Summary: Hollywood projects our dreams and fears on the big screen. Studying films gives us perspective on ourselves.. Today we look at “The Lone Ranger”.
“The Lone Ranger” is a powerful movie whose incoherence reveals much about America.
First, it shows (as do so many movies) our discomfort with heroes. Rather than make a straightforward movie about heroes, “The Lone Ranger”, like “The Green Hornet” (2011) shows its ambivalence about heroism by staging the protagonist as a buffoon whose assistant is what Spike Lee calls the “Magical Negro” (see Wikipedia) whose skills get the white boy hero out of trouble. We get to enjoy our heroes while simultaneously mocking it.
A people who make war on the weak — such as night raids on homes by heavily armed special operations forces, or kill from the sky by drones — has little interest in heroes. A people who disgrace their heritage by allowing the Constitution to die on their watch has little interest in heroes. Heroes become problematic, best handled as comedy or cartoons.
Second, and more important, “The Lone Ranger” is history pretending to be comedy. It’s one of the most accurate movies about the Old West I recall. It shows the cavalry helps the rich and slaughters the Indians — the greedy evil rich entrepreneur, trampling any in their path — the screaming crowds seeking to lynch an Indian — the general atmosphere of desperation — and the horrific dilemma this created for anyone attempt to do the right thing.
The traditional western hides this by either
- inverts the actual history (e.g., John Wayne’s 1970 “Chisum”; in the real Lincoln Country War the cavalry arrived to help the bad guys win), or
- airbrushes it into pretty poetry (eg, John Ford’s cavalry trilogy.
More than a century has passed since the closing of the western frontier, yet we still cannot look at it with open eyes. The pervasive injustice, the brutal suppression of Indians, blacks and workers, the might-makes-right ethos, the crushing of our small merchants and farmers, the concentration of wealth — it was a maelstrom of hatred and fear. Rather than confront our past and rejoice that we evolved beyond it, we construct and esteem a faux history of the west.
That’s bad since losing touch with our past weakens us. Now that might be changing.
Court jesters were able to speak unspeakable truths to medieval Kings; today films do the same for us. Laughing at the horror of our past is the first step to recovering it. Perhaps this is our “Hogan’s Heroes”, the 1960’s TV show popular in Germany during the 1990s — part of their rediscovery of the truth about the widespread involvement of the German people in the WW2 war crimes.
Perhaps we too can come to terms with our past, and better appreciate how far we have come from those dark dark days of the mid- and late-1800s. When that happens this will be a stronger America.
For More Information
See Locke Peterseim’s review of this movie: “The Lone Ranger” shows Hollywood’s new paradigm, since films were too deep for us.
Posts about American films:
- The problem with America lies in our choice of heroes
- Robocop is not a good role model for the youth of Detroit
- We want heroes, not leaders. When that changes it will become possible to reform America.
- Loki helps us to see our true selves
- Our choice of heroes reveals much about America
- Hollywood’s dream machine gives us the Leader we yearn for