It is the centenary of The Duke today. Here is Ronald Reagan on The Duke (from 1979), and there is plenty more on the page. As Marion Morrison he had an Airdale named "Little Duke" and they were inseperable. Pretty soon everyone started called him "Big Duke" and then "Duke". The name stuck. Ronald Reagan said of John Wayne: "There’s right and there’s wrong," Duke said in The Alamo. "You gotta do one or the other. You do the one and you’re living. You do the other and you may be walking around but in reality you’re dead." That’s exactly right. It is also the thing for which Wayne was always
criticized as an actor, lack of nuance. Come to think it, Europeans have always criticized Americans for lack of nuance. Perfect.
I might be remembering the John Marini podcasts wrongly, but at one point, about one movie, he said John Wayne was playing the role of a god, who needed no one. That was true of many of his movies; Wayne played self-sufficient and nearly omniscient characters. He did not have to be perfect - the Greek gods were not. But even flawed, he was amazing, and only barely needed the mortals around him.
As to America and right and wrong and nuance: for us, nuance is confusion. Perhaps we are achieving nuance, we certainly an unusual level of confusion, and that might be why we seem so upset with ourselves.
"....dead as a beaver hat."
Moral toughness is one thing. Admirable though it is, it's not the same as moral clarity. Moral clarity requires articulateness, not inarticulateness. From a conservative standpoint, the rap on the Duke (or rather his characters) is not that they lacked "nuance," but that they were unsophisticated and inarticulate. Therefore, they would not have persuaded anyone who didn't already agree with them. For that reason, they can be only partial role models, or role models for kids.
David Frisk, I couldn't disagree more. Without simple unadorned insight nuance becomes confusion, as Kate said. Furthermore, figures like those portrayed by Wayne are themselves first principles of character, your "models." I remember clearly John Wayne's speech in the Alamo from which Peter Schramm quotes. I knew as a boy there was truth because John Wayne and my mother demonstrated to me that there was right and wrong. Everything after that has been just filling out. Besides all that, how can you say that Wayne was inarticulate????? Also, note Peter Schramm's title: "American"--not philosopher.
A great way to see 'nuance' exhibited by the Bush Administration, his semi-loyal 28% following, and the John Wayne machismo crowd is to ask them if torture is a morally acceptable activity. Then you'll hear the most BS-laden 'nuance' imaginable! Then their black vs. white, good vs. evil world of simplicity will just go all grey on them. Indeed, John Wayne is a role model for kids...and people who think that the real world ought to be like a John Wayne movie.
I see. Here I was, thinking of John Wayne and the excellent movies he made, and all the while Smith and apparently Frisk too were thinking of Bush and Bush's War. Wayne is Bush. Bush is Wayne. Wayne and Bush would torture on sight. How nuanced of them.
I apologize to David Frisk. I shouldn't have included him in #6, and besides, as usual, he makes a good point coherently. Chalk it up to Memorial Day thumos.
4: Robert, let me "nuance," or rather clarify, my prior comment about Duke. His characters represented a species of moral clarity. But because they expressed themselves too briefly and too simply, it was normally an inadequate moral clarity. They can shame people into doing the right thing. But thinking the right thing requires persuasion. Also, I do not advocate "nuance," as distinct from further articulation or depth of view. To me, "nuance" conveys incomplete identification with what one believes, i.e., weaseling. It has its place in private conversation about private things. It's undesirable, and rightly doesn't inspire confidence, when one speaks either publicly, or about public things.