The politically correct Powers That Be of today would decree openly if they had any courage -- no, with politics involved, better to say pure outright arrogance instead of courage -- that a legend of yesteryear like John Wayne is irrelevant to our culture as we push toward enlightenment. Plenty of folks tried to make him irrelevant during the latter years of his life in the 1960’s and 1970’s and even now, to be certain. But the unspoken need of the correct to render The Duke irrelevant because of the supposed ’worst’ he represented about America is there, and it’s had at least a degree of success. Why else would there be a greater chance someone today would know of serial killer John Wayne Gacy, and not the legend he was named after at birth? (Seeing someone say that on YouTube recently, that he thought Billy Idol’s "John Wayne" was about a serial killer, made me want to write this blog.)
But something is going on that still baffles the correct in this world. Know what it is? John Wayne is still popular, even all of these years after he left us. Those who watch his films and truly enjoy them (and I number among those folks, I’m glad to say) may not be as vocal as the haters, but we’re out there, and we’re everywhere. And no, Correct Ones, we’re not just limited to those with Caucasian skin. Or guys. And I know for a fact that as I get older, my appreciation and respect for the man and his legend will only grow, and I’ll pass that appreciation on to my heirs one day. If they’ll listen, dammit.
Let me explain why...no matter what those who are so achingly correct would have you believe, John Wayne needs no defense.The reason for that is because any criticism toward The Duke is so clearly, unmistakably self-serving. It’s a classic reaction from the low to want to tear the mighty down. And what better meat would there be for those who think of nothing but themselves and their self-interested agendas than to tear down a legend? It started in the 1960’s, of course, when the cultural revolution America went through at the time was not only motivated by a need for social justice...it was spurred in the protest rallies and sit-ins and whatever the hell by self-indulgent, preening kids who just wanted some friggin’ attention. They tuned in, turned on and dropped out only because it was the 'popular' thing to do, to stick it to 'The Man'. I seriously doubt most of the so-called activists of that day honestly cared about their causes as much as they cared about going one toke over the line. The only reason we’re reminded of that period of time and those protests and told it was so 'important' was because those kids grew up, and many are now the Powers That Be, and yes, they’re still self-serving. Here’s a question I want a concise, honest answer to...what the hell was so important about Woodstock? I was born in 1969, and that might have a lot to do with my lack of understanding. Or my refusal to buy into the Sixties nonsense.
No change, positive or otherwise, happened in the Sixties because of a bunch of ignorant hippies! The change happened in the courts, because laws were changed! That’s all there is to it! I’ve never bought into the B.S. so many people make of the 1960’s, and I never will. If you do, go ahead and see "Across the Universe" again.
Strangely enough, those who insist on waxing nostalgic about the good old days of 'peace, love, dope' feel the exact opposite about John Wayne. Why? Because of politics...because, supposedly, of his politics.
What were The Duke’s politics, though? Outside of being a Freemason, he was politically speaking a patriot and a hawk. So he loved his country. So he believed a country with a strong defense is a safer country. What difference does...oh, wait! We’re supposed to believe in this day and age that it’s wrong to be conservative in any way. (Does that include environmental conservation? Really, really think about that.) We Americans are supposed to make apologies for ourselves instead of feel any pride. How dare we! The correct get their feathers self-righteously ruffled and squawk, "But John Wayne is on record as saying he hates blacks! And Native Americans! He’s a racist!" I keep seeing people who don’t know what they’re talking about say this kind of shit online.
Fact: The Duke was never a bigot...people keep referring to his 'infamous' Playboy interview, but it’s a classic overreaction of the overly-sensitive and self-righteous. In the case of Native Americans, The Duke didn’t make any apologies for our colonization of the continental United States because basically we needed the land, and so we took it. The worst he could be accused of is being insensitive to Native Americans...isn’t it a bigger insult for a certain sports team to insist on calling themselves the Atlanta Braves? And his statements about African-Americans can be boiled down to simply this: people have to earn their way anywhere in America, starting first and foremost with education. Even in the Seventies, that was amazingly forthright, but typical for John Wayne. Didn’t Bill Cosby say virtually the same thing once? And oh holy shit, how The Cos got raked over the coals, too! Who raked both John Wayne and Bill Cosby over the coals for being so old-fashioned? By politicians who got where they were exactly because they keep promising one indulgence or another to those they want votes from!
