Here’s something non-controversial. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy it, but don’t get used to it. I love to make people fight.
Last week, I saw Pulp Fiction for what seems like the 20th time, and as always, the scene that hit me emotionally was the last scene in the movie. I posted my feelings on the scene to a Facebook thread, and decided it was appropriate to make an entire blog post on it. Be warned that I use statistics from sources that aren’t always reliable, and some are reliable but reflect current circumstances rather than those of the movie’s time period. As these stats are used to make convenient assumptions about a fictional character, I offer no apologies. Just roll with it.
In the first and last scenes, Ringo (Tim Roth) and Yolanda (Amanda Plummer) rob a diner. The first time I saw the movie, at this point (i.e., up to the final scene) I’m thinking that this has been a mildly entertaining movie, though not as big a deal as everyone has told me it was. Then this scene hits. As the robbery develops, the Coffee Shop Owner (Robert Ruth) comes out and tries to deal with the robbery. He has only a couple of lines, but these lines tore into me as relatively few movie characters can do. Click here to read his lines and the surrounding dialogue. It’s not-safe-for-work, so … I don’t know; don’t read it out loud if you’re at work or around kids.
PUMPKIN: You Mexicans in the kitchen, get out here! Asta luego!
Three COOKS and two BUSBOYS come out of the kitchen.
PUMPKIN: On the floor or I’ll cook you ass, comprende?
They comprende. The portly MANAGER speaks up.
MANAGER: I’m the manager here, there’s no problem, no problem at all –
Pumpkin head his way.
PUMPKIN: You’re gonna give me a problem?
He reaches him and sticks the barrel of his gun hard in the Manager’s neck.
PUMPKIN: What? You said you’re gonna give me a problem?
MANAGER: No, I’m not. I’m not gonna give you any problem!
PUMPKIN: I don’t know, Honey Bunny. He looks like the hero type to me!
HONEY BUNNY: Don’t take any chances. Execute him!
The Patrons SCREAM. Jules watches all this silently, his hand tightly gripping the .45 Automatic under the table.
MANAGER: Please don’t! I’m not a hero. [EDIT: This is a lie.] I’m just a coffee shop manager. Take anything you want.
PUMPKIN: Tell everyone to cooperate and it’ll be all over.
MANAGER: Everybody just be calm and cooperate with them and this will be all over soon!
PUMPKIN: Well done, now git your fuckin’ ass on the ground.
So let’s summarize what happened. The robbers cleaned out the back areas and didn’t find the manager. To my recollection, he wasn’t always in the scene, which seems reasonable because he seemed to speak up as soon as he appeared. Assuming there’s a back door, he could have escaped and called the police, which would give him a decent excuse for running away from the scene. He didn’t do that, though. Instead, after likely calling 911, he exposed himself to the robbers, taking the risk that he also could be shot. In fact, he tried to place the focus – and thus, risk – squarely on himself.
Side note: The Coffee Shop Manager is standing up when he first appears on screen, and it appears he could have entered from the back of the store before speaking up. I’m assuming that’s what happened, and considering that his delay in speaking would be out-of-character from his dialogue and choices he otherwise made, I’m operating under those assumptions above. If I’m wrong, that’s a failure of filmmaking, so please leave me to my interpretation, whether true or not. Similarly, I once told my Star Wars fanatic cousin, @KesselJunkie, that I interpreted the Emperor’s disfigurement as existing prior to his fight with Mace Windu. What happened was he was weakened, and the veil of the Dark Side dropped, exposing his true appearance, which had been warped by the Dark Side long ago. At that point in the story, there was no longer a need to waste energy on that veil, so he never restored it. I couldn’t care less whether George Lucas agrees. That’s the truth for me. Non-nerds, just ignore that other example.
So who is this manager? Out of convenience, we’ll assume that he makes $52,102 (if the link doesn’t work, you may verify via a simple search on salary.com), which is today’s average for Los Angeles and excludes managers of “fine dining restaurants.” We’ll also assume that he’s in a stereotypical nuclear family, and thus has a wife and 1.2 kids at home.
