Growing up in Scotland, I never expected to live in California one day. Yet, here I am. And here’s where my view of Hollywood has finally landed.
“Hollywood’s a myth,” I was told as a kid, as I fell in love with Disney movies and westerns in the exotic U.S. of A, a place so magical it defied description.
I was the hero of these stories, regardless of gender or even species, imagining myself as the brave sheriff or the loyal dog who traveled miles to return home to his master. This latter fantasy was heightened by the statue of Greyfriars Bobby I saw when we visited my grandmother in Edinburgh. Bobby accompanied his master, the nightwatchman John Gray, regardless of weather. After Gray died, he was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard and the dog never left the grave. After the dog’s death, a statue was erected on top of a fountain. In typical Scottish fashion, the headstone includes instruction: “Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all”.
Brave and loyal. That’s how I saw myself, although, deep down, I knew I wasn’t. At least, not all the time. Who is?
My view of Hollywood shifted after I moved to North America and grew up. I still enjoyed movies, but recognized them for what they were — stories. What I didn’t recognize for a long time was how insidiously dangerous they could be, how some people never grow up enough to recognize the limitations and falsity of a constructed story.
I recently saw the documentary “Inside High Noon.” At the time (the movie came out in 1952), many studios passed on the project and many actors turned it down. The movie was interpreted as an attack on the House Un-American Activities Committee, aroused controversy among critics, and treated women and masculinity in ways ahead of its time. John Wayne said the movie was “the most un-American thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life.” He and Howard Hawks made Rio Bravo in response because they were so opposed to High Noon shattering the image of the never-afraid, always-brave, always-do-the-right-thing hero so long perpetrated by Hollywood movies until that time.
I learned we’re not brave all the time, not loyal all the time, not good all the time, and that’s okay.
Fast forward to today and the Hollywood danger I now see is the falsified image of the west: the single man with a gun braving the elements, the bad guys, the range wars, and saving the town and the world.
That man is still the image of the day. Every man for himself. Every man alone, independent, self-reliant, needing no one.
Reading more about the West in nonfiction after I moved to California, I learned that settlers led a hard-scrabble life, panning for gold or meager share-cropping. People toiled all day, and barely made it through alive. Many didn’t. A rifle killed vermin and secured food for the table. There wasn’t time for the lone man braving the world.
Yet the image persists. And look what it’s wrought: Every man has a right to bear arms (misinterpretation of the 2nd amendment), mass school shootings every day, and not enough people willing to take the obvious steps to stop the horror. All I can do is protest, write my Congresspersons, and proselytize for my belief in everything from background checks to banning Uzis.
At least my self-image has changed. I’m brave sometimes, I’m loyal a lot of the time, but above all, I’m more realistic and I know the way to make change is to inch forward, conversation by conversation, vote by vote. It’s not the heroic vision fueled by Hollywood, but the unheroic way of real life.