Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Lone Ranger

I've been pondering the death of Bin Laden, and thought that Tom Wright, former Bishop of Durham, was very accurate in his placing the American tactical methods in the Westerns mythology of America:
Gangsters are preying on a small mid-western town. The sheriff and his deputies are spineless; law and order have failed. So the hero puts on a mask, acts 'extra-legally', performs the necessary redemptive violence (i.e. kills the bad guys), and returns to ordinary life, earning the undying gratitude of the local townsfolk, sheriff included. This is the plot of a thousand movies, comic-book strips, and TV shows: Captain America, the Lone Ranger, and (upgraded to hi-tech) Superman. The masked hero saves the world.

Films and comics with this plot-line have been named as favourites by most Presidents, as Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence pointed out in The Myth of the American Superhero (2002) and Captain America and the Crusade Against Evil (2004). The main reason President Obama has been cheered to the echo across the US, even by his bitter opponents, is not simply the fully comprehensible sense of closure a decade after the horrible, wicked actions of September 11 2001. Underneath that, he has just enacted one of America's most powerful myths.

Perhaps the myth was necessary in the days of the Wild West, of isolated frontier towns and roaming gangs. But it legitimizes a form of vigilantism, of taking the law into one's own hands, which provides 'justice' only of the crudest sort. In the present case, the 'hero' fired a lot of stray bullets in Iraq and Afghanistan before he got it right. What's more, such actions invite retaliation. They only 'work' because the hero can shoot better than the villain; but the villain's friends may decide on vengeance. Proper justice is designed precisely to outflank such escalation.

Here's my poem summing that up:
The Lone Ranger

Riding into battle on his trusty steed
Fearless vigilante, not a softy weed
No time for judges, and no time for law
If you don't like it, stick it in your craw
Off to the outback, riding with a gun
Looks like a bandit, in the rising sun
But he's a good guy, on his trusty steed
Law courts and justice, that he doesn't need
Goes to the bad guy, lurking in a cave
No time for wimps, no time to save
Bad guy is unarmed, but he's got to go
The Lone Ranger wins; it is always so
Riding from the battle, but there wasn't one
On his trusty horse, against the setting sun
Never mind the law, let the good guy win
Don't let preacher folk say it is a sin
Bad guy killed millions, and deserves to die
Bullets pounded in, expired with a sigh
Rough justice in the west, not a time for law
If you don't like it, stick it in your craw
Lone Ranger is a good guy, even if he's bad
He's an true American, not an Injun lad
Good Injun is a dead one, motto for today
Let the wagons roll, no justice today.