What are his responsibilities? As a typical restaurant manager, he has to have a reasonably pleasant personality and patience in the face of unruly customers. Some people have these traits naturally, so that’s probably not that big a deal. He also has to be an amateur accountant, taking care of the books for the store. We’re not talking about solving differential equations here, so again, maybe this isn’t a big deal. Things get a little trickier when you consider that he has to have the knowledge of a lawyer (average salary in Los Angeles, CA of $92,899) focusing in human resources matters, but as I like to say, I have an undergraduate degree in physics. I’ve studied rocket science. In most cases, the law isn’t rocket science (exception: patenting a bigger better space rocket). So, maybe he doesn’t deserve anymore than his $52,102 salary, as many people could do that job even if they didn’t have a college degree.
According to this scene, though, we see some other skills this manager must have. He must be calm in the face of danger. He must be a psychologist (average salary in Los Angeles, CA of $90,739), being able to diffuse a potentially life-threatening situation despite his own fear. He must be an EMT (average salary in Los Angeles, CA of $33,074), because if someone gets shot, and no one else steps up to the plate to help out, he has to keep the person alive long enough for help to arrive, presumably with nothing more than a first aid kit. What if he can’t stand the sight of blood? Tough luck. It’s his job, so he has to man up and do it. Of course, he’ll probably get a plaque or something.
Still, perhaps his average salary is appropriate. Despite common American complaints about income disparity between executives and the ordinary workers, if that’s what the market bears, then that’s what it bears, and we’ll conveniently accept that. However, under the circumstances, it seems unfair to look down on this hard-working guy for being “just a restaurant worker,” but that’s what I see from most people I meet. Most people look down on those that serve them in this regard, or perhaps even worse, ignore them altogether.
And these are the people the Coffee Shop Manger is trying to save at his own tremendous risk!
I find this to be absolutely appalling treatment of this one guy, and I just can’t get past it. He’s the one and only hero in this entire movie, and one of only a few people not belonging in jail.
Some Other Good People (or at Least Not-Bad)
Pulp Fiction was a movie about a lot of bad people doing bad things to each other. While the crimes of some are more serious than the crimes of others, leaving you to prefer one over the other, in the end, no one should care if any of these guys get their comeuppance. However, there are certainly some good people in the movie, or at least people we don’t have any reason to assume are bad, and aren’t annoying (e.g., Kathy Griffin’s over-assuming Hit-and-run Witness). Butch’s mom (Brenda Hillhouse), the female cab driver, and Butch’s girlfriend, Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros), who just wants some blueberry pancakes, seem to be decent people who didn’t annoy me at all.
Of all of these other “not bad” characters, the only ones that are caught in the crossfire of the bad characters are the diner’s patrons and the Shot Woman, who was shot by Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) after trying to help at the scene. For those characters, however, there wasn’t any drama to it. Instead, it was just on-screen movie violence that, at this point, is tuned out by the average viewer. That is, we just ignore a woman getting shot in the leg, saying, “Oh, so someone got shot, huh? That’s nice.” It’s often about shock value, so even, where here, it’s a reasonable part of the story, we largely ignore it.
We can’t ignore the Coffee Shop Owner’s predicament because it’s not about shock value; it’s about drama. His predicament is handled almost completely through dialogue, and it’s front and center. It requires good acting to convey his fear and courage at the same time.
And he did it with only a few lines.
There’s one other difference between the Coffee Shop Manager and these other characters. Despite his one lie in his dialogue claiming he wasn’t a hero, only the Coffee Shop Manager was a true hero. While the Shot Lady should be commended for her willingness to help, and the result was tragic, at that point in the scene, she didn’t feel she was in any danger. She had no reason to believe Marcellus was going to be such an asshole (and let’s face it; he didn’t have any reason to shoot her). That makes her a good Samaritan and a victim. The Coffee Shop Manager, on the other hand, threw himself into ongoing danger to save people, many of whom probably didn’t respect him, knowing full well that his wife and 1.2 kids, who probably depend on his salary, would be in a very bad place if he were killed. He continued to handle the situation even after Yolanda suggests that Ringo execute him. The Coffee Shop Manager was a hero.
It’s so frustrating to see a good person treated this way.
Am I Insane?
I don’t know why this one character had so much of an impact on me. Is it because of who I am as a person, or is it because of some good acting or good filmmaking. If it’s the filmmaking, I’m surprised because, on the whole, I found the movie so-so. (My friend, Erik, pointed out, though, that even giving such a minor character that many important lines is the mark of good filmmaking, and on that I agree. I’d also say that good dramatic filmmaking requires that you empathize or sympathize with the characters, which occurred for me only in this one scene.) One thing I would like everyone to take from these thoughts is that everyone who’s working hard for a living deserves your respect. I don’t care what they do, and neither should you.
