If the contemplation of art is united with a suitably assiduous mental effort, one can see on the canvas fragments of what might have been. Shadows of possibility lie embedded within the image, ghosts of ideas long-dismissed, ideas smote by the very mutability that heralded their original being. The visual assemblage always leaves a gap in its form, a cue for the overactive mind to insert what it deems lacking.
Consider Francisco Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son. When we look at it we see a foreground in which the eponymous god, conceived as a giant deistical beast, feasts upon his offspring with ruthless alacrity. It’s a scene of compelling brutality – a crime that resonates with the deepest human compulsion for procreation. But stare into the darkness behind Saturn’s form for long enough and a new figure appears. Sneaking up behind him is Steven Seagal. Seagal wears a face of steely determination, head shot through with anger, a man about to beat down an infanticidal son-of-a-bitch.
We do not know why Goya chose to have Seagal as merely implicit in the painting. He could easily have had Seagal kicking Saturn in the side of the head whilst a virtuous nymph picks up the child. Or Seagal could have punched Saturn in the arsehole, causing the latter to release the child. But Goya opted to leave Seagal as a faint phantasm, a threatening bodily fog set as the moral antithesis to Saturn’s crazed power-trip.
One thing is for certain: Seagal will not tolerate harm being done to children.
This is also the primary thrust of episode four of Steven Seagal: Lawman. Following a stormy intro sequence of weird shapes and furious cuts, Seagal and co. are seen driving through a neighbourhood on patrol. The night has brought about its daily eruption of misdemeanour and iniquity. A man-sized mantis kicks over bins. A winged-demon soars through the air, someone’s pet feline clutched in its talons. Twenty harpies engage in vociferous debate with a politician. Each scene yearns for Seagal’s mighty fist of righteousness, an angelic remedy that only Seagal can distribute. The chupacabra defecating on the sheriff’s lawn needs ninety kilojoules of Seagalian punishment, the citizenry cries out for it.
But the nocturnal monsters will have to wait, for Seagal is required elsewhere.
A call comes in: a baby’s been hit by a car. The lights go on. The sirens start to chime. They rocket past other drivers, speeding to their destination, unsure of what to expect. All exit the car when they arrive. A mass of confusion meets them. Questions launch from Seagal’s face; a quiz now underway. Turns out the baby’s okay, there’s just a scratch. The nipper ran on to the road, the driver swerved – all is well. Let’s go home, let’s forget about it. But Seagal is not done; the incident has him greatly inspired.
Next day, Seagal and the lads visit the local children’s hospital. As Seagal says: “For about twenty-five years I’ve gone to children’s hospitals all over the world.” Yet, amidst poignant shots of Seagal chatting to terminally-ill kids – a commendable enterprise, no doubt – Seagal lets slip a frightening fact:
“Unfortunately me and my team can’t fight disease.” What! There was me thinking I could rely on Seagal to beat my cancer, should that damnable day ever arrive. It’s immensely displeasing, but thankfully the rest of episode four is of such quality as to fully-eradicate the melancholy.
Enter Seagal the songster. Not content with the visit, Seagal decides to organise a gig to raise funds for the hospital. Suddenly there’s an explosion of blues, the screen lashed by a chain of pentatonic scales. Twangy guitars are wielded, keyboard keys battered – poppin’ bass licks intermingle with smooth gospel humming. A carpeted rehearsal space quickly transforms into a packed bar, looseness giving way to the tight bang of a live ensemble.
Encouraged by the heady rush of the music, Seagal becomes ruminative, losing himself in a mad mental sojourn. In the end he evokes another great thinker held captive by the sonic dynamic:
“Nietzsche said…life would be a mistake without music.” As Seagal is doubtless aware, that aphorism from Twilight of the Idols ends with the line:
“The Germans even think of God as singing songs.” Clearly, if we take the audience’s reaction to Seagal as an indicator, it’s not only the Germans who deign to worship a tuneful god.