"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, July 8, 2013

Cowboys And Indians

The new version of The Lone Ranger has been a flop, but how could anyone weaned on the original series not go see it?  Children of the Fifties grew up on the radio with Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels, and still remember the special effects – the crunching of boot heels on high chaparral ,the whinnying of horses, the creak of leather, the commands of The Lone Ranger (“Circle back by the cottonwoods, and we’ll take them by surprise”), and the clipped, Indian English of Tonto (“OK, Kemosabe”).

Who ever thought of racism and ethnic difference in those days? Tonto was The Lone Ranger’s sidekick, his deuxième, dressed in rustic buckskins to The Lone Ranger’s felt and silver, Tonto was faithful, courageous, and always willing to take a bullet for his master.

The first Tonto was as it should be – craggy-faced, headband to hold his tribal locks, tall in the saddle, and ready to do the bidding of his betters.

The Johnny Depp Tonto is a Western queen, made up like he is in The Pirates of the Caribbean, heavy eye-liner, fey and ironic; but far from the ‘reality’ of the 50s. Perhaps this modern Tonto, all war paint and savage is what Indians really looked like way back then.

Doubtful. This is Depp at his most gay and tricked out. The real Tonto looked like this:

Ah, those were the days. The Lone Ranger and his deputized posse thundered across the plains shooting six-shooters at cattle rustlers, sod-buster murderers, and hard-drinking, whore-mongers.

Today the great westward expansion, Manifest Destiny, and outward-bound adventurism have come under the PC microscope. The European settlers of America were nothing but than environmental despoilers who ravaged landscape and peaceful native settlements for their own greedy ends.

This revisionist history rankles. White Europeans in America were dominant, aggressive, acquisitive, and expansionist – just like their forebears in the Old Country.  According to their 19th Century worldview native Americans were of a lower order of humanity to be used, exploited, and exposed. Not much different from Ancient Greece and Rome, Persepolis, and the impressively expansionist Muslims in the 7th century.

American children were glued to the television in the Fifties, and loved Cowboys-and-Indians. Hopalong Cassidy was too fey…

…but loved Roy Rogers and Dale Evans:


This of course was long before Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood and his anti-Western take on the Frontier:

However, the Westerns of the 50s were definitely on to something. Before retro, irony, and post-modernism, the old-fashioned Westerns captured American essence.  We are, after all still and expansionist, righteous conquerors.

That’s the way it was. We conned and cheated the ingenuous Indians at Plymouth and Albemarle Sound.  We slaughtered red men and buffalo alike on the great plains.  We shoved our allies the Choctaws and Chickasaws (War of 1812) west across the Mississippi.  We isolated and marginalized them in reservations.  We slaughtered as many as we could, but showed cultural restraint. We didn’t display their severed heads as highway totems as Genghis Khan had.

Fifties children loved the wild buffalo hunts of Indians and the more extensive hunts of the Union soldiers taming the West, eliminating  wild animals, pacifying the land and creating a new Eden.  They were our heroes:

The old Westerns of the 50s were iconic representations of all that America was, promised to be,and still is.  We are no different from the iconic cowboy heroes of yesteryear. We believe in American exceptionalism, American moral supremacy, and American destiny.  We are still the world’s cowboys.

The Lone Ranger II  like Cowboys and Aliens was a flop because it strayed too far into ironic post-modernism.  Despite the current focus on inclusion, ethnicity, and victim studies, Americans do not want to let loose of romantic notions of founding. The Indians stood in our way. We had no need of government because the Law of the Frontier

It was God’s Law, an Old Testament version of good and evil, retribution, punishment, and justice.
Historical revisionism does not scan.  We are doomed to repeat history in endless cycles.  There will always be Lone Rangers in the predictable, violent course of history.

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