Wednesday, May 16, 2012

More anachronisms

A few months ago I wrote about the trope often appearing in Patricia Highsmith's work -- that of characters following developments in their cases (be they cases of murder, assault, or disappearance) in the daily newspaper. Last night I went to the film noir festival at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco and saw two obscure films which had another kind of mid-20th century narrative trope which has largely disappeared: the insurance investigator.

In both films -- Highway 13, which is about sabotage at a trucking firm, and The Devil's Henchman, which is about thefts of cargo from ships -- the protagonist was not a policeman or a private detective but a secret agent for an insurance company.

This trope reminded me of something I'd read about "Death of a Salesman" -- that the whole reality of life insurance was new to middle class people in the 1930s and 1940s, and that the concept, and the unintended consequences that can result when the death of one person can result in a windfall for another, had to be explained to people. And then when the play was presented to audiences in China for the first time, in 1983, the whole concept had to be explained anew for audiences to understand the plot.

Nowadays you don't see many plots hinging on insurance fraud, and I wonder why. Have the insurance companies simply gotten too good at detecting it? Is it easier these days to scam Medicare, for example?

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