Little Murders in Retrospect

After their wildly successful anti-war classic Mash, actors Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland ventured out on a very weak limb and made a film version of a hit and miss Broadway production.  Alan Arkin directed the film and played the part of mentally disturbed Lieutenant Practice of the NYPD.  The year was 1971.  My beautiful baby daughter had just entered the world.  I’d recently been convicted of twice refusing induction into the U.S. Army, and was awaiting my court date for sentencing.  Somehow, amid the mix of joy, sadness, and confusion, my wife and I managed to slip out and take in a movie.  Little Murders would haunt me for the rest of my life.

If you’re like virtually everyone I’ve ever quizzed about Little Murders, you not only missed seeing it, you’ve never even heard of it.  It is also likely that, if you happen to be among the few who actually saw it, you’d really like to forget it.  But, of course, you can’t.  44 years later I don’t remember all the gory details of the flick, but I do remember apathetic Alfred Chamberlain (Elliott Gould), focusing his camera on a newly deposited bowel movement in a toilet, and on a steaming pile of dog crap in a park.  He was a photographer and poop was his forte.  His subject matter of choice also reflected his world view.  If Alfred could have possibly cared less about anything, he would have.  Alfred’s world was shit.

Then one day while he was being beaten to a bloody pulp by street thugs, and not even bothering to defend himself, Alfred was saved by feisty, optimistic Patsy Newquist (Marcia Rodd).  Apathist that he was, Alfred tried to walk away without even thanking his heroine.  But Patsy fell for him, and decided to show him that the world wasn’t such a bad place after all.  It was no easy task, but she eventually married Alfred, put a hesitant smile on his glum face, taught him to fight for himself,  and convinced him that life was worth living.  Then she took a random bullet, splattering her husband with blood, and dying.

Little Murders took place in a somewhat exaggerated version of New York City, or Anytown, U.S.A.  Civil society had spiraled out of control and degenerated into a cesspool of fear, loathing, and random violence.  In spite of the raging nightmare of The Vietnam War, few Americans in 1971 would have believed that their country 44 years later would become such an accurate replica of the social wasteland of “Little Murders”.  But that is exactly where we are today, and then some; living in a world so violent and cold that there is nothing left which can shock us.  Mass murders, school shootings, infanticide, beheadings, immolation, cops run amok, manufactured terrorism, the Airport Gestapo, black sites and torture, endless wars for corporate profit, daily specter of nuclear annihilation.

But here in the U.S.A. we like to look on the bright side.  No sense in focusing on the negative when there’s so much positive energy in the world.  We’ve got Kim Kardashian’s ass to obsess about.  A spectacular spectators’ array of gladiator sports:  NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, NCAA FB, Cage Fighting, NASCAR, Pro golf & tennis.  Black Friday deals on electronics, reality television, celebrity weddings, divorces, and sex changes, Dancing with the Stars, The Voice.  The upcoming Presidential Coronation Circus and Candy Crush.  Did I mention Kim Kardashian’s ass?  Thank God for Pollyanna’s Glad Game.  If not for such an array of inane, petty distractions, Americans would all end up like apathetic Alfred Chamberlain, or worse yet like angry, infuriated me.

Any American with his head screwed on straight should have suffered an extended and incurable case of righteous indignation by now.  While the National Rifle Association has succeeded in enshrining The Second Amendment alongside mom, home, and apple pie, little murders on the domestic front have been on the rise to the point that they’re as common as bedbugs in cheap motels.  But my countrymen do love their portable WMDs, apparently more than life itself.  It’s not just gun violence defining the nightmare which is America.  What has finally emerged is a complete lack of respect.  Respect for self and others, for all life forms, for Mother Earth itself.  Anyone paying attention can see it in their actions.  They litter the streets with their garbage, litter their skin with ill-conceived epidermal etchings, litter their bodies with poisonous food-like substances and soul-killing drugs, litter maternity wards with litters of unwanted children.  Alfred Chamberlain’s world has grown to fruition.

indexThanks to Banksy for the picture

Of course, Americans have had plenty of inspiration as they’ve sacrificed their souls upon the alter of American Exceptionalism.  Their government has waged a nearly non-stop series of wars for corporate profit since Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.  Anyone paying a lick of attention knows that every one of these wars were waged for the benefit of Ronald McDonald and Mickey Mouse, and that official government explanations are only believed by fools.  At least our heroes in the White House, the Halls of Congress, and the Pentagon learned something during the Vietnam fiasco:  The new definition of winning a war is that you slaughter as many civilians as possible, bomb cities, destroy infrastructure, burn crops, and create enough chaos that the U.S. Military is forced to open permanent bases and swing wide the doors for corporate plunder.  Conveniently under armed protection.

This is exactly what happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, what went on in Libya recently, and what is now happening in Syria and elsewhere.  The American agenda is being rammed down the throats of unwilling participants wherever there are valuable resources to be plundered by Wall Street pirates.  Migrations of refugees from U.S. bombings seek asylum elsewhere, while foolish, careless Americans pay little heed.  A few hoorays for the red, white, and blue, thanks to our brave fighting men for slaughtering innocent foreigners, and back to watching Kim Kardashian’s ass over a can of Coca-Cola.  Things go better with Coke.

In 1971, I was shocked by the last scene of Little Murders, in which Alfred (still wearing his shirt splattered with his wife’s blood), and the father and brother of his recently deceased bride finally have a few moments of sheer joy.  Taking turns with a loaded rifle, they join in with their fellow New York citizens, becoming snipers from their apartment window,  Finding fun and laughter with each kill.  I’d no longer be shocked by the scene.  Now I get it.  It’s what species do in the final death throes of extinction.

John R. Hall, having finally realized that no human being in possession of normal perception has a snowball's chance in hell of changing the course of earth's ongoing trophic avalanche, now studies sorcery with the naguals don Juan Matus and don Carlos Castaneda in the second attention. If you're patient, you might just catch him at his new email address, but if his assemblage point happens to be displaced, it could take a while. That address is: Read other articles by John R..