Noel Ignatiev's Blog

Fire in the Hole

By Noel Ignatiev

This may be old news to some, but I have recently discovered the TV show “Justified,” which started on FX in 2010 and is still running. It is set in Harlan County, Kentucky, past scene of bitter coal miners’ struggles and birthplace of my favorite American labor song, “Which Side Are You On?” Like “The Wire,” “Justified” depicts the post-industrial society. Few workers are still employed in the mines, and the economy is based mostly on drugs. The central character is Raylan Givens, former miner and now U.S. Marshall, who returns to Harlan after a stint in Miami. Another character, also a former miner, who has become a criminal and white supremacist, discovers Jesus and abandons his evil ways. Other conversions of one sort or another follow. The past is never dead; it’s not even past: when one of the bad guys fires off a rocket launcher at a building, he yells “Fire in the hole.” (The series is based on a short story, “Fire in the Hole,” by Elmore Leonard.) In one episode local people resist a coal company seeking to tear off the top of a mountain and dump sludge into the local creeks, only to be sold out by one of their own who has turned cynic. The female characters are strong. Shotguns are like pickup trucks and assholes: everybody’s got one. I like the actors. There is good bluegrass music. Old episodes are available free on

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