Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Helots


Watching the gay porn film 300 a few days ago reminded me of the word "helot," the name for the Messenian people who were exploited by the Spartans as virtual slaves in ancient Greece. In the Frank Capra film Meet John Doe, Walter Brennan played a hobo that goes by the name Colonel who accompanies Willoughby, the character played by Gary Cooper, throughout his misadventures. He is a wisecracking, curmudgeonly old man who is proud of his poverty and even supplies his philosophy of life in a speech that can be found here. "The world's been shaved by a drunken barber," is a statement that held plenty of relevance in 1940.

The speech as written is as follows:

BEANY
Hey, Doc, look. Look, Doc. Gimme
that again, will yuh? Who's gonna
get him?

COLONEL
The heelots!

BEANY
Who are they?

COLONEL
Listen, sucker, yuh ever been broke?

BEANY
Sure. Mostly often.

COLONEL
All right. You're walking along—not
a nickel in your jeans—free as the
wind—nobody bothers you—hundreds
of people pass yuh by in every
line of business—shoes, hats,
automobiles, radio, furniture,
everything. They're all nice,
lovable people, and they let you
alone. Is that right?
Then you get hold of some dough,
and what happens?
All those nice, sweet, lovable
people become heelots. A lotta
heels.
They begin creeping up on you—trying
to sell you something. They've got
long claws and they get a strangle-
hold on you—and you squirm—and
duck and holler—and you try to
push 'em away—but you haven't got
a chance—they've got you! First
thing you know, you own things. A
car, for instance.
Now your whole life is messed up
with more stuff—license fees—and
number plates—and gas and oil—and
taxes and insurance—
and identification cards—and
letters—and bills—and flat tires—and
dents—and traffic tickets and
motorcycle cops and court rooms—and
lawyers—and fines—
And a million and one other things.
And what happens? You're not the
free and happy guy you used to be.
You gotta have money to pay for
all those things—so you go after
what the other feller's got—
And there you are—you're a heelot
yourself!

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