There was a time when you could turn on the TV news and listen to what you were fairly confident was actually news. Walter Cronkite on CBS always seemed to really “Tell it like it is.” He never seemed to put a spin on anything. No one doubted anything he said when he reported space missions from NASA or the assassination of JFK. You never had to wonder, “What is Cronkite’s real agenda?” His agenda was always to tell me the news of the day.
The question of politics and ideas was always one of, “Which flavor tastes best in my own personal opinion?” Because I was weirdly and excessively smart as a kid, I often listened to some of the smartest people accessible to a black-and-white RCA television set.
William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal were both identifiably smarter than me. I loved to listen to them argue. They were equally matched. They respected each other’s intellect, but they hated each other with a passion. Buckley was a Fascist-leaning conservative ball of hatred with a giant ego. Vidal was a self-contradictory Commie-pinko bastard child of liberal chaos with an equally giant ego. I never agreed with either of them on anything, but their debates taught me so much about life and politics that I became a dyed-in-the-wool moderate because of them. They were the key evidence backing up the theory that you needed two sides in the political argument to hammer out good ideas of solid worth. And, though I didn’t trust either side of the argument fully, I always trusted that both were basing their ideas on facts.
Then along came Richard Nixon and the faith-shaking lies of Watergate. The media began to be cast as the villain as they continued to show the violence and horrors of Vietnam on TV and tell us about campus unrest and the terrible outcomes of things like the Kent State Massacre. The President suggested routinely that the media was not using facts as much as it was using opinions to turn people away from the Nixon administration’s answer to the problems of life in the USA. I tried to continue believing in the Republican president right up until he resigned and flew away in that helicopter with his metaphorical tail between his legs (I am trying to suggest he was a cowardly dog, not that I want to make a lewd joke about poor Dick Nixon… or is that Little Dick Nixon, the man who let me down?)
And then along comes Ronald Reagan, the man acting as a “Great President” because he was a veteran actor and knew how to play the part. And with him came Fox News.
Roger Ailes, a former adviser to Nixon, got together with media mogul Rupert Murdoch, a man who would commit any crime necessary to sell more newspapers, and created a news channel that would pump out conservative-leaning propaganda that would leave Joseph Goebbels envious. I make it a rule to only listen to them and their views on anything when I feel the need to get one-foot-hopping, fire-spitting mad about something. So, since, I am a relatively happy person in spite of a long, hard life, you can understand why I almost never watch Fox News. They are truly skilled at making me mad and unhappy. And I suspect they do the same for everyone. They deal in outrage more than well-thought-out ideas.
News media came under a cloud that obscured the border between facts and partisan opinions. And conservatives seemed to have a monopoly on the shouty-pouty angry news. So, I began to wonder where to turn for a well-reasoned and possibly more liberal discussion of what was politically and ethically real. I found it in the most surprising of places.
I turned to the “Excuse me, this is the news” crews on Comedy Central where Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were busy remaking news reporting as a form of comedy entertainment. It is hard work to take real news and turn it into go-for-the-chuckles statements of fact that make you go, “Hmm, that’s right, isn’t it?” Stewart and Colbert consistently examine how other news organizations hurl, vomit forth, and spin the news, and by so doing, they help you examine the sources, get at the truth, and find the dissonance in the songs everyone else is singing. And these are very smart men. As I said, the intellectual work they do is very difficult, harder than merely telling it like it is. I know because I have tried to do the same myself. And is it really “fake news”? It seems to me like it is carefully filtered news, with the poisons of propaganda either surgically removed, or neutralized with antidotes of reason and understanding.
So, Mickey listens to comedians to get his news. Is that where you expected this article to end up? If not, where do you get your news?
Heroes of Yesteryear (Cowboy Movies)
When I was a boy, the Western reigned supreme on both television and in the movie theaters. Part of the benefit of that was being indoctrinated with “the Cowboy Way” which was a system of high ideals and morality that no longer exists, and in fact, never did exist outside of the imaginations of little boys in the 1950’s and 1960’s. We learned that good guys wore white hats and bad guys wore black. You only won the shootout if you shot the bad guy and you didn’t draw your gun first.
Of course, the cowboys who were the “White Knights of the Great Plains” we worshiped as six-year-olds and the singing cowboys on TV were not the same ones we watched when we were more mature young men of ten to twelve. John Wayne starring in Hondo (after the book by Louis L’Amour) was more complicated than that, and we learned new things about the compromises you make in the name of survival and trying to do things the best way you can. From Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence we began to see that sometimes you shot the villain in the back from down the street to save your simple friend from the gunfight in the street when he was too naive and green to win.
Wyatt Earp at the OK Corral was the white hat we wanted desperately to be when we grew up. And then I saw on PBS in the late 60’s a documentary about the real shootout and the real compromises and consequences of the thing we once thought was so clearly good versus evil.
Wyatt went from the TV hero,
To the mostly moral man fighting what seemed like lawlessness,
To a morally ambiguous angel of death, winning on luck and guts rather than righteousness, and paying evil with vengeance while suffering the same himself from those dirty amoral cowboys, sometimes good, but mostly not.
And then along came Clint and “the Man with No Name”. More ambiguous and hard to fathom still…
Who really was The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly? What made any one of them worse than the other two? You need to listen to the music before you decide. We are all of us good, bad, and ugly at times. And all of it can be made beautiful at the end with the right theme music behind it. Did we ever learn anything of real value from cowboy movies? Of course we did. They made us who we are today. They gave us the underpinnings of our person-hood. So, why do they not make them anymore? The video essay at the end of my wordiness has answers. But basically, we grew up and didn’t need them anymore. And children and youths of today have different heroes. Heroes who are heroic without shootouts and letting the bad guy draw his gun first. Ideally, heroes who are us.
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