Throwing Down the Gauntlet
by Christopher Dow
What do baseball players, jai ali players, archers, the Music Machine, a bounty hunter named Tate, Rottwang, Dr. Strangelove, Mr. Han, Carl Hickman, and Michael Jackson all have in common?
While you ponder, I’ll give you a few fun trivia tidbits. The Music Machine, led by lead singer Sean Bonniwell, was a band from the mid-1960s American garage band/psychedelic explosion. Their 1966 song “Talk Talk” reached number twenty on the singles charts, and the group appeared on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. When Clark asked them what they called the kind of music they played, Bonniwell responded that it was “punk rock.” I couldn’t swear that they invented the term, but the music certainly was proto-punk and the term prescient.
Tate was a quirky, short-lived western that aired 13 episodes in 1960–61. It starred David McLean, who made appearances in many other TV series, including Bonanza, The Virginian, Perry Mason, Death Valley Days, The Streets of San Francisco, The Fugitive, and I Dream of Jeannie. He also was in several low budget movies as well as a couple of better efforts, notably The Andromeda Strain and Nevada Smith. Tate was McLean’s first role, and the show was the first TV western series shot on video tape. This was back in the black-and-white days of TV, and video cameras—which then used tubes instead of chips to gather light from visual images and convert it to electronic form—were still pretty primitive, giving a smeared look to the images on the screen. You can see the same sort of defect in the original Dr. Who episodes starring William Hartnell.
Rottwang is, of course, the mad scientist in Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece, Metropolis. Rottwang’s machinations set off the near destruction—but ultimate revisioning—of the stultifying, impersonal, and demoralizing machine culture of the city of Metropolis. He is portrayed brilliantly by Rudolf Klein-Rogge, who played equally memorable villains in several of Lang’s other films despite the fact that Lang had stolen his wife, Thea von Harbou. Von Harbou also wrote all the films that the director and actor later collaborated on. She later became the premiere filmmaker for the Third Reich, even as Lang was fleeing Germany for the United States.
Dr. Strangelove is the character for whom Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 antiwar film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is named, though he is not the central character. Actually, the central character is really the actor Peter Sellers, who plays three roles: Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, President Merkin Muffley, and Dr. Strangelove. As played by Sellers, Strangelove is a cross between Rottwang and the famous German rocket scientist Werner von Braun.
Mr. Han, played by kung fu movie veteran Shih Kien, is the lead villain defeated by Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon. He’s the one who talks about kung fu men forging their bodies in the fire of their wills. It’s a good speech that probably has some truth to it even if it is a little histrionic. Enter the Dragon was Lee’s best-realized film, and it made him into an international superstar even though he died just days before its premiere. He may, in fact, be the only international superstar to achieve that status post-mortem. As a result, the value of his earlier roles bounced dramatically—including, confusingly, Return of the Dragon, released before Enter the Dragon and bearing no thematic relationship to that film. Enter the Dragon was later parodied to hilarious effect in the “Fistful of Yen” segment of Kentucky Fried Movie, with Bong Soo Han providing a telling caricature of Mr. Han.
The character of Carl Hickman, played by the talented William Fichtner, in the first two seasons of the television series Crossing Lines, also wears a glove. His is dark brown, and he wears it on an injured, incapacitated, and painful right hand.
Although Weird Al Yankovich has done his best, no parody is necessary for Michael Jackson, who became his own best caricature. His most revealing artistic moment may have been when he morphed into a creature other than himself in the video for “Thriller.” But despite Jackson’s personal foibles, he did make the album Thriller, which stands as a fine piece of work. I guess Quincy Jones had something to do with that, too.
It is with Jackson’s nickname that we glean a way to bring together our disparate cast of characters—and I don’t mean “The King of Pop,” as he was sometimes called. His other nickname refers to a wardrobe item that earned him the moniker “The Gloved One.”
Yes, it is the glove—indeed, a single glove rather than a pair—that our cast has in common. There are a number of real people and movie characters—most often villains—who wear two gloves or have two weird or artificial hands: the electrical genius inventor Nicola Tesla often wore gloves due to a germ phobia, and Peter Lorre’s character in Mad Love and Dr. No in the James Bond movie of the same name also readily come to mind. But the single glove is what sets our cast apart.
Baseball and jai ali players, archers, and some other athletes wear single gloves for obvious reasons. And I probably ought to mention Art Jimmerson here. Jimmerson is a retired boxer who fought Royce Gracie in the very first UFC competition, held in November 1993. The competitors did not wear gloves in the first UFC, but Jimmerson wore a boxing glove on his left hand during the match so he wouldn’t injure his jabbing hand. He lost to Gracie by submission in two minutes, which promptly ended his mixed martial arts career, but he did earn the nickname “One-Glove” Jimmerson.
The reason many of the others wore a single glove, however, is at ironic odds with the idea of protection since some of them—at least the movie characters—wore not gloves, really, but fake hands to replace lost ones. Except for the Music Machine, Jackson stands apart from the rest by having an actual hand beneath his glove, and his glove was white instead of the black favored by all the rest. I’d like to be able to say that that is somewhat of an additional irony since Jackson is the only man of color among his fellow single-glovers, but that wouldn’t strictly be true since Mr. Han was Asian. And I guess that you could quibble by correctly stating that Mr. Han didn’t wear a glove, exactly, since his collection of snap-on appendages gave him considerable variety in usages. Some of the others also could use their fake hands, which presumably were made of some hard material, as permanent karate-chopping hands.
But it is interesting to note that most of our cast also has one more thing in common: They met a very public demise: villains Rottwang, Strangelove, and Han done in by heroes or circumstance; the Music Machine by changing musical taste; Tate and Hickman by poor ratings; and Michael Jackson by his own hand, so to speak.
I wonder if it has something to do with wearing a single garment designed by our basic anatomy to be worn in pairs. Is wearing a single glove somehow violating some esoteric law of nature that dooms the one who flaunts it with abject failure and death following swiftly on the heels of success? J. E. Cirlot has this to say about gloves in his book, A Dictionary of Symbols (Jack Sage, trans., Philosophical Library, 1962, p. 114):
“Gloves, since they are worn on the hands, derive their symbolism from them. Of special interest is the right-hand glove, on account of the ceremonial custom of removing it when one approaches a person of higher rank, or an altar, or the Lord. This custom has twin symbolic roots: in so far as it implies a glove of mail, it signifies disarming oneself before one’s superior; at the same time, since the right hand pertains to the voice and to the rational side of Man, it is a custom which suggests candor and the frank disclosure of one’s mind.”
Maybe wearing a single glove, particularly one that is black, is detrimental to one’s well-being. As if to prove the point, Dr. Strangelove’s gloved hand often takes on a life of its own and even attacks him. I don’t know about this, but I do know that wearing a single glove has attracted more attention than, say, wearing a single sock, though perhaps not as much as wearing a single pant leg might. And then there’s always the man with the one shoe. That one goes back to prehistory, and oddly enough, generally indicates one of heroic stature. So, if you’re going to wear one glove, maybe you also ought to consider wearing only one shoe. Just to be safe.