Where Have You Gone, John Wayne?
Tuesday, February 26, 2019
Recently, as I ate breakfast at a local restaurant, the strains of Simon and Garfunkel came over the radio. Specifically, the iconic Mrs. Robinson from the movie, The Graduate.
Probably the most memorable line of the song is, “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.” The poignant – and rather melancholy – response to that rhetorical question is, “Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away.”
What supposedly made America turn its lonely eyes to the great Joe DiMaggio, the “Yankee Clipper”? Simply put, our country, circa 1968, was looking and longing for heroes.
Mrs. Robinson was released on April 5, 1968. The evening before, Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Two short months later, Robert F. Kennedy would meet a similar fate at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
It was an age of disillusionment – with the federal government, the Vietnam War, and life itself. Substitute any number of current issues for Vietnam and you may as well be describing the United States, circa 2019.
So, what is the answer, my fellow Americans? Aside from a long overdue spiritual revival, I think what our country needs is more heroes. And not just more heroes, but the right kind.
In today’s materialistic and moribund society, people tend to look up to movie stars and professional athletes…many of whom are of questionable character, at best. Even more troublesome are the trendsetters who are simply famous for being famous.
Hello, Kardashians and Paris Hilton, I’m talking about you.
When I was growing up, our heroes were people like Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine, and John Glenn, who was the first American to orbit the earth. In other words, people who actually accomplished something worthwhile for the greater good.
And yes, John Wayne, better known as “the Duke”.
Now, I’m not talking about the actor who was born Marion Robert Morrison in Winterset, Iowa. On the contrary, I am referring to the uniquely American characters that he portrayed on film.
Whether it was Davy Crockett in The Alamo, Dan Roman in The High and the Mighty, or Rooster Cogburn in True Grit, Wayne played a series of admittedly imperfect men who – when things got tough – they got even tougher. Even J.B. Brooks, the retired and cancer-stricken gunfighter he portrayed in his final movie, The Shootist, went down swinging…taking out several other gunslingers before being shot in the back by a cowardly bartender.
Perhaps no one else in screen history epitomized real manhood more than the Duke. Which, I guess, is why I miss him so much. Again, not the man, but the rugged individuals he brought to life.
Men who pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps, tamed the frontier, and rescued women and children in distress. Call me old-fashioned and you’d be partially right. Call me a proud American, and you’d be 100% accurate.
As I look at the current crop of presidential candidates, I am struck by how far we have regressed as a nation over the past half century. John F. Kennedy, whose assassination contributed to the disillusionment of the Sixties, issued a clarion call for selfless public service in his inaugural address. “Ask not what your country can do for you,” Kennedy challenged his listeners, “ask what you can do for your country.”
Today, JFK’s inspiring words have been replaced by a “what have you done for me lately?” mentality that encourages citizens to scam the system or worse yet, to depend on it for their very existence.
Something tells me that the Duke wouldn’t support a political platform that calls for more government control over virtually every area of our lives. Nor would he favor universal healthcare, “free” college education, and a Chicken Little approach to climate change. These and other liberal proposals all come with price tags in the trillions. And yes, they are also intended to eliminate personal responsibility and replace it with a subservient populace manipulated by a monolithic centralized government in Washington DC.
Indeed, where have you gone, John Wayne…and JFK? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to both of you.