If you want to watch the scene, one viewer’s re-edit of it is below. Robert Ruth enters at about 5:50. Again, this is not-safe-for-work.
Follow me on Twitter @RobertEBodine
I used to try to teach people to look before they leap on social and political issues. No one ever listens, so I’ve stopped. However, maybe this time it might stick. Recently, in People v. James Kent, New York State Court of Appeals No. 70, the highest court in New York determined that a cached image of child pornography did not constitute possession of child pornography. (Note: That is, the cached image in this particular case didn’t constitute possession of child pornography.) As far as I’m concerned, this case was properly decided under New York law, and New York law is reasonably solid on the subject, but at the very least, the case is a reasonable approach to technology law. Unfortunately, most people are outraged, as if this is clearly a bad decision. Let’s examine this case to see why they’re jumping the gun.
What the Case Didn’t Say
Right off the bat let me make it clear that the case did not legalize child pornography, and you’re stupid – not merely ignorant, but stupid – if you think it did. Even without reading the case, you should assume that New York wouldn’t legalize child pornography. I know everyone likes drama, but please, don’t be an idiot.
So What Did the Case Say?
The defendant was James Kent, a professor of public administration at a Dutchess County college. While attempting to deal with a problem with the defendant’s computer, a tech support employee found thumbnails of “scantily clad, prepubescent girls in provocative poses.” These images were held in a “cache,” which is an area on a hard drive that stores temporary files. The use of the cache is automatic; the computer user rarely interacts with it, and many computer users don’t know it exists. A few “messages” (emails, I presume) stored on the hard drive backed up the defendant’s story that the images were connected to a research project, and the defendant was very much concerned about the illegality of his activity.
“[The d]efendant was indicted on two counts of Promoting a Sexual Performance by a Child (Penal Law § 263.15) and 141 counts of Possessing a Sexual Performance by a Child (Penal Law §263.16). Counts 1 and 142 related, respectively, to defendant’s alleged procurement and possession of [an adult-child interaction] webpage; counts 2 and 143 related, respectively, to defendant’s alleged procurement and possession of [a child pornography] video; counts 3 through 141 charged defendant with possession of the .jpg images recovered from the unallocated space of the hard drive.”
“Unallocated space” refers to areas of the hard drive containing deleted files. When files are “deleted,” they often still remain on the hard drive. What are actually deleted are the pointers to those files. Thus, those images represent files the user can no longer access, but are still on there, waiting to be overwritten by new files.
The Court Cases
After a six-day trial, the Defendant was sentenced to concurrent prison terms of one to three years. The Appellate Division affirmed, but the Court of Appeals reversed the convictions on counts 1 and 142 (i.e., defendant’s alleged procurement and possession of an adult-child interaction webpage).
The Court of Appeals first pointed out that the relevant statute was 30 years old and doesn’t properly address the use of the Internet in child pornography. That doesn’t mean that a court can’t apply the law to the Internet, but it does present some difficulties. In this case, the statute was held to cover most of the aspects of counts 1 and 142 (e.g., definition of an “image,” definition of “sexual conduct”), but where it ran into problems is in the definition of “procure.” Specifically, the Court of Appeals held that 1) merely accessing and displaying a webpage is not “procurement” under the statute, and 2) in order for images in the cache to constitute promotion or possession of child pornography, the defendant must be aware that the files are there; however, their presence could be used as evidence that the images were previously viewed by the defendant, but possession required more activity (e.g., “printing, downloading, or saving”).
That’s a bit muddled, so let’s clear it up a bit. The Court of Appeals pointed out that, unlike the Appellate Division and the holdings in other states, the Federal Courts had it right. Possession can’t be founded on the existence of cached files unless the defendant knew about the cache because, in order to possess something (legally), you must know it exists. In order to exist in the cache, those files must, at some point, have been viewed on the screen; however, the Court noted that this doesn’t mean the defendant had actual control over the images appearing on the screen.
