Kids Watching John Wayne Movies, By Charles Taylor (Florida)

This is not Earth-moving news, but did strike me as worth reporting for a read. As older people may know, John Wayne portrayed old school values of patriotism, and strong male virtues. His characters came before the era of gratuitous sex and violence. What the John Wayne man did was always based upon manly virtues such as strength, courage, mastery of oneself and the environment, and honour. Most characters were morally fragile, such as Ethan Evans in the classic John Ford film The Searchers, arguably the best Western ever made, and Rooster Cogburn in True Grit, but all such characters underwent a process of moral discovery and redemption during the movie, and in the end, emerged as true heroes.

The author of a post at Tablet, watched 10 John Wayne movies with some young children. The films had no appeals to diversity, equity, multiculturalism and the like, just basic values that had sustained humanity before this dark and decadent postmodern age. And, surprisingly enough, the children liked the movies and understood them, perhaps better than older generations lost in the dark space of Leftism. So, maybe if something like this holds on a wider scale, the age of woke may come crashing down. Or less dramatically the great pendulum of history, will move to the Right.

"For better or for worse, what drives the world in 2024 are emotions. While we are also guided by our duties, emotions are what help us make our struggle more than just a moral commitment; it is also an emotional commitment. Irving Berlin explained it well when talking about patriotic songs: "a patriotic song is an emotion, and you must not embarrass an audience with it, or they will hate your guts."

What is patriotic feeling? The question embarrasses us. But we have centuries of writing on this subject by our forebears. Patriotic love is an extrapolation of filial love. We love our countrymen for the same reason we love our brothers. We feel every corner of our nations as ours for the same reason we feel our family home as ours. We love everything that makes us who we are: the heritage, the tradition, the family teachings, the local culture of the generations that preceded us, the religion we profess.

Patriotism is not only a question of affection, though. It is also a personal commitment, a response to moral codes, and obligations proper to those who enjoy rights in the family sphere as well as in the national sphere.

These virtues are losing their place in the postmodern West. Yet ironically, in the emotionally driven system of meaning and communication of postmodernity, the fact that feelings are elevated over reason is a challenge to traditional norms, but it can also be an opportunity. If today's young people are more accustomed to relying on their feelings as the ultimate grounding for right behavior, then so-called "traditional virtues" can and should be deployed to persuade the young through the language of emotion rather than reason. This means that well-understood patriotism, a well-founded legacy of tradition, and a good moral education, can also be part of their emotional universe. And the case these virtues make for themselves in that realm is in fact surprisingly strong.

It is the fact that the defenders of the Western heritage are too exhausted and uncertain to safeguard their own traditions that makes the enemies of the West a credible threat.

Recently I participated in an experiment to test this thesis. With three children from 8 to 12 years old I watched about 10 John Wayne movies. The actor represents the quintessential American hero, but also the hero of the West, with his courage, love of country, justice, the flag, and so on. I thought first that today's children would not understand John Wayne's films, that they would be bored by them, and that they would dislike his attitudes and values as contrary to the norms of woke superheroes celebrated by Hollywood.

I was amazed at what I found. First of all, the children watched Wayne's films in their entirety, in complete silence, and understanding at all times what was going on: They laughed with John Ford's humor, cried with Wayne's defeats, and were thrilled by the military exploits led by the Duke. Even though the narrative rhythms are not the same as in contemporary films, even though the references to values or faith are much more present than in today's cinema, and even though several of the films were in black and white, the children did not take their eyes off the screen for a moment.

The reason why, I came to think, is that they had never seen anything like it. A hero who doesn't spend the whole time talking about diversity, tolerance, equality, and all the values we already know and adhere to. A hero who, for better or worse, believes in what he believes in and acts accordingly. A tough guy who makes mistakes, corrects himself, strives to be better, battles his own demons. These were emotions that the children recognized and connected to.

At the end of each movie, I would ask the kids: What do you think of John Wayne's character in this one? "That he's a good man who sometimes does bad things. But he always seems to do them for some greater reason: like friendship, love, or fulfilling his duties to his country," the oldest child told me, after watching John Ford's Cavalry Trilogy. "I like his bravery. He doesn't mind facing enemies alone," said the youngest, alluding to the lone hero Wayne plays in so many of his movies. "It's funny to me how he has such a hard time dealing with girls," notes the 11-year-old, who has paid special attention to the romantic parts of these films, discovering that Wayne's character struggles when encountering the world of femininity without despairing or hilariously exposing his brusqueness.

However, perhaps the most remarkable thing about John Wayne is the love he shows, paradoxical as it may seem, in the midst of his usual fighting, punching, and snarling. He is like that "good soldier" Chesterton spoke of: not fighting because he hates what is before him, but because he loves what is behind him.

In 1977, in one of his most famous books of aphorisms, the Colombian philosopher Nicolás Gómez Dávila unknowingly foresaw the key to the 21st-century culture wars: "Violence is not enough to destroy a civilization. Every civilization dies of indifference to the peculiar values on which it is founded." Many postmodern conservatives tend to think that things preserve themselves. But the so-called culture war, as its name suggests, is a war—not something you do on Twitter to kill time. Instead of actual corpses, it throws up victims and victors in the form of cultures and laws, justice or injustice, freedoms or cancellations. But, as in turf wars, cultural battles always end up shifting borders in one direction or another.

The whole of French author Michel Houellebecq's work is, above all, an attempt to reflect the decadence of the West. The dangers envisioned by Houellebecq are not so much themselves a lethal threat to Western culture; rather they are a problem for a culture already in retreat, increasingly watered down, dissolved in the multicultural magma, and despised by those who should be defending it as their own. The Islamism that Houellebecq describes, which is seeping through most of Europe with the sponsorship or acquiescence of the political elites of the EU, would not be so threatening to the Old Continent if Europe remained true to its own tradition, its beliefs, its history and its outlook on life. It is the fact that the defenders of the Western heritage are too exhausted and uncertain to safeguard their own traditions that makes the enemies of the West a credible threat." 



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Wednesday, 24 July 2024

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