Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Tragic Sword

There’s no denying that swords can be enormous fun. Watch Lord of the Rings, or better yet, Kill Bill, and the entertainment possibilities of waving about a heavy piece of sharpened steel are thrust into relief. Swords are far more elegant than firearms, less sneaky than knives, more spectacular than fists and feet. Yes, when it comes to savagely cutting down large numbers of your fellow human beings, swords, if you’ll pardon the incredibly bad, Channel-Ten-news-worthy witticism, have really got the edge.

But the sword-play rennaisance is not limited to the big screen. In what appears an incongruous trend in a modern, industrialised nation, swords are fast becoming the weapon of choice for Australia’s psychopaths. How many times in recent years have I opened the paper or switched on the television to be confronted with images of some sword crime or other? I’ll tell you exactly how many times: quite a few. If it’s not a guy in a kilt holding up traffic with his broadsword, it’s some nutter with a home-made slicin’-stick carving up suburbanites as they sleep.

Why this sudden rise in sword crime? I have a few suggestions.

First, following the national gun amnesty of a few years ago, deaths from firearms have decreased dramatically. But taking away people's guns hasn't taken away their unslakable thirst to kill. And while the government has done its bit, providing lots of juicy wars so that the joy of killing may be enjoyed vicariously by all Australians, sooner or later it's going to get too much for the more unbalanced members of society, harshly deprived of their main means of wet work, and an alternative to guns will be sought. So while some have opted for knives, the more aesthetically-minded nutbags have found themselves drawn to the timeless elegance of swords.

Second is what I like to call the Carl Sagan Theory, because it takes one of that thinker's actual theories and distorts it to perverse ends. We live, Sagan wrote, in a demon-haunted world. In the midst of grand scientific achievement, new age religions, DIY spirituality, and all manner of irrational belief systems are flourishing. Partly the trend is a reaction against the supposedly inhuman coldness - and often, to all but a few geniuses, sheer incomprehensibility - of modern science. It is only a short leap of logic (with a quick stop at the bottle shop on the way) to suggest that the same atavistic drive is behind the rise in sword crime. Disillusioned with the blunt power of modern firearms, people are returning to simpler methods of doling out bloody vengeance. In an increasingly impersonal age, swords provide the human touch which is so lacking in guns. It is to be hoped that victims of sword crime appreciate just how lucky they are.

Finally, we cannot forget that always reliable scapegoat, popular culture. Films, in particular, have played a large part in demonstrating the style, versatility, and sheer brutal fun of swords. Who could watch Uma Thurman massacring the Crazy 88 in Kill Bill without wanting to get up and start cutting strips off the annoying teenage boys sitting in the back row? I know I couldn’t, which is why I write this piece while awaiting trial on three counts of murder, and one of attempted regicide (how was I to know the kid with the Limp Bizkit t-shirt who kept talking during the quiet parts was the rightful king of Sweden?)

Having established the prevalence of sword crime and suggested some of its possible causes, the next question is: what are we to do about it? From July 1 2004, swords - ornamental or otherwise - have been illegal in Victoria. The new law is to be applauded, however it fails to deal with the root causes of sword crime established above. It is clear that further measures will be necessary.

Obviously, one of the first steps is to ban movies. I mean all of them, even the ones that don’t feature swords, and especially those starring Jim Carrey. This may sound like draconian censorship, and indeed it is, but the result will be an infinitely better world, one in which films like Bruce Almighty will never be made, let alone seen. Sword crime will probably fall, too.

I recommend a range of further strictures, including: the banning of all kilts and associated highland wear; the abolition of martial arts schools, adult education centres, mother’s groups, and senior’s knitting circles; a nation-wide campaign to blunt all kitchen knives longer than three inches; the banning of fantasy novels whose cover artwork depicts swordplay of any kind, but especially the kind in which a muscly dude is raising his sword to the emerald clouds as a busty Amazon clutches at his rigid thighs while staring admiringly at the lofted phallus; the banning of the word "sword"; and, finally, the life-imprisonment of anybody who has read Lord of the Rings. You just can’t be too careful.

Most important, however, would be the institution of a police unit to deal specifically with sword crime. Members of Sword Squad would be the only people authorised to carry swords, their brief being to counter sword (and kilt) crime in all its forms. For too long sword-wielding psychos have been brought down with bullets or capsicum spray, methods which are not only unfair, but inelegant. Sword Squad would bring down offenders honourably, not to mention in pieces, providing a sense of closure both for those watching the action, and for the swordsman himself. Perhaps the head of the vanquished swordsman could then be mounted on the wall of Sword Squad HQ as a warning to those thinking of messing with the new anti-sword laws. Perhaps it could be made into a nice lamp.

Naturally there would need to be armed sword-marshals riding anonymously on planes, patrolling public transport, hiding in the boots of taxis, and so forth. Sword Squad would require a helicopter or two, from whence to rappel into battle. All this may sound a little overblown, but I think on reflection you’ll see the benefits to be derived from my plan. Freedom is a precious thing, and freedom from sword crime even more so. But it comes at a price. Oh, by the way, Sword Squad will need your fingerprints and DNA on file, just in case. Anyway, as I was saying, freedom from sword crime comes at a price, but as I breathe the atmosphere of terror these steel-wielding maniacs have created, I know that any price is worth paying to become, once more, a swordless society.


Anonymous said...

That whole "last of the highlanders" Flinders Street episode, yeah? I thought that was an urban legend.


Tim said...

Nope, it was real. Check out http://www.walkleys.com/winners_99/simon_dallinger.html for Walkley Award-winning photos of the incident. Disappointing to note the lack of kilt action, but you can't have everything.