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).


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