September 7, 2012


The Gun and the Cross. The religion of America in John Ford, Mitt Romney and Clint Eastwood (SELINA O'GRADY, 7 September 2012, Open Democracy)

Mormonism  sacralised America - that is why Harold Bloom, the famously high-brow Eng Lit professor, considers its visionary founder, Joseph Smith, to equal in imaginative power to Melville or Whitman. The broader sacred mission, however, was embodied in the cowboy. He is the pioneering independent spirit who brings justice, law and order, just as Aeneas did in the Roman Empire's great founding myth the Aeneid.  

Mormon and cowboy myths are married in the film Wagonmaster by John Ford (who is mystifyingly revered by the French Nouvelle Vague and their successors). The film is about the Mormon leader Elder Wiggs,  who leads a small group of followers through the Wild West to set up his own version of 'a city upon a hill' in Utah. 'God has reserved for us a promised land' he tells a horse trader on the wagon trail. As the film ends, that tinny triumphalist music of Westerns blares out, and Ford's large expressionist shots of couples smiling and embracing as they ride their wagons into the new settlement are intercut with shots of the folk dancing. A new community, a vision realized. It is genuinely moving.  I caught a friend of mine - the quintessence of anti-patriotism - smiling   as he watched. 

This is a vision of one's nation as we might all like to have it - a community bound together by courage, the love of freedom, the love of each other based on the love of family. America is the elected nation, its people have a destiny, they are the chosen people. 

For all our queasiness at the Romney speech and distaste for jingoism, we in Britain have regret and disquiet over the sense that our society is disintegrating.  Our tax-avoiding rich and our disaffected underclass alike seem to have opted out of the idea that they are contributors in the joint enterprise of creating a good society. 

So what then is wrong with the John Ford ending or the conclusion to Mitt Romney's speech in which he sounded like a new Isaiah as he expounded his  ecstatic vision of a golden America of the past which will be recreated by him in  the future?  

The problem is the violence on which that vision is based. 

Before John Ford's glorious finale there is this less palatable scene: a band of outlaws shoot and kill one of the Mormon pioneers. In return one of the Mormon wagoners shoots virtually  the entire band. When the leader of the Mormons berates him for having acted contrarily to his own dictum that he never draws his gun on a man, the wagoner replies "I don't draw on men, only on snakes', and then he hurls the gun into the desert. 

This is not just  the neocon way of doing things, but the inevitable behaviour of an empire.  Force first, dehumanise your opponent (remember, they are snakes), then throw away the gun, and establish law and order. Force - massacres if necessary - is justifiable because of the end result, the supposed establishment of law and order. Violence is thus dressed up in the language of moral righteousness.

...that establishing law and order is worth the violence it requires are those who live where law and order has already been established violently.  Meanwhile, what kind of person is friends with an anti-patriot in any Anglospheric state?

Posted by at September 7, 2012 4:55 AM

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