My wife Marilyn and I recently finished Season 2 of Cinemax’s martial arts pulp fest, Warrior. Inspired by a concept written down in notes by Bruce Lee many years ago, and heavily influenced by Quentin Tarantino, the adventure follows a Chinese immigrant to San Francisco in the 1870s, where he becomes a tong soldier and is embroiled in the tong wars and intense racial tensions of the day.
The penultimate episode of the season featured a massive recreation of the 1877 anti-Chinese riots, when a mob of mostly Irish working men, incited by politicians, ran amok in Chinatown. The action and the body count is turned up to 11 in Warrior — but the real riots, and similar ones in Los Angeles, were bad enough.
In the behind-the-scenes feature on the episode, show runner Jonathan Topper said something that grabbed my attention, and it’s stuck in my mind since: Once the action started rolling, it was hard to get the actors and extras to stop “rioting.”
I have a visceral loathing of mobs. Individuals caught up in one lose their power to think for themselves and the seething mass develops a mind of its own. What Topper is saying is that even in a manufactured, controlled environment, the instinct of the mob to run rampant overpowers restraint.
That should give pause to those who goad mobs for political and cultural advantage. That deadly momentum is hard to contain. Those who allow themselves to get caught up may find themselves inciting and committing acts and facing consequences that they’d never approach as individuals. But words of warning inevitable get lost in the roar of the crowd, and the ecstatic rush of the action will always win out.
Like the song says, I saw things getting out of hand. I guess they always will…