Saturday, October 31, 2015

Defending John Wayne

Dale Matson

A featured article in BuzzFeed News (October 11th) caught my eye recently “How The West Was Wrong: The Making Of John Wayne”. Anne Helen Petersen wrote it.

Dr. Petersen wrote her doctoral dissertation on the gossip industry, which provides some context in understanding her perspective. It is also evident that she is a feminist writing with an agenda in mind. Beginning with her opening statement, here are some excerpts from her piece.

“Few figures exemplify the West, and Americanness [sic], more than John Wayne. How does the resilience of his image — and the thinly veiled bigotry, xenophobia, and sexism that structure it — point to the darkness at the heart of the Western myth?” It is easy in hindsight to question the values and choices made during John Wayne’s life by him and by our country in general. One can also retrospectively question the decisions during WWII to fire bomb German cities and use two atomic bombs on Japanese cities. Were we right to assassinate an American citizen using a drone in the current era?

You are missing the entire point of the Western myth, which is that there is good and evil and the heroes are the ones who take the risk to stand up for good. In fact, this is not just a Western myth. It is an age-old story that weaves together the fabric of any society. What does it take to defeat evil without becoming evil in the process?

“The image of John Wayne on offer at the museum is a tapestry of half-truths and tall tales, a myth meant to assuage a nation’s anxieties and assure its citizens that a certain type of man, with a sort of principle, was still central to American identity.” “He’s a mansplainer; he’s a xenophobe; he’d probably have horrible things to say about Islam. And Obama. And trans rights. [Oh really, are you certain?] And so many of the issues that are shaping the future of our collective identity.”

I don’t know how you can refer to John Wayne with three Hispanic wives as a xenophobe. His movie casting was usually of mixed race and gender both enemies and friends alike. His leading ladies were always strong in moral character.

And finally, “And whether Wayne, the individual, believed in the things that his myth has been used to endorse ultimately matters little. Wayne endures because that image, like that of America, was built on the notion that white masculinity should always be central to American identity. And he will continue to endure as the defenders of white masculinity continue to seek ways to express their horror that that is increasingly, and irrefutably, no longer the case.”

Your argument is that Wayne did not truly believe in the values he represented in his movies but further than that, that the American values he represented never existed. At the same time you argue that those values and the people who hold them are thankfully disappearing. There is a certain smarmy triumphalism in the case you made.

Do you really see contemporary society as morally superior to that of your parents and grandparents? Is there less poverty, injustice, less racism and more opportunity because of the ascendance of feminist ideology? Your generation will be judged by future generations as the one that blessed the murder of millions of unborn children.

For me, John Wayne represented moral values that are not androcentric but gender neutral. How does Sigourney Weaver playing the androgynous Ripley act any differently? How is Mattie Ross, played by Kim Darby in True Grit, any less a hero than Rooster Cogburn?

Finally, your article reflects a ‘thinly veiled’ misandry and an agenda driven, poorly researched and cited effort to discredit John Wayne in particular and white men in general. We are still here and still a part of what makes up the modern American myth. Some day when you are old, having gained perspective you will look back with a more humble mind.    


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