An amusing little paper I wrote for a political theory class. I eliminated the citations - but they're almost all from de Beauvoir anyway, per the assignment.
Difference, Conflict and “The Greater Good” in Hot Fuzz
Simone de Beauvoir proposes that our relations with others are necessarily characterized by a supposition of people or groups to be “the One” or “the Other”. Detailing this concept with an example from her book The Second Sex, she writes, “In small-town eyes all persons not belonging to the village are ‘strangers’ and suspect”, and while she was describing the nature of gender relations, her conception of this most fundamental aspect of human relations offers a remarkably clear lens with which to view the film Hot Fuzz. In light of de Beauvoir’s perspective on feminism and gender relations, we come to realize that Hot Fuzz depicts the conflict between the “villagers” and those “suspect”, in Sandford or any human society, as the fundamental, brusque oppositions of differing perceptions of the “One” and the manifestation of human motivation to eradicate or replace the “Other”.
de Beauvoir writes that “the category of the Other is as primordial as consciousness itself”, since humans have a basic need, for the purposes of survival, to define themselves and their perceptions of the world as “essential” and all others as “inessential”. It is rational that a human should presume themselves to be the “One”, as his own self appears to be the absolute, the natural, the just and the real; therefore, all others appear to himself as oppositions, as consciousnesses and consciences that are wholly alien to himself. “Otherness” is also reciprocated by those perceived by one as the “Other”: he in turn views himself as the essential being. Without such relationships, there would be no barriers between humans; de Beauvoir acknowledges that “duality, alternation, opposition and symmetry…constitute not so much phenomena to be explained as fundamental and immediately given data of social reality”, for they motivate conflict at its most basic levels. Making sense of this “data”, she elaborates, implies “depriving the concept Other of its absolute sense and making manifest its relativity”, for any human’s defense of his conception of the “One” is predicated on his understanding that differing conceptions are at all times opposed to his own and may seek to eradicate from within himself his idea of the “One”.
Though de Beauvoir does not detail the motivation of the “One” explicitly, that is, the reason why humans attempt to impose the superiority of their own moral perceptions on the world, it becomes quite clear when her feminist perspective is taken into account. First, that the self should be the “Other” in one’s own eyes is anathema to humans, for to do so would be to willingly enslave oneself by the sacrifice of the ego. After all, such a conception defies logic, for “it is not the Other, in defining himself as the Other, [who] establishes the One”. Thus, the feeling of “other-ness” is necessarily a symptom of oppression. It is possible to argue here either that human nature is irredeemably evil and that misery is the greatest cause of happiness; or that fear of the displacement of one’s own conception of the “One” will diminish one’s own potential for free existence motivates humans. Hot Fuzz provides us with evidence for the latter through the characters of Danny Butterman, who is capable of a meaningful relationship with Angel but still fears for the village’s identity through the influence of his father and is willing- in practice, at least- to stab his best friend for the sake of the collective “One”. Moreover, in no way does de Beauvoir assert that oppressors such as the NWA members are base creatures: she merely explores their attempts “to show that the subordinate position…is willed in heaven and advantageous on Earth”. Extrapolating further upon her writing, we can come to the conclusion that it is the unknown existing within other consciousnesses and our fear of it that drives us to oppression.
Hot Fuzz, in a sense, constitutes an elaboration upon the theory of de Beauvoir, for while the French intellectual was concerned with the lack of a self-actualizing conception of the “One” among women and their subjugation to men, the film more clearly proposes the existence of a collective “One” and extends human motivation to the realm of community benefit, or, as Frank Butterman puts it, “the greater good”. This idea is not, in any sense, altruistic, for the Neighborhood Watch Alliance of Sandford acts only out of a desire to arrest the growth and assertiveness of the “Other” in the village. The effects of a society built on such an authoritarian principle become clear early in the film, when Sergeant Nicholas Angel encounters a horde of underage drinkers in the local pub. Indignantly pointing this out to the publican and his wife, he receives from him the rationale that “it keeps [the youth] off the streets”, out of the public eye and far removed from a productive existence, so that they will languish in self-destructive activities. An unmistakable parallel can be drawn here with de Beauvoir’s characterization of the plight of the female: just as with women, the citizens of Sandford “are stabilized as object and doomed to immanence since [their] transcendence is to be overshadowed and forever transcended by another ego which is essential and sovereign”, resulting in “possibilities…suppressed and lost to humanity”. It is apparent, then, that “the greater good” is not founded on egalitarianism or any semblance of concern for the actual welfare of all, but rather, the eradication of the “Other” for the purpose of maintaining a psychological, paranoid “lord of creation” complex among the village’s elite.
Since it appears that the primary motivation of the NWA members is a fear of the diminished integrity of their own conception of the One, a fear that though the opening of Sandford’s society to the scrutiny of a competent “policeman officer” the warped ethos of the village cult might be forcibly replaced by a respect for the authority of objective standards of law. However, it cannot be said that Angel’s consciousness is devoid of any personal conception of the “One” and, consequently, the good, for de Beauvoir cautions that “it is doubtless impossible to approach any human problem with a mind free from bias”. On the contrary, Angel’s raison d’être is his devotion the righteousness of the law, as it represents a common standard on which human relations can be based. This common standard can be said to represent de Beauvoir’s ideal of the “Angel”- someone who is party to neither the cause of the oppressor nor that of the oppressed, and has a basic ignorance of the prejudices of the case so as to bring about a decision based on morality and justice untainted by the subjectivity of the “One” or the “Other”.
Hot Fuzz’s denouement occurs when Angel is plunged into the catacombs of the castle and he comprehends the brutal methods with which the NWA has promoted its own “greater good”. As corpses pass through the sergeant’s consciousness, we hear the vile phrases that the villagers use to describe the “Other”, just as the innkeeper exclaims “Fascist!” upon meeting the Sergeant without any regard to the his identity. At first we realize that the NWA has eliminated the “crusty jugglers” and the Human Statue who they feel have polluted the culture of the town, but then we hear the words “Gypsy thieves” and behold the Alliance’s evil handiwork. The film leaves no doubt that genocide has been committed in the town. Hence a second layer of the film is subtly revealed: though indubitably the method of oppression - murder - is unjust and requires some smashing action sequences to remedy its incidence in the village, the ends of oppression - genocide and extermination - cannot be so remedied, as, in this student’s opinion, it is nearly impossible to extirpate the feeling that the “Other” is so alien to oneself as to not be human. That the townspeople of Sandford conspired toward extermination of certain groups is extraordinary, but that we have the ability as humans to fear difference to the point where its existence can be seen as a grave threat to ourselves is not.
Hot Fuzz shows us humanity at its most vile, where people become involved in evil deeds for an evil purpose: the appeasement of their own paranoid psyches. It is this fear that moves us to kill someone for the crime of existence, or exile someone from their own self through our imposition of the “Other” upon them. We do see, however, that though common adherence to a uniform standard of law, a true “greater good” that has no bias for or against any party in society and can be said to act without any “One”-preserving motivation, humans have the capability not to eradicate, but to transcend their conceptions of “Oneness” and “Otherness” and experience friendship and cooperation. But, in Hot Fuzz and in society as a whole, it takes an Angel.