No Country for HBO, Wal-Mart and ATMs

I recently saw the Coen Brothers new film, No Country For Old Men. It struck me as a movie that made me want to read the Cormac McCarthy book on which it is based because the film is so thick with literary metaphor, it was somewhat difficult to clearly understand the heart of the movie. Something about aging, chance, hunting, failure, psychopaths…

The film/book is set in 1980 and I was quick to pick up on three cultural milestones that the brothers placed in the film.

First, HBO. A motel sign reads “Free HBO.” When I saw that reference, I thought, has HBO really been around that long? A quick scan through Wikipedia states that the company, founded in Manhattan in 1972 out of Charles Dolan’s cable operation, the first to string cables underground, made its name with the broadcast of the Ali-Frazier Thrilla in Manila in 1975. Its first original content film was The Terry Fox Story in 1983. In 1986 it had its signal scrambled by one Captain Midnight as a protest against high descrambing rates.

Now, of course, HBO is a home for smart, compelling TV dramas and a complex media organization under the Time Warner umbrella.

Secondly, ATMs. Again, the search starts with Wikipedia, which states that, aside from a machine introduced in 1939 used by gamblers and prostitutes and thus discontinued, they’ve been in use since the late 1960s. Reg Varney, of the BBC’s On The Buses, was the first person to use one in Britain. An aside: after watching Ricky Gervais’ at-times brilliant Extras, produced by HBO, the whole notion of TV characters built around catch phrases puts On The Buses in a different light.

And lastly, Wal-Mart, which one of the characters drives past. Wal-Mart is known now as a price-slashing commercial behemoth with questionable labor laws and anti-union practices, but was it always thus? Even before Wal-Mart, its founder, Sam Walton, ran a store know mostly for its discounted markups. Walton then founded a store called Wal-Mart Discount City in 1962 and the company experienced rapid growth. By the time of the Coen Brothers film, yearly sales passed the billion dollar mark and the Wal-Mart sign, as seen in the movie, was a fixture in Texas by this time. It looks as if discounts and selling below competitor’s prices was always Sam’s style of play.

Another sidenote: the captive bolt stunner, used so effectively by the sociopath played by Javier Bardem in the film, is available from the Jarvis Products Corporation out of Connecticut (note that this stunner is a modernized version of the artifact in the film.) I link to this because, quite frankly, I am drawn to the modern grotesque and I’m fascinated by the dark, grisly machineries behind today’s glittering world. At the Jarvis Corp. Web site, the grotesque is clearly defined and most of the meat processing equipment comes with a crisp photograph. Have a look and be at once appalled and enthralled.

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3 Responses

  1. I happened to stumble across this post, and I think it clarifies your age more than anything. There are those of us (largely in our 30s, who entered our teen years in the 80s) who probably wouldn’t wonder if HBO had “been around that long” without a tremendous amount of irony added to the question. I remember very clearly watching Smokey and the Bandit (1977) on HBO in my grandmother’s basement.

    Clearly, I’m also not that surprised that you found the ATMs and Wal-Mart stores to be period correct.

    In commenting, I don’t mean to condescend to you as “one of those young’uns”. I just find it interesting that I can place your age – which I will guess is between 18 and 25 – based on this blog post.

  2. Shannon, thanks for reading. Actually, I’m older than you. But as I grew up in Canada, I missed out entirely on HBO and Wal-Mart, hence coming across as a young’un. I suppose I should take that as some sort of compliment.

    PS – Did you check out the bolt stunner Web site? Just curious what you thought of that.

  3. […] I see that the Internet contains speculations on these critical questions as […]

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