For example, what about pop-up ads? If you visit a website, and a pop-up ad containing child pornography comes up on your screen, assuming you’re not a piece of garbage, you’re going to delete it immediately. The image would then go to your cache, and if you weren’t aware of the existence of the image at that point, how would it be fair for you to be convicted of child pornography? What if all of this occurs as you’re walking away from your computer to hit the fridge? The fact that you didn’t delete the image for a few minutes would also be explainable (i.e., it doesn’t prove you were ogling the image for several minutes). Then, there’s the concern that it wasn’t even you that did it, but instead was your friend playing a stupid trick on you, or your kid accidentally surfing to the wrong site. If, on the other hand, you saved the image or printed it to a printer, that would strengthen the evidence of your guilt (thought he concern of other people using the computer still exists for unsecured computers). This is what the Court of Appeals was saying. Whether you ultimately agree with it or not, it’s at least a reasonable approach to the law, isn’t it?
On top of all of this, the Court noted that the laws of New York simply don’t include the means to accept a different rule. It’s important to note that the legislature, not the judiciary, makes laws. There is something called “common law” that’s an exception to that rule, but a judicial decision can never (legally) contradict a law that covers the subject matter. Here, the legislature has acted, and the law as written doesn’t support a conviction for possession. In fact, it never has, and it’s rare for mere viewing of child pornography is criminal. There are far too many situations in which you might view it by accident or by force for such a broadly-worded law to be just. This brings up another point: Constitutional concerns might require the New York law to be written the way it is, and for states that have adopted a contrary rule, they may find their law’s days numbered.
As a side note, there are two concurrences in this case. These are opinions written by a justice that agree with the outcome, but not the reasoning, of the majority of the justices. In Justice Smith’s concurrence, an argument was made that the majority’s rationale was too strict. In other words, Justice Smith viewed the conviction on those two counts as even more flimsy than the majority. I’ll leave it to you to read that (and the other) concurrence if you so choose.
So, He Gets Off?
(Tee- hee. See what I did there?)
No, he doesn’t. Of the 143 counts against him, 141 were upheld! (This is “legalizing child pornography”?!) The Court of Appeals simply returned the case for resentencing. The punishment for the 2 counts in question will be disregarded, but the punishment for the other 141 counts will still be applied. This guy is going to jail, and unless I’m mistaken this won’t affect the total time he serves (i.e., 3 years), but according to the wording of the case, he will definitely serve at least one year. The Court of Appeals is the highest court in New York, so unless the governor commits political suicide and pardons the guy, he’s serving his time. (If you want to complain about something, complain about the length of the sentence. It seems a bit light, but even that assumption might be jumping the gun. There are, after all, longer sentences for other child pornography-related crimes.)
Amazing, isn’t it? You’re all claiming that child pornography has now been legalized, but the defendant’s jail sentence remains unaffected. What’s wrong with this picture?
Some Sound for Your Deaf Ears
So, what have you learned? Probably nothing. What you should have learned, though, is that jumping to conclusions without research almost always results in poor assumptions and unfair statements. Here’s a case that supposedly legalizes child pornography, yet in fact provides a fairly reasonable holding. Quite a swing on the scale of right v. wrong, eh?
Start caring about the truth, and look before you leap.
This blog entry was inspired, in part, by a Twitter conversation with @KesselJunkie. He raised a couple of issues I want to address. First, the legal ramifications of caching have been addressed in other areas. Specifically, defendants were sued for copyright infringement because of caching. It’s been fairly well-settled since my law school days (1996-2000) that caching doesn’t result in copyright infringement. Ergo, these principles actually have, in a roundabout way, been applied to the music industry, so this doesn’t contradict those rulings, either literally or figuratively. Second, there have been many cases recently where the federal legislature has written bad laws based on their ignorance of the technology in play. (I’m looking at you, SOPA.) This is not one of those cases. I found no glaring, technological misconceptions in Justice Ciparick’s majority opinion. If you did, please share them in the comments.
I also blog on sports matters, and in particular on mixed martial arts (i.e., MMA), an industry that is overwhelmed with fake journalists (“MMAJ”) operating out of their parents’ basements yet cited by ESPN, NBC Sports, etc. Needless to say, these MMAJ aren’t immune to the same disregard for facts and research as the rest of society, and the result are claims of, “So MMA is illegal in New York, but child pornography isn’t?” This example was also a source for inspiration for this blog entry. Maybe your jumping the gun has no consequences (note: actually, it probably does at the voting booth), but if you ever get a job in which they do, you may find that your old habits die hard.