Analysis of Two Societal Challenges and Dirty Harry's Responses to Them

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Dirty Harry, a movie directed by Don Siegel depicts San Francisco as a state terrorized by a psychopathic sniper, who heckles at innocent victims and requires payment through notes he leaves at the place of the offense against the law (68). In one of the notes to San Francisco police department (SFPD), he claims that he will stop killing once his demands are met. Inspector Harry Callahan of SFPD famously recognized as Dirty Harry through his methods of handling homicidal cases without following prescriptions of the law is assigned the duty of apprehending and stopping the sniper. As such, Dirty Harry knows that he has to break societal rules to stop the madman societal bureaucracies that allow roam free. Through embarrassment and cat and mouse style of games with Harry, Scorpio is put to test with the inspector’s dirty attitude. However, in undertaking his responsibilities, Callahan encounters certain societal challenges which frustrate him and this paper strives to examine two such challenges and Harry’s responses to them.

Societal Challenges

Legal Liberalism

Dirty Harry is unequivocally critical of legal liberalism. Magistrates are blamed for the erosion of public order and rise in crime by interpreting the constitution to inordinately protect individual rights without considering impacts of such rights on the general population, for example, Miranda’s decision (35). The judges led the revolution of the due process in criminal justice through providing greater rights to suspects and prisoners, thus they were seen as being soft on crime. This arose from the fact that enjoyment of an individual’s legitimates should not prejudice the rights of others. Dirty Harry is a gallant test to liberal suppositions about the effectiveness of law as an apparatus of justice.

An instance where Dirty Harry was really fed up with the legal liberalism is when Scorpio was to be freed by the judge because the inspector did not follow the proper requirements in arresting and soliciting information from him. The court held that the suspect has his rights which ought to be respected regardless of an alleged offense. Callahan invaded a private property without a search warrant or the one of arrest and used illegal ways to get information from Scorpio, thereby overriding his rights. This makes Dirty Harry try to address the tangle of competing rights; suspect’s, victim’s, and society’s ones brought to the fore by liberal supreme court decisions of the 1960s (36). Callahan is outraged that rights and law were indeed frustrating justice, and he is willing to violate both to do honesty.

True to his values and beliefs, in responding to the frustrations brought up by legal liberalism, Harry uses his ways of doing things in order to achieve justice to victims and society. In the second half of the movie, inspector disobeys a series of orders and solves the issue of Scorpio using his own values and methods. When Callahan threw away his police badge at the end of the film, he emblematically disregarded the law that had meritoriously defused the society by overlooking the reality that law was just a means to end, that due process was meant to attain justice rather than the end itself (31). Harry killed Scorpio cold-blooded despite the fact that he had been warned not to interfere with his request for ransom.

Political Liberalism

At the time of the film, San Francisco exemplified liberal permissive culture which conservatives accused of rising crime in forms of criminogenic social conditions such as seedy strip clubs and alternative lifestyles, drug deals, muggings, and daylight bank robberies. The leaders of the city, particularly chief inspector and the mayor are depicted as ineffectual, indecisive, and weak liberals, while Harry is seen as a strong and decisive conservative who knows what to do and willing to pay the highest price for doing it so as to keep the city safe. Callahan resorted to his illegal and unethical tactics because he feels that conventional lines of authority are ineffectual, neither the district attorney nor mayor has a clue about how to fight crime (31). The mayor is so blackmailed by the political liberalism that he thinks that by paying the ransom Scorpio is demanding; the psychopathic will stop killing and crime will decline. However, this is a fallacy because there is a possibility that Scorpio will be motivated to threaten the city many times as his demands are met or another sniper might emerge.

In response to political hurdles that gets into his way, Harry does what he knows best; disregarding the established order and applies his own values and methods when it comes to protecting citizens. He silences his critics and criminals alike using his big gun (67); his critics are silenced by his selfless acts of doing what is right as opposed to what is lawful and criminals are silenced by Harry’s tactics. He does not let legal and political liberalism get into his way when apprehending criminals because it is like liberal government officials are tying one of his hands behind his back and expect him to stop the menacing serial killer.

August 01, 2023




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