Doritos from the local convenience store is seeking to damage himself, for he enters a state of guaranteed failure as soon as his act finds reality. It may be the inability to feel genuine emotion in this epoch of rampant simulacra. Or the redundancy of a survival instinct no longer needed in order to live. Either way, little Tommy’s getting busted – and he might get a forceful Seagalian boot in the backside for the trouble.

Tonight’s masochists are all hoodlums with guns. After several seconds of introductory Seagalian fervour, we catch Seagal and co charging through the city on their way to a gun-related incident. An eight-foot wolf has threatened a greengrocer – a vicious scene happening far from Seagal’s corporeal presence. The report confirms that the wolf yelled nasty words like “I will give you a right shootin’” and “Gimme that turnip” at the frightened grocer. Eventually Seagal’s brigade encounters the wolf trying to make a getaway in his jeep. But the beast is too slow, and to worsen his predicament, Seagal finds a firearm in the backseat. No amount of baying can deactivate Seagal’s furious stare – that is the lesson offered the wolf.

This episode, the fourth of the series, continues an examination initiated by Seagal in episode one. Then he participated in various games of shooting practice, propelling swarms of bullets at the heads of matches, startling everyone around him with his godly accuracy, while simultaneously propounding assorted Zen-gunfire maxims.

But this time the ‘guns are fun’ ethos of episode one has morphed into something else. Here we witness a complete inversion. The rich colours of burly blokes slapping ninety bullets into paper cut-outs amid laughter and good cheer is now a dank monochrome pit of pain and loss. Seagal races over tarmac to reach a man shot in the back. The report delineates the happening: on the corner stands a young chap, happily bullet-less, when suddenly up pulls a car driven by Biff Tannen, shotgun protruding through the window, and click – in a split second the chap standing on the corner is transformed into a victim. It’s this sort of brutality that summons profanity to the lips of Seagal. As the medics wrangle with the wound, Seagal shouts down at him, “It’s a dirty motherfucker shoots you in the back, ya hear me?”

I’m sure he did hear him. Bullet or no bullet, to ignore the words of Steven Seagal is a grave mistake that not even the ruffians of Jefferson Parish would dare commit.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Steven Seagal: Lawman – Season 1 Episode 4 – "Too Young to Die"

If the contemplation of art is united with a suitably assiduous mental effort, one can see on the canvas fragments of what might have been. Shadows of possibility lie embedded within the image, ghosts of ideas long-dismissed, ideas smote by the very mutability that heralded their original being. The visual assemblage always leaves a gap in its form, a cue for the overactive mind to insert what it deems lacking.

Consider Francisco Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son. When we look at it we see a foreground in which the titular god, conceived as a giant deistical beast, feasts upon his offspring with ruthless alacrity. It’s a scene of compelling brutality – a crime that resonates with the deepest human compulsion for procreation. But stare into the darkness behind Saturn’s form for long enough and a new figure appears. Sneaking up behind him is Steven Seagal. Seagal wears a face of steely determination, head shot through with anger, a man about to beat down an infanticidal son-of-a-bitch.

We do not know why Goya chose to have Seagal as merely implicit in the painting. He could easily have had Seagal kicking Saturn in the side of the head whilst a virtuous nymph picks up the child. Or Seagal could have punched Saturn in the arsehole, causing the latter to release the child. But Goya opted to leave Seagal as a faint phantasm, a threatening bodily fog set as the moral antithesis to Saturn’s crazed power-trip.

One thing is for certain: Seagal will not tolerate harm being done to children.

This is also the primary thrust of episode four of Steven Seagal: Lawman.

Following a stormy intro sequence of weird shapes and furious cuts, Seagal and co are seen driving through a neighbourhood on patrol. The night has brought about its daily eruption of misdemeanour and iniquity. A man-sized mantis kicks over bins. A winged-demon soars through the air, someone’s pet feline clutched in its talons. Twenty harpies engage in vociferous debate with a politician. Each scene yearns for Seagal’s mighty fist of righteousness, an angelic remedy that only Seagal can distribute. The chupacabra defecating on the sheriff’s lawn needs ninety kilojoules of Seagalian punishment, the citizenry cries out for it.

