More than just a job…

Det. John McClane….doing his job.

“I love you.”

Probably the most used words across film and television, leaving aside the obvious ones like “Hello” and “yes”. But one phrase hangs around in that area too, sneaking into cliche via the back door. In a certain kind of movie, by a certain kind of character, this phrase will always make an appearance.

The character is a paradigm: “the old soldier”. Probably a man. Usually with stubble. Bruce Willis with hair and still-sane Mel Gibson plastered them 20 feet tall on the walls of cinemas. Kiefer Sutherland and Mark Harmon took the roll to TV at the turn of the millennium. The run-down boss, the neglected wife, the young lover and frightened child will always ask the old soldier what he’s doing, and he’ll always give the same answer.

My job.

It’s one of those movie phrases that doesn’t actually mean what it should. Like “in love” meant “having sex” before the Rolling Stones invented sex in 1964.

“My job” means saving the day. Means beating the odds. Means a blue-collar hero who wants nothing but a beer as a reward.

When it’s said, for example, by a hard-boiled policeman, he does NOT mean filling out reports, conducting background checks, or directing traffic. It means crashing a car through a diner and shooting a bunch of drug dealers (80s)/hired goons(90s)/terrorists(2000-present). They’re usually foreign.

Movie historians aren’t sure exactly when the first “my job” was growled out. We know it was in the 80s by a large man wearing a vest, but that is all. Since then, though, you can trace its route through A-listers like Willis and Gibson and Stallone and see it work its way up B-movie backroads in the mouths of Norris and Lundgren. It evolved over time too, these days the sidekick or girlfriend can answer in the hero’s stead. A bedraggled boss or a cowardly politician can ask “What does he think he’s doing?” and be treated to a smiling “his job”

Then the 50 year old alcoholic policeman, the retired soldier with PTSD, or the hitman who just wanted out will proceed to do what is, apparently, “his job” by killing a lot of people.

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