The Duke wasn’t a bigot. He was married three times, each time to a lady of Hispanic descent. That fact, of course, was subject to vocal confusion by many in Hollywood. It’s telling how self-serving it was of them to bring up that fact, and that they thought it was strange an American icon like him would marry women from a ’minority’. Right here, right now, I’m calling those 'progressive' and 'liberal' assholes out not only for being so damn arrogant, but a lot worse...THEY WERE MAKING THE IMPLICATION THAT THE DUKE’S WIVES WERE SOMEHOW 'LESS' AMERICAN. Yeah. Really think about that one, too.
Case closed...we have as much of a right to condemn John Wayne for anything he believed in as much as we have to judge his personal life, which is none; such things weren’t any of our damned business, and they still aren’t. Draw a parallel with former President Bill Clinton, Correct Ones. You didn’t want anyone judging him for his views or what he said or did, right? Once and for all, proof that such judgments are politically motivated...two men, definitely not perfect, yet one is lionized and the other is condemend because each have different politics. I’ve mentioned before I hate politics, sometimes with a passion that should be reserved for a significant other.
We’re almost supposed to give every respect to another legend, the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson...why should The Duke be any different?
It’s of interest that about the same time that people started criticizing The Duke in the 1960’s, much ado was also made about the genre of film he’ll forever be associated with: the Western. There was a classic line said in one of John Wayne’s most enduring classics, "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", and it held true for the Western itself in his day...when legend becomes truth, print the legend. However, there was a growing movement that showed disdain for the genre and its empahsizing the romantic legend of the Old West more than the harsher historic realities. (As a result, strangely, ignoring the basic purpose of films to escape reality and be entertained.) In response, naturally, the political and profit minded in Hollywood responded with a new brand of revisionist Western. The unrelated but strikingly similar Spaghetti Westerns from Italy had a romantic vein in them, but their grittiness and the moral ambiguity of characters like The Man With No Name on the surface tended to overshadow that vein. (Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Spaghetti Westerns as much as the romantic ones.) Still, these new approaches to the Western steadily took prominence even as the genre on the whole began to decline to obscurity, and it finally did in the late 1970’s, ironically as The Duke’s health increasingly failed him. Before that, John Wayne’s hero in the white hat was forced to compete with Clint Eastwood’s more rugged and mercenary antihero. The Duke seemed to barely outlive his own legend, as his character John Bernard Books did in his last movie, "The Shootist" from 1976, a few years before he passed away.
But...it only SEEMED that way.
In his own lifetime, John Wayne had indeed become a legend...an archetype of the American cowboy and gunman of the Old West that should have been, and almost could have been; indeed, since about the time of "Rio Bravo", he simply performed as himself because his very screen persona had become indistinguishable from his public one because he’d been the cowboy for so long. Those who admired The Duke believed in him and his toughness, his take it or leave it honesty, and his embodying of the best of what a man could be. He virtually was machismo, and his words spoke with as much power as his actions because there was no such thing as 'pretense' in John Wayne’s heart and soul. Little wonder, when you think about it, that in this day and age when politics rule and moral relativity is stressed over what is right and wrong, that so many would rather his legend not endure. But it has...and so has the American Western, romantic and revisionist. 1985 saw their triumphant resurgence with the rousing "Silverado" and the gritty "Pale Rider".
The Duke’s legend and all he represented, and at least all that he was on the silver screen, won’t ever fade away. Why? Because of those who watch him and believe in him, like me, past, present and future. Those who watch him and believe in him will, one way or the other, pass on their admiration to the next generation, just as they had in the past. The would-be 'correct' have tried their level best to reduce his legend, and the sheep who follow such politics will decry him without really knowing about who they want to condemn. But politics and the hunger of the selfish are not only shallow but clear and present...their obviously self-serving judgments might just make them be judged in turn. John Wayne once said this: "I’d just like to be an image that reminds someone of joy rather than the problems of the world." He is and he still does, and in the end that outweighs any and all verdicts of the self-interested. That’s part of why he’s a legend, Pilgrim.