David Brooks’ View of the Wild West Is (well) Stupid


wyatt7David Brooks had a recent article about the decline of the male.  It makes no sense at all.  Rather than attempt to make something out of his stupidity, I’m more interested in his version of the Wild West, of the John Ford classic, The Searchers.  It is one of the greatest movies ever made, there is no doubt about that, but Brooks, in viewing John Wayne’s character of Ethan Edwards, because he has killed, he is no longer fit to live in the civilized world he helped to create.

I’ve read some really dumb and stupid things that come from far right ‘patriots’ but I must admit, this is the dumbest thing I’ve ever read.  Neither side, far right or left is doing themselves any favors by commenting on a subject they know so little about.  Brooks article is a total mess because Cantor is a fool, and Brooks is an idiot for using his flawed work.  The Searchers is a masterpiece.  It is heart-breaking.  It is also not intended to be social commentary.  It was a good yarn that John Ford figured would make a profit.  It’s not even about genocide.  It’s a story.  There are those who try to make base it on fact, on history, but Ford was quite good at mangling things.  He did what he needed to do in order to make a better movie.  For anyone to read social commentary into something where social commentary is just not needed is futile.

The worst of it is that Cantor’s version of Ethan Edwards is wrong, flawed.  He pictures a man, at the end, who cannot exist in the civilized world.  That’s a pile of you know what.  These men did quite well, and were far less racist and less interested in genocide than their ‘civilized’ counterparts.  Men like that had a tremendous amount of respect for their ‘enemy’.  The high-handedness and genocide against the Native Americans came from Washington, and promoted by incompetent political appointees who were horribly corrupt.  Eventually, men like this, those who survived, became some of the greatest advocates for Native Americans, against the government and how they were being treated.  Then again, some were barbarians.  They were human – nothing more and nothing less.  They were also far more enlightened that we are, today.

What a pile of … horse hockey.

“…John Ford’s 1956 movie focuses not on the abducted girl but on her uncle and adopted brother, who, in that telling, spend seven years tracking her and her abductors down.

The center of the movie is Ethan Edwards, played by John Wayne. He is as morally ambiguous a figure as movies can produce, at once brave, loyal, caring and honest, but also vengeful, hateful, dangerous and tainted by racism. As Glenn Frankel notes in “The Searchers,” his recent book on the movie, Edwards spends much of the film in pursuit of an old-fashioned honor killing. At least at first, he doesn’t want to rescue his niece; he wants to find her and kill her to enforce his brand of racial and sexual purity.

Classics can be interpreted in different ways. These days, “The Searchers” can be profitably seen as a story about men who are caught on the wrong side of a historical transition.

The movie’s West was a wild, lawless place, requiring a certain sort of person to tame it. As the University of Virginia literary critic Paul Cantor has pointed out, that person had prepolitical virtues, a willingness to seek revenge, to mete out justice on his own. That kind of person, the hero of most westerns, is hard, confrontational, raw and tough to control.

But, as this sort of classic western hero tames the West, he makes himself obsolete. Once the western towns have been pacified, there’s no need for his capacity for violence, nor his righteous fury. (Pink Flamingo NOTE:  This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever read about the Wild West).

As Cantor notes, “The Searchers” is about this moment of transition. Civilization is coming. New sorts of people are bringing education, refinement, marriage and institutionalized justice. Crimes are no longer to be punished by the righteous gunfighter but by law.

Ethan Edwards made this world possible, but he is unfit to live in it. At the end of the movie, after seven years of effort, he brings the abducted young woman home. The girl is ushered inside, but, in one of the iconic images in Hollywood history, Edwards can’t cross the threshold. Because he is tainted by violence, he can’t be part of domestic joy he made possible. He is framed by the doorway and eventually walks away…”

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Brooks discusses the possibility that The Searchers is based on the life of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was abducted by the Comanches in 1836.  The great leader, Quanah Parker was one of her children.

“...Cynthia was soon integrated into the tribe. She was given to a Tenowish Comanche couple, who adopted her and raised her like their own daughter. She forgot her European ways, and became Comanche in every sense. She married Peta Nocona, a chieftain. They enjoyed a happy marriage, and as a tribute to Peta Nocona’s great affection to Cynthia, he never took another wife, although it was traditional for chieftains to do so. The couple had three children, famed Comanche chief Quanah Parker, another son named Pecos (Pecan), and a daughter named Topsannah (Prairie Flower)…”

Unfortunately, this is not about her tragic life, but about how men like David Brooks now view the Wild West.  A man like John Wayne’s character of Ethan Edwards would not be pushed out to pasture.  Instead, they became the lawman who made the Wild West no longer wild.  They became the Wyatt Earps, Bat Mastersons, Buffalo Bill Codys – the legends who won the west and survived long enough to enjoy the fact that their stories were being told by a whole new industry – Hollywood!

This is deplorable;

Citation Allacademic
Citation Allacademic

It also shows how little the author truly knows about John Ford. I’ve read some really dumb and stupid things about the American West, before, but this is right up there with the worst.  Cantor is allegedly writing about John Ford and his classical view of the American West.  Sorry, but that’s not the real story.  We need to understand that Paul A. Cantor is a libertarian who writes from the tainted point of view of a ‘liberty’ loving patriot.  In other words, he’s full of sh*t.

It is all about the new, revisionist, libertarian version of Hollywood.

Power Line Blog
Power Line Blog

Leave it to the far right to make a total and compete mess of the story.  John Ford’s version of the Wild West came directly from Wyatt Earp, with whom he played poker on a regular basis, along with Tom Mix.  The insane revisionism that is now part of the right can’t handle the fact that Wyatt Earp helped to invent gun control.  The Gunfight at the OK Corral was about requiring a group of men NOT to wear or carry guns within the city limits of Tombstone.  While I have written in several of my books about Wyatt Earp that there was more at work at the OK Corral than just politics, it was ultimately about gun control.

John Ford’s version of the Wild West was not based on anything heroic, but the opportunity of making a dollar.  It was about money, nothing more or nothing less. If he were about portraying the west accurately, he would never have made such a disaster of My Darling Clementine.   While it was a homage to his good friend, Wyatt Earp, he was hamstrung from telling the real story, thanks to Josie, who did not want certain salient facts about her relationship with Wyatt and John Behan told.  She did everything she could to obscure her less than wholesome role in the story.

Brooks, taking his cue from Cantor, doesn’t understand real men like Nathan Edwards. Brooks is writing a commentary about how poor, scared, little, white men are being pushed out of their nice jobs and their future by big bad women and really scary minorities.  The historic truth of the matter is that men like Nathan Edwards would not have sat around crying about their world and how it changed.  They would go out and find something to do.

John Ford’s Wild West is basically a romanticized Wild West based on his romanticized version of Wyatt Earp’s life.  Wyatt was a Nathan Edwards.  If you know anything about his Vendetta Posse you know that he did what was needed to be done – as a lawman.  He was a real cop, a lawman’s lawman.  He is the type of individual who would be horribly out of place in today’s pseudo libertarian Ayn Rand world where they look at the Wild West as a libertarian paradise.

Perhaps the best portrayal of Wyatt Earp, aside from James Garner in Sunset, is Jimmy Stewart’s version of Wyatt Earp in Cheyenne Autumn.

As a matter of trivia, Jeffery Hunter, who played John Wayne’s adopted nephew in the movie, is most famous for creating the role of what character?  (Captain Christopher Pike)