Mickey Spillane. Good Lord. If concerns about Catwoman’s cleavage have ever inspired you to write a sensitive and sagacious blog post about problematic media messages, a Mike Hammer detective pulp will probably make blood spray out your nose. As his NYT obituary observed: “Mr. Spillane took issue with those who complained that his books had too much sex. How could there be sex, he asked, when so many women were shot?”
Negative fantasies are still just fantasies, and I’ve never been much for holding artists responsible for how fictions might be misapplied by a deranged individual. All imagination is permissible, and decent people have every right to imagine whatever awful things they would like. That’s the nice thing about imagination. It’s not real.
Many years ago, Joan Rivers asked Oderus Urungus of the space-monster-heavy-metal band GWAR if he was concerned someone might take the band’s violent messages seriously, to which he responded, “Well, Joan, someone like that would be a very sick person. We don’t need fans like that. They should join the army or become police officers.”
What’s amazing about Spillane’s work is that it still remains so offensive on so many levels. And in that way, it’s very guilty pleasure–like a slasher movie, or Tyler the Creator, or Catwoman’s rack, or Cannibal Corpse, or whatever the hell kind of bad art that’s “bad” for us as human beings, or for society, or for our ever-precious kids. Something need not be tasteful to be sublime, intelligent to be clever, and positive to be pleasurable. Spillane wrote to the reptile brain, and he did it successfully. I don’t think shame has any place in imaginative worlds.
Which isn’t to say Mickey Spillane is, well, defensible. His prose could sour milk and cause miscarriages. The “plots” usually focus on P.I. Mike Hammer or commie-killer Tiger Mann running about, finding different suspects to torture until the proper culprit is discovered to murder. With some sex thrown in. They were much loved by returning G.I.s and teenage boys. Spillane once stated, “I don’t have fans… I have customers.” And they bought it. A lot of it.
Spillane explained, “The first line sells the book. The last line sells your next book.” That being said, I’d like to share some of Mickey Spillane’s great closing lines. I won’t attribute them to any particular works. Not like I’d be spoiling much. I read them so you don’t have to. Here are some choice selections:
He had his mouth open, screaming like all the furies of the gods dethroned, but my laugh was even louder. He was still screaming when I pulled the trigger.
“How c-could you,” she gasped. I only had a moment before I was talking to a corpse, but I got it in: “It was easy.”
Then, before I could even get out of the chair, he turned the gun around in his hand, jammed the muzzle of it into his mouth, and pulled the trigger.
“Shut up and f**k me,” she said. “Like a dog.”
I took her hand, stepped over the bodies, new and old, on the ground, and we started up the slope.
“Now you will find out, Tiger, my love. Now you will know,” she said to me. “You see, I’m still a virgin.” …And she was.
And last, but not least, this sentence:
I saw the kid grab the edge of the table and reach up for the thing he had wanted for so long, and in that extra second of time she gave me his fingers closed around the butt safety and trigger at the same instant and the tongue of flame that blasted from the muzzle seemed to lick out across the room with a horrible vengeance that ripped all the evil from her face, turning it into a ghastly wet red mask that was really no face at all.
There’s nothing brilliant about it, and nothing particularly troubling either. He claimed there was no greater inspiration than an empty bank account–something Mr. Spillane, for better or worse, didn’t often worry about.