As Folly Beach’s most eminent ethnologist — why mince words — I have devoted much of the last two decades living among the natives, sharing their waves, participating in their Dionysian rituals, floating in their float frenzies, watching their parades. (You can read my previous studies here: ST PATRICK’S DAY, FOLLYPALOOZA, FLOAT FRENZY, XMAS PARADE).
Today, I again don the pith helmet to participate in the Folly Porch Fest, an odd ritual. Native householders invite complete strangers to play musical compositions on their front porches. Afterwards, the participants will gather at Chico Feo as the sun sets for the so-called After Party.
I, too, will be there, having sacrificed the experience of getting to watch my beloved alma mater’s mighty eleven lose to their orange-clad rivals from that phallus-shaped state that claims the alligator as its totem.
Why? you ask. Because I place science above mere personal pleasure.
Nevertheless, as time’s winged chariot has swept me from bushy-headed youth to Gobi-domed senescence, I find myself turning my studies to more sedentary pursuits as I zoom out from the folkways of the small strip of land appropriately named Folly Island to obtain a wider purview of American culture.
More specifically, I have been studying old episodes of the Lone Ranger and the Roy Rogers Show, comparing the popular entertainment of the Cold War era with the irony-surfeited popular entertainment of the new millennium.
As it turns out, the Lone Ranger series attempted by subterfuge to eradicate bigotry through the symbiotic relationship that the Lone Ranger and Tonto share, the former an alienated white man devoted to establishing law and order in the territorial West, the latter a red man whose nobility so outshines those of the rustlers, murderers, and con men he battles (between commercials for funeral insurance and orthopedic beds) that it should be plain even to Lester Maddox or George Wallace that it’s not the color of a man’s skin that determines the content of his character.
I’ve accumulated a container-ship worth of data to support this argument, but shall offer only three short examples, which appeared in 1956’s Season Five. In episode 204, “A Message from Abe,” the Lone Ranger disguises himself as Abe Lincoln and delivers the Gettysburg Address to a town foaming at the mouth to lynch an innocent. In episode 216, “Mission for Tonto,” the “noble savage” explains to an incredulous gunshot victim why he Tonto is helping him despite the bigotry he had displayed against the “Redskin” who is now saving his life.
Tonto: All men are brothers. Some have white skin, some have red skin, some have black skin, but we all bothers.
Lastly, in episode 217, “Canuck” the Lone Ranger explains to a French Canadian émigré why the town has persecuted his family. “It’s the age old human tendency to dislike people who speak a different language,” the Masked Man explains.
As a pre-pubescent viewer growing up in the segregated South, these lessons didn’t consciously register with me, nor, not surprisingly, did I pick up on the obvious gayness — albeit celibate — that the Lone Ranger and Tonto embrace since I didn’t have a clue about heterosexual sex, much less homosexuality.
On the other hand, The Roy Rogers Show possesses all of the high-mindedness of a trained seal act. The setting is some odd anachronistic town in the Old West where everyone locomotes via horse except for comic sidekick Pat Brady who drives a jeep named Nellybelle.
Roy and his wife Dale Evans run a cafe where Pat Brady is chef. Although Roy and Dale are champions of justice, they do seem to take a bit of sadistic pleasure in mocking poor Pat Brady who obviously suffers from some sort of mental disability that might be termed in those politically incorrect days as “mild retardation.” Think of him as the dim-witted father of Barney Fife.
The highlight of each episode is a bare knuckled fist fight where the combatants exchange a series of jaw-crunching haymakers that might give a rhinoceros a concussion. (The Lone Ranger and Tonto augment judo moves with their fisticuffs).
As in the Lone Ranger, justice always wins over nefariousness, and irony never rears its mocking head.