Friday, August 31, 2007

John Wayne: I Get It



Caution: do not read the following as a nascent conversion to Republicanism.

John Wayne characters exude something wholly lacking in contemporary male characters, namely, manliness. Since, say, the Rocky/Rambo era, manliness exists on screen as little more than a set of visible and easily recognizable signs: a buff body, a big gun, and a vendetta to carry out. Modern manliness is determined only by a character's willingness to react quickly, violently and without mercy against an actual or perceived threat to himself or his family. Once the line has been crossed, our modern-day manly man has no choice but to seek revenge and/or eliminate the threat. He is mostly perfect, whereas the characters John Wayne plays, at least in his best films, are deeply, irrevocably flawed. Manliness in a John Wayne character is defined by that character's ability to measure the effects of violence against the consequences of inaction, and also by his ability to face, if not entirely overcome, his flaws. Perhaps the key word here is "measure." Modern manly men react without thinking, and their unthinkingness is viewed as a hallmark of their manliness. Thinking about the consequences of their actions, taking stock of themselves, and admitting (implicitily or explicitly) failure are signs of weakness. It is the opposite with a John Wayne character. None ever see violence as completely justified or completely unjust in a given situation. A John Wayne manly man takes into account the cost of violence always and, if he chooses the violent course of action, is willing to share the costs instead of simply passing them along to others.

I guess each generation gets the manly man it deserves.

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