But the nocturnal monsters will have to wait, for Seagal is required elsewhere.

A call comes in: a baby’s been hit by a car. The lights go on. The sirens start to chime. They rocket past other drivers, speeding to their destination, unsure of what to expect. All exit the car when they arrive. A mass of confusion meets them. Questions launch from Seagal’s face; a quiz now underway. Turns out the baby’s okay, there’s just a scratch. The nipper ran on to the road, the driver swerved – all is well. Let’s go home, let’s forget about it. But Seagal is not done; the incident has him greatly inspired.

Next day, Seagal and the lads visit the local children’s hospital. As Seagal says:

“For about twenty-five years I’ve gone to children’s hospitals all over the world.”

Yet, amidst poignant shots of Seagal chatting to terminally-ill kids – a commendable enterprise, no doubt – Seagal lets slip a frightening fact:

“Unfortunately me and my team can’t fight disease.”

What! There was me thinking I could rely on Seagal to beat my cancer, should that damnable day ever arrive. It’s immensely displeasing, but thankfully the rest of episode four is of such quality as to fully-eradicate the melancholy.

Enter Seagal the songster.

Not content with the visit, Seagal decides to organise a gig to raise funds for the hospital. Suddenly there’s an explosion of blues, the screen lashed by a chain of pentatonic scales. Twangy guitars are wielded, piano keys battered – poppin’ bass licks intermingle with smooth gospel humming. A carpeted rehearsal space quickly transforms into a packed bar, looseness giving way to the tight bang of a live ensemble.

Encouraged by the heady rush of the music, Seagal becomes ruminative, losing himself in a mad mental sojourn. In the end he evokes another great thinker held captive by the sonic dynamic:

“Nietzsche said…life would be a mistake without music.”

As Seagal is doubtless aware, that aphorism from Twilight of the Idols ends with the line:

“The Germans even think of God as singing songs.”

Clearly, if we take the audience’s reaction to Seagal as an indicator, it’s not only the Germans who deign to worship a tuneful god.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Steven Seagal: Lawman – Season 1 Episode 3 – "Killer Canines"

Minutes are compressed into seconds. The police car speeds furiously across tarmac and pavement, bolting forward through a gauntlet of haze, the hegemony of colour obscura: the warped cerulean discord of the siren sky, the smoke-ravaged hiss of a sullen red motorway – dream visions of a forgotten chase, a burst of zero meaning, all wobble and urgency, a needless exposition.

Time spit upon, bullied into supinity, cut into millions by a serrated Seagal, like a razor-wire minute-hand cut from the cloth of Chronos. The mad gallop ahead speaks of necessity, rendering a definite destination, lessening the hectic confusion by permitting a slight glance at the future. Seagal can already be seen stepping from the vehicle, torch hoisted high above his head. He advances on to the lawn to join his colleagues. The time has been shattered, the days and hours mutated beyond comprehension. Several miles traversed in one terrifyingly jagged opening sequence.

Forty thousand minutes consumed in forty blinks of the eye, gifts to the belly of Seagal, a stretch of time willingly struck down, its suicide the awesome entrance to episode three of Steven Seagal: Lawman.

A burglary is underway. Someone’s stealing picket fences from the ‘burbs. The underworld rises to the surface at night, summoned by the sun’s disappearance. A demon throws terrapins at the elderly from a rooftop, several banshees piss in a phone booth. The streets are now scenes of villainy, the peaceful daytime transformed into endless yards of spewed filth, stomata-sprayed scum lines the roads, a heinous gangrene spreading virulently throughout society. Tiny imps punch ballbags at inopportune moments. A snake-jawed thug batters coins out of passersby.

But Steven Seagal is here to quell the evil.

The police car decelerates as Seagal jumps from the passenger side. Others rapidly join his side as he runs to the house. Circles of torchlight smack the windows as Seagal tries to ascertain if the burglar is inside. A detailed check from the outside yields nothing but impatient faces. Seagal stands alone on the lawn, legs apart, a right hand clutching his chin, lost in the infinity of thought. Then his eyes widen, two giant spheres moistened by the effort of rumination. It’s time to get the dogs in.

