Eye on Hollywood: No Country for Old Men

While traveling in Greece last spring, I found myself lacking for reading material. At a bookstore in Patras, I found an overpriced copy of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men. At the time, I thought it might have been a bootleg copy because pages of narrative seemed to be missing. For instance, one moment the man who appeared to be the leading character was sipping a beer on the steps of a motel and a few pages later we hear about his corpse. Well, maybe that’s just the way McCarthy writes.

As most readers know, the Coen brothers, Ethan and Joel, have adapted this novel to the big screen, and it won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. Various blogs have credited the Coens for their “realistic” portrayal of Mexicans—drug smugglers, vicious murderers and all-around threats to the peace of (white) America. I haven’t seen the film yet, but the book does read that way.

In fact, the sheriff in the book (played by Tommy Lee Jones in the film) mulls over the changes that have come to American life. Back in the thirties, someone handed out a form asking teachers what problems there were in schools. Answers were “things like talkin in class and runnin in the hallways. Chewin gum. Copyin homework. Things of that nature. . . . Forty years later. Well, here come the answers back. Rape, arson, murder. Drugs. Suicide . . . Forty years is not a long time neither.”

Interestingly, these same forty years were the period in which the traditional WASP leadership of American was replaced by a new one, an “adversary culture” in Norman Podhoretz’s words. David Gelernter, the Yale University computer scientist nearly killed by a bomb sent by the Unabomber, wrote a stunning essay in the American Jewish Committee’s house magazine Commentary about this change. “The perversity I want to understand starts in the 1960’s.” He sees the rise through the ranks of a new class as both unhealthy and ominous. To many readers of Commentary (there were plenty of letters of complaint) it was unforgivable that Gelernter identified Jews as the cause of the problem.

“One dramatic sign was the big influx of Jews.” Perversity resulted from that fact that “the old elite used to get on fairly well with the country it was set over. Members of the old social upper-crust elite were richer and better educated than the public at large, but approached life on basically the same terms.” The new, heavily Jewish elite, Gelernter argued, is not only different from the non-Jewish masses, “it loathes the nation it rules.”

I’ve often wondered if the same sentiment applies to the Coen brothers. Having won multiple Oscars, they certainly qualify as elites. And like many of those in Gelernter’s essay, they are Jewish, having grown up in a predominantly Jewish section of Minneapolis.

Ethan Coen has commented that he always felt the outsider, one who never identified with “flat-voweled Scandinavian-American Minnesota.” That world, of course, is the object of the Coens’ hit film Fargo (1996), a cold world in which non-Jews are far from brilliant and unpredictably violent. Kindly but slow-thinking police chief Marge Gunderson (played by Frances McDormand, Joel Coen’s real-life wife) is able to outwit Minnesota criminals only because they are even less intelligent.

Gaear Grimsrud, for instance, is arguably not even intelligent enough to be considered a real human. He kills without forethought or remorse, and in one famous scene is caught feeding the remains of his crime partner into a wood chipper in back of their cabin hideaway. The red effluent issuing from the machine stands in stark contrast to the white Minnesota snow.

This scene recalls the prose of another Jewish member of the new elite, novelist Philip Roth.  In one passage from Portnoys Complaint, Roth mocks the barbarity of white Americans:

Let the goyim sink their teeth into whatever lowly creature crawls and grunts across the face of the dirty earth . . . let them eat vulture, let them eat ape-meat and skunk if they like—a diet of abominable creatures well befits a breed of mankind so hopelessly shallow and empty-headed as to drink, to divorce, and to fight with their fists. All they know, these imbecilic eaters of the execrable, is to swagger, to insult, to sneer, and sooner or later to hit. Oh, also they know how to go out into the woods with a gun, these geniuses, and kill innocent wild deer . . . You stupid goyim! Reeking of beer and empty of ammunition, home you head, a dead animal (formerly alive) strapped to each fender . . . and then, in your houses, you take these deer . . . cut them up into pieces, and cook them in a pot. There isn’t enough to eat in this world, they have to eat up the deer as well! They will eat anything, anything they can get their big goy hands on! And the terrifying corollary, they will do anything as well.

Roth’s worldview, as well as that of Joel and Ethan Coen as presented in Fargo, highlights a strong cleavage in Jewish thinking differentiating Jews from non-Jews. In biblical terms, this was the story of brothers Esau and Jacob. The elder brother Esau, hairy like an animal, is the archetypal goy. Jacob, the clever younger brother, represents the Jew. It’s rather surprising to see how the dichotomy has persisted.

Three decades ago, Hollywood insider Ben Stein added a new dimension to understanding this split. In his 1976 essay “Whatever happened to small-town America?” he explored television’s pronounced hostility toward rural (read Christian) America. Overwhelmingly Jewish, the television elite, like its Hollywood counterpart, imagined that small-town Gentiles naturally meant Jews harm. “As a result, when he [a Jewish TV writer] gets the chance, he attacks the small town on television or the movies.”

Echoing Gelernter, Stein wrote that “A national culture is making war upon a way of life that is still powerfully attractive and widely practiced in the same country.” The result is that “in the mass culture of the country, a hatred for the small town is spewed out on television screens and movie screens every day.”

Sounding like a Hollywood informant for Kevin MacDonald’s Culture of Critique, Stein concluded that “People are told that their culture is, at its root, sick, violent, and depraved, and this message gives them little confidence in the future of that culture. It also leads them to feel ashamed of their country and to believe that if their society is in decline, it deserves to be.”

One result of this sentiment was that shows portraying Gentile American life in small towns simply disappeared. The change on American television in the early 1970s was so abrupt that Wikipedia even has an entry on it called “The Rural Purge.”

Another result was that when images of small towns did appear after this purge, what Marx called “the idiocy of rural life” was featured. Thus, for example, the fictional Ohio town of Fernwood depicted in Fernwood 2 Night “is full of bigots, Klansmen, quacks, hillbillies, and religious frauds.” Fernwood 2 Night was produced by Norman Lear whose All in the Family is perhaps the quintessential anti-white TV show: stupid and bigoted Archie Bunker surrounded by enlightened liberals and assorted multi-cultural types who delight in making fun of him.

Having grown up in a small town, I have far different memories of life in such a place. Put simply, it was a wonderful area in which to grow up, and I always consider it superior to what is available in American cities and suburbs today. One of the biggest changes is to the people themselves: in my youth nearly ninety percent of Americans were of European descent, while today that figure has plummeted to around sixty-five percent.

Another difference is that the non-WASP elite today, the one that “loathes the nation it rules,” is composed even more of the elite Jews Gelernter and Stein discussed. With the huge rise in crime against whites and the vast array of preferences in society for non-whites, I’m probably not the only person to think that McCarthy’s title No Country for Old Men could just as easily read No Country for White Men.

Come to think of it, as I consider the rise of non-white Hollywood stars, I realize the subtext of many movies is just that. For instance, Remember the Titans (2000), a high school football story starring Denzel Washington, is really an allegory about the replacement of whites with non-whites. I wonder how I’ll react to the Coens’ version of McCarthy’s book.

Edmund Connelly is a freelance writer, academic, and expert on the cinema arts. He has previously written for The Occidental Quarterly.