May 29, 2007

A century of John Wayne

Memorializing the Deadly Myth of John WayneWayne was a vocal conservative, and his critics contend that the onscreen “Injun killer” was racist off-screen. In an infamous 1971 Playboy magazine interview, the Duke made insensitive comments about blacks and said this about America’s indigenous people: “I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them. Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.”

Wayne was, in reality, a draft dodger. America’s archetypal soldier was in fact a chicken hawk. He was a cheerleader and champion of militaristic patriotism and combat he had never experienced. Wayne had “other priorities” during WWII—achieving superstardom (and saving his neck) was more important than defeating fascism. Much like Vice President Dick Cheney, who sought numerous deferments during the Vietnam War, Wayne was the quintessential war wimp.

On the 100th anniversary of the Duke’s birth, Americans need to distinguish between myth and deadly realities. We must re-examine America’s love affair with settling disputes through gunplay, and question people and institutions that demand that the young sacrifice their minds and bodies in tribute to these actors (of the stage and political theater) and the violence they celebrate.
Comment:  For more on Wayne, see Straight Shootin' with the Duke.

4 comments:

russell said...

Writerfella here --
Well, geez, Pilgrims. Yer makin' a sight more outta that snake-oil drummer's wagon ruckus than it really deserves! Marion Morrison was a film personality whose credo was, "walk slow, talk slow, don't say too much, and try not to run into the furniture." That his film career spans decades more is testimony to the man's image than it is to the man himself. Therefore, it is a mistake to credit the man for that image and then attack the man for what that image came to represent. Ironically, a film career ordinarily is based both on imagery and images. If what a film actor says or does truly affects America's culture and evolving history, then we should revere Jane Fonda for ending the Viet Nam War and for discrediting nuclear power plants. Or Bruce Dern for making us distrust the Goodyear Blimp...
Instead, we should be looking at the images of Ronald Reagan and Fred Dalton Thompson and ask ourselves if the former deserved any electoral support or if the latter deserves any future electoral support. Marion Morrison never ran for office at all and would have laughed in your face at the suggestion. The truly dangerous ones are the ones who smile at the same suggestions...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

If Wayne hadn't been a conservative who took an anti-Indian stand, we probably wouldn't criticize him with such fervor. We'd probably remember him as a benign cowboy actor a la Gary Cooper or Jimmy Stewart.

Jane Fonda played a huge role in fomenting the conservative backlash against political progress in America. She's probably neck and neck with Bill and Hillary as the most reviled symbol of liberalism since FDR.

So no, it's not a mistake to focus on these movie stars occasionally. They are potent stand-ins for a host of political, social, and cultural issues.

russell said...

Writerfella here --
In other words, it's like what Mel Brooks wrote in BLAZING SADDLES: "You'd do it for Randolph Scott!!" Except that Scott never got to take any kind of political, social, or cultural stands, as it was too early for a gay man to have any such kind of voice. The real content of such a regard is that 'movie stars' are taken as symbols or images for issues because it is so easily done. Look at all the mileage made from Anna Nicole Smith's passing, this blogsite included. It is intellectual sloth of the third kind...

Rob said...

I deal with star symbols because most of our culture deals with them. Pundits have written shelves of books about the meaning of John Wayne, Elvis, Marilyn, JFK, et al. If you're incapable of analyzing and assessing these symbols, the rest of us aren't.

It's not intellectual sloth to write 400+ articles and 1,700+ Web pages. Which is what I've done in my one and a half decades as a writer. When you've written as much as I have, be sure to let us know.

The only intellectual sloth I see here is your piggybacking on my efforts to run this blog. Try producing your own blog and sharing your stories there. Then you won't look like such a freeloader.