The Alienation of the Lone Ranger

On Fridays untethered from chemo tubes and free to flush whenever she likes, Judy Birdsong leaves Roper Hospital. Although she’s happy to get back to Folly, she isn’t up for a night of doing the wa-wa-tusi at the Sand Dollar Social Club, so we sit together on the sofa, she surfing the Web, me searching for something to watch on TV.

IFAs far as television goes, the Birdsong-Moores watch on average fewer hours per week than the typical American does in a day (five to seven depending on what site you check to get the data). If we think of it, on Tuesdays we turn on Making It Grow, but outside of college football, the occasional Turner Classic movie, or a kickass series like True Detective, watching the tube just ain’t our thing. In fact, the last major network series I member watching on a regular basis was the first season of 24.

Last night, though, was one of those Fridays, and in search of something to distract me, I left the small orbit of choices in “Rusty’s” designated Dish Network guide and ventured into the vast realm of viewing choices that lie beyond — programming that targets every conceivable viewing niche imaginable — from sci-fi to Japanese animation to Gerbil Week on the Small Caged Pets Network, or SCPN.

For a while, I hung out at [cue amused trombones] the Hang Out festival, an outdoor concert somewhere near a beach in Alabama featuring Edward Star and the Magnetic Zeroes, Gary Clark, Jr., Wilco (by far the most interesting), and Dave Matthews, but, alas, I grew bored with the redundant camera cuts from frenetic jamming musicians on stage to clichéd crowd shots of swaying hippie chicks, Frat boys, and if my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me, a redneck or two.

So I rapidly clicked through the scrolling choices of the guide until I ran across a Lone Ranger episode from 1952, the year of my birth. The Lone Ranger was one of the first TV shows I remember watching. (The only earlier one I remember is Howdy Doody. whose theme song I can still sing).[1] Anyway, as a kid, I really dug the Lone Ranger, Tonto, the black mask, the silver bullets, the horse-hoof-like theme song from William Tell’s Overture, and the repetitions of “Hi-Ho Silver, away!” and “Who just was that masked man?” Also, it didn’t hurt that the last name of the actor who played the Lone Ranger was Moore, but I think what I most liked about the Lone Ranger was his isolation, his alienation. Although I wouldn’t be able to conceptualize this as a child, the Lone Ranger has rejected what he considers a corrupt culture, not only Western Culture in general, but specifically, the lawless culture of the Old West itself, which in a way makes him a heroic antihero, a true man of mystery.

I entered the action about two-thirds through the episode. A Mexican grandfather and his grandson had been arrested by Gates, a corrupt tax-gatherer, who confiscated the haciendas of citizens who couldn’t pay. The Lone Ranger had lifted some damning documents and was galloping a breakneck speed through the dark night to show them to the governor. The image I first saw was the grandfather begging Gates to kill him, an old man, instead of his grandson, Don Rodrigo, a young man.   Gates warns if they can’t retrieve the documents, both will be shot by a firing squad at dawn. Tonto tries to bust the two out of jail, but he himself is captured and thrown into the communal cell.

51DHVNCRPSLThe Lone Ranger franchise began as a radio show, and this early episode seems oddly bound to the traditions of radio narratives. For instance, the episode features a narrator with a velvety radio baritone who intones “as Gates continues to interrogate the prisoners” [on screen actors mutely interact with each other], then segues into “the Lone Ranger pushes his mighty stallion Silver at top speed across the desert to the Governor’s” [on screen: the Ranger flailing away at a white horse galloping at breakneck speed].

Although, admittedly, the plot is lame, it has an unmistakable theme, which one of the characters on more than one occasion speaks outloud: American citizens must fight to insure that their way of life is not taken away by dictatorial assholes like Gates.

The episode ends in a predictable manner,[2] and what followed was a full-length in color movie from 1958, The Lone Ranger and The City of Lost Gold. The film begins with the creation legend of the Lone Ranger narrated by music-backed chorus of male singers[3] telling us what we’re seeing: an ambush, five dead Texas Rangers, one survivor discovered by an Indian on a painted horse, six graves (one for the survivor as well so the world will think he’s dead), a masked man loading silver bullets into a revolver, the masked man and his Indian savior galloping off in a cloud of dust.

I didn’t make it far into this movie, by far enough to notice the Lone Ranger seems opposed to taking human lives (he’s really good at shooting guns out of hands) and that the screen writers and director didn’t pull punches when depicting racial prejudice. Interestingly enough, given one of the current NFL controversies, a sheriff tells Tonto, who is seeking a doctor, “We don’t allow no redskins in here.” When Tonto refuses to leave, he has his ass kicked by the police.

In checking Wikipedia, I discovered, among other things, that the Lone Ranger speaks correct grammar and never uses slang. The silver bullets signify to him the preciousness of human life. I also learned that one of the writers copped the word” Kemosabe,” the term