Canine Branch pulls up. A brawny handler leads the mutt to the house. In through the window he goes. His mission: track down the bad guy. Sadly a conspicuous silence tells Seagal and co that the bad guy has already escaped. Lucky chap. Maybe next time he won’t be so lucky – perhaps he will break into the wrong house, as Seagal says:

“If this guy had broke into my house my dogs might have killed him.”

These are serious words uttered by Seagal. They also announce the theme of this week’s episode.

Often I have wondered what Seagal does when he’s not producing quality cinema and diminishing society’s evils in the form of sheriff duty. Well now I know: he’s training attack dogs.

Since Seagal’s teenage years he’s been training dogs for protection. Adolescence is a key stage of personal development, vital to the creation of a recognisable subjectivity. It’s a time that sees numerous attempts to distinguish oneself from one’s parentage by experimentation and rebellion. Adolescence is marked by rapid change, both biological and psychological. Fads are adopted and discarded; the line between individuality and conformity carefully trod. Teenagers trundle through many identities and tastes. But rarely does a teenager go through a training attack dogs phase. I guess that’s what makes Seagal such an ubermensch.

Most of the episode has Seagal attempting to train his new dog, a shaggy beast from Eastern Europe named Frankie. This canine finds it difficult working with Seagal’s current dog Kar, so Seagal gets a special trainer in to forge an alliance between the two. Cue a number of role-plays where a man is attacked by the dogs and Seagal yells “Stop” a lot.

A busy man like Seagal needs reliable beasts to guard his family whilst he works, hence the reason why this episode focuses on Seagal’s dogs. These are his hairy deputies, feral weapons that guard a Seagal-less household. They are not perfect but will have to do until he can get himself several centaurs for the purpose.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Steven Seagal: Lawman – Season 1 Episode 2 – "The Deadly Hand"

The silence is shattered by a hoarse jagged scream coming from the corner. An unseen assailant wears nothing but a frozen heroin grin. The damp night darkness dominates everything, casting a net of evil over every trace of light. Iniquity hides in blots of blackened sidewalk, out of sight, out of understanding, a derelict space of inhumanity. In each shadow runs a thousand scenes of law-breaking, every cutlet of skin a night’s toil for a brazen knife – grim nocturnal tyranny foisted on the unsuspecting and the innocent.

Such is the dank Louisiana cityscape prior to the arrival of Steven Seagal. His very presence erases the bad, the sordid, the lustful nightmare dynamic of pent-up, foil-lipped libidinal excess that’s spewing out over curb-stones and old grannies nightly. Seagal quells the mad rush of Tiamatian lunacy and unbounded eroticism. “The jecks” knew no limits before Seagal arrived to introduce a generous dose of civilisation. The panoptic eye gazes out from a gap in Seagal’s lower thigh.

Episode two of Steven Seagal: Lawman documents Seagal’s infinite hunger for justice, his undying determination to rid the streets of negative energy and mediocre “Zen practitioners”. The mission will demand all of Seagal’s powers. He will be forced to summon countless tidbits of wisdom, applying knowledge to situations of dire import.

Certainty is rarely possessed by the hero. Its fleeting presence eludes the grasp of so many. Yet Seagal clenches certainty in all its plenitude, trapping its divinity in a single fist.

This certainty provides Seagal with an endless amount of confidence. Years spent studying the martial arts have made him impervious to panic, immune to the onslaught of fear. Invincibility wears a mask stitched by Seagal. No attack exists for which he cannot harness an instant defence. But his fellow officers are not so blessed. They, the fools, have not spent forty years studying the intricacies of aikido. A mix of pity and concern leads Seagal to put on a training session for these helpless souls.

A sweat-stinking gym is the stage for Seagal’s transmission of wisdom. Craven eyes surround him as he delineates the philosophy of his fighting style. Use the opponent’s momentum, capture the forward thrust, enfeeble the attacker, drive him down, expel no effort, be a winner, make it look easy. Fortune will meet the focused consumer of high Seagalian teaching. He guarantees that frequent practise will turn even the puniest, the most shite, into hardcore warriors, wholesome symbols of meritorious equity, the colossal-hearted figures of a modern day gigantomachia. Seagal is forging an army of epic proportions. His pupils know it: each visage grows more and more admiring with every demonstration, more and more the colouration of love with every choice word of encouragement.

The episode ends with another training session. Here a team of trainee cops are the recipients. A mass of youthful faces stares star-struck at Seagal as he describes the combat arts. The natural philosopher surprises with his erudition, throwing expectations into a fire of juvenile wrongs. He advises them to forget all the nonsense about Steven Seagal the movie star, discount the unimportant in favour of the crucial message, the one maxim we must all cherish: “Steven Seagal can save my life”.

Yes he can.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Steven Seagal: Lawman – Season 1 Episode 1 – "The Way of the Gun"

Here we sit, arms interlocked, happily cohesive, happily idolatrous, happily sharing a rich platter of preconceived ideas. All thoughts point to one thing: Steven Seagal, exemplar of the arts, muse to the masses, bounteous treasure of humankind, is a presence whose force exists on a single plane, a splashing liquid life held inside one container, easily definable, easily spoke of, a friend to a simple understanding. The filmic rivers flow full of Seagal, alluvium of ass-kicking action coating every shingle, a righteous dynamic that constitutes the very integrity of the medium. Seagal is a movie star. His literature consists of pictures and sounds. He embellishes his theorems with car chases. He paints scenes in technicolour fisticuffs. Seagal is cinema and cinema is Seagal.

Yet our grasp loosens, we begin to cling with less force, our faces turn pale as news arrives to contradict all held dear. Not one but two, a duality, blocking the path, dissolving the singularity, superimposing a new state of multiplicity.

There are two Steven Seagals.

One is Steven Seagal, fictional officer of the law, a symbol of justice battering bad guys and keeping the streets clean. The other is Steven Seagal, actual officer of the law, a symbol of justice battering bad guys and keeping the streets clean.

What’s that? A man known for throwing his foes down elevator shafts is a cop in real life?

Fiction has truly spilled over into reality. I wonder if two decades’ worth of leg snapping, neck breaking ultraviolence will make the transition. There’s been a breach in the cinematic hull somewhere, make-believe vocations are rapidly escaping, spraying out unhindered. Seagal just punched a giant ontological hole in the fiction-reality divide.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Seagal says:

“I make a living in the movies, but for the past twenty years I’ve also been a cop. And along with some of the finest deputies on the force, I serve the people of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. My name is Steven Seagal. That’s right. Steven Seagal, Deputy Sheriff.”

So there you go, the hole’s been there all this time and you never even noticed. Shame on you.

Anyway, Seagal’s sprung from the cop closet for a new reality TV show called Steven Seagal: Lawman. This pseudo-Cops docu-diary series follows Seagal as he plays at police duty, busting hoodlums for possession, patrolling the “jects” and what-have-you. Shaky vomit-inducing cameras capture Seagal as he and his colleagues pile on a carjacker making attempts to avoid "juvie". Blurry collages of blue and red flank the screen as Seagal and co are called off the road to silence a drunken ne’er-do-well. All of this set to a soundtrack of shouty Seagal Zen-words and street-addled ambience.

To rest our eyes and ears from the gritty reality of quelling injustice, we get short scenes of Seagal showing a younger colleague how to shoot like a master marksman. The demonstrations are punctuated by sagacious words, slim aphoristic wisdom encouraging the neophyte to push the bullet, to guide the bullet, to be one with the bullet, give himself to the action without trying. Like a horrifically-inflated Yoda, Seagal leads by example: not content with successfully shooting the heads of cotton buds from a distance of twenty feet, he tries to light a match by shooting it. Alas this proves hard to achieve and Seagal retires for forty hours’ meditation in the fortress of Seagalitude.

Well, what did we learn from the first episode?

Steven Seagal is an ordinary working man, a duty-bound pillar of the community, identical to those he serves. His quotidian everyday-ness is a rebuke to the Hollywood stereotype, for he is a man respected as one with the commons, dishing up banquettes of justice for the poor and the hungry. Sure he wears sunglasses indoors and signs autographs, but regardless, the proletariat knows no better example.