July 10, 2009

Myth-making in Enter the Lone Ranger

In Enter the Lone Ranger, outlaws have ambushed the Ranger and Tonto has found him. Tonto cleans and dresses the Ranger's wounds. He "calls upon all the lore he knows to ease his friend’s suffering," says the narrator. The following dialogue ensues:RANGER:  Captain Reid was my brother.

TONTO:  Too bad. Rangers all fine men.

RANGER:  For every one of those men, I’m going to bring a hundred lawbreakers to justice. I’ll make that Cavendish gang, and every criminal that I can find, for that matter, regret the day those Rangers were killed. Tonto, from this moment on, I’m going devote my life to bringing law and order in this new frontier. To make the West a decent place to live.

TONTO:  That good! But when Cavendish gang know you escaped ambush, you a marked man. They hunt you down, many against one.

RANGER:  No one is going to know I’m alive. I’m supposed to be dead, and I’m going to stay that way.

RANGER:  I’ll hide my identity somehow. I’ll wear a disguise of some sort.

TONTO:  You mean, like mask?

RANGER:  That’s it, Tonto! From now on, I’ll wear a mask.
Tonto cuts a mask from Captain Reid's vest. We never see more than a profile of the Ranger until he puts on the mask.

A hat and a name

The dialogue continues:TONTO:  Here hat. Me wash in stream, dye in sun, make whiter.

RANGER:  Thanks, Tonto.

TONTO:  Here gun, to kill bad men.

RANGER:  I’m not going to do any killing.

TONTO:  You not defend yourself?

RANGER:  Oh, I’ll shoot if I have to. But I’ll shoot to wound, not to kill. If a man must die, it’s up to the law to decide that. Not the person behind a six-shooter.

TONTO:  That right, kemo sabe.
Finally, they dig a fake grave to make people think the Ranger was killed:RANGER:  Only you, Tonto, know I’m alive. To the world, I’ll be buried here, beside my brother and my friends. Forever.

TONTO:  You all alone now. Last man. You are lone Ranger.

RANGER:  Yes, Tonto. I am...the Lone Ranger.

TONTO:  Kemo sabe, me help you fight outlaw.

RANGER:  But Tonto, don’t you have a family? Anyone?

TONTO:  No. Me lone like you. Me want law here too. For all.

RANGER:  All right, Tonto. You’ll be a lot of help. We’ll ride together.

TONTO:  Me glad, kemo sabe. Me fight good for you.
A few notes

  • Tonto's pidgin English continues, of course.

  • Tonto is something of an idea man. He comes up with the mask, the white hat, and the "Lone Ranger" name. He might make a good junior advertising executive.

  • Other than that, though, he's fawning and servile. He's an obsequious yes-man, telling the Ranger what he wants to hear. The way he does the domestic chores--cooking, cleaning--he might as well be the maid or butler.

    Maybe Tonto becomes "more equal" in future episodes, but based on Enter the Lone Ranger, it's ridiculous to call him the Ranger's partner. He's a sidekick or servant to the Lone Ranger's leading man.

  • I could see the Ranger's keeping his identity secret until he caught the Cavendish gang, but why become the Lone Ranger permanently? Why not return to the Texas Rangers after this incident is over? Does he think the Rangers are incompetent or corrupt--unable to get the job done? Quitting the Rangers isn't exactly a great way to honor his brother's service.

    And although I applaud his stand against killing, I wonder what the Rangers thought of it? Did his brother have anything to say when he announced he wouldn't kill anyone? Maybe something like, "We don't allow sissies and fraidy-cats in the Rangers, son"?

  • The Lone Ranger has made his credo clear. He'll bring law and order to the frontier. His targets will be lawbreakers and criminals.

  • Translation: He'll defend the government and the status quo.

    What he won't do is challenge or question US policy. If the US takes Indian land, forces Indians onto a reservation, even kills them, it's all essentially "legal." The same is true if the US opens Indian land to homesteaders, ranchers, railroads, mining interests, or anyone else. The Ranger will side with "law and order" against tribal sovereignty and treaty rights.

    Heck, the Ranger will side with "law and order" if someone frees a slave, goes on strike against a company, or prevents a husband from hitting his wife. In fact, America has made it illegal to oppose "progress" throughout much of its history. So the Ranger will defend the country's political and economic interests--i.e., its power elite--against dissent and change.

    The Ranger's fantasy America

    The Lone Ranger is a white male Christian fantasy of US history. America had no problems with women, blacks, Mexicans, Indians, workers, immigrants, Jews, or anyone else who didn't resemble a Founding Father. The only trouble was caused by a few dastardly outlaws and a corrupt sheriff or two.

    In the Lone Ranger's America, there's no racism, sexism, or classism. This America is much like Abu Ghraib, where one group abuses another but nobody's really to blame. If the Bush administration Lone Ranger eliminates the occasional "bad apple," the system will work just fine.

    For more on the subject, see The Lone Ranger.

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