Friday Flotsam

1. I have been feeling oddly harried these days as I try to hunt for a better day job and try to prevent too much of my headspace from being occupied by insane nonsense that I can’t control.

2. I’ve disliked the designation ‘Conservative’ for some time now. In the first place because ‘conservative’ is such a vague and broad term, the second because they have never once won a battle in this country, and third because at this point there isn’t really much about our political or social system that I want to conserve. ‘Restorationist’ would be much more accurate, as I would much more see things restored to how they once were, or to something approximating it. Although that term makes it sound like I fix art work for a living (I don’t. I kind of wish I did).

Some people have been starting to use the term ‘Based’, and I think there’s a good deal to be said for it (slightly painful etymology aside): it implies rootedness, solidity, and decency against ‘Debased,’ which implies vagueness, arbitrariness, and debauchery (an entirely accurate assessment of the other side). So I suppose that’s the term I’ll be using going forward, at least until a better one comes along.

3. Been watching The Rifleman with Chuck Connors lately. My goodness, what a great show that is! Writing is solid and thoughtful, characters grounded and believable as real human beings, the action (when it comes) is tight and viscerally satisfying.

The story is of a widowed Civil War veteran named Lucas McCane living with his young son Mark on a ranch on the New Mexico frontier. The title comes from the fact that, instead of a pistol, McCane carries a modified Winchester rifle as his primary weapon, and quickly gains a reputation as a deadly shot. Every episode he and his boy face some new problem or obstacle, often ultimately solved with a rifleshot, though not always the way you might expect.

I find the show does a very good job of not being obvious. Things play out according to the logic of the characters, not so much to a tidy formula. Some episodes don’t have particularly happy endings, and young Mark is sometimes left with a hard lesson, like one episode where his new friend turns out to be a murderer. Another episode had a brash young acting sheriff (played by a young Robert Vaughn: one of many current or future stars to show up) let his pride stir up more trouble than was needed or that he could handle, leaving him facing a duel against a vastly superior foe. It’s his own stupid fault he’s in that situation, but you’ve been shown why he thought he had to, leaving you with seemingly only two possible outcomes, neither what we want to see.

I won’t give away what actually happens, but it’s an excellent study in one way to keep the audience invested: make them sympathize with both sides while thinking only one can actually win. The show also tackles issues of prejudice, corruption, addiction, and the use and limits of violence. I’m enjoying the heck out of it and would heartily recommend it.

4. On that topic, one thing I would recommend to those who want to remain sane is maintain a steady diet of older media. C.S. Lewis recommended reading at least two old books to every one new book. When it comes to TV or movies, the ratio should probably be more like ten to one these days.

It isn’t really a question of relative quality: a new TV show may be objectively ‘better’ than The Rifleman in some ways. What’s really important is that older shows and older movies allow you to see how people in the past thought and acted. I don’t mean in the sense that, say, The Dick Van Dyke Show was a documentary of how people actually lived and spoke, but in the sense that these shows were made by people of the time for people of the time and reflected the values, tastes, and ideas then prevalent. As that famous detective Malachi Burke put it, “what people tell you is not a fact: that they tell it to you is.”

So, that hugely popular shows like The Rifleman were preaching the evils of prejudice and showing the use of racial slurs to be an ugly thing in 1958 is a fact. It’s objective. Any description of the time period has to include it. If you are presented with an image of the time that says such things were simply accepted and not questioned, you will now know that is not true, or at the very least an incomplete picture.

Besides which, whatever prejudices and blind spots there were in the past (and there always will be), they were not the same prejudices and blind spots that we experience today and thus are more easily seen and avoided. The more times you experience, the more you have to compare and contrast with the present. I have no sympathy for chronological bigots who hate the past simply for not being the present.

5. I have more thoughts related to current events, but I’m trying to space things out, both for my own sanity and because I think there is more good to be had offering positive posts that distract from the present than in adding yet another dreary take on things. I’m going to be making an effort to blog more often, in spite of the above mentioned sense of harassment, so stay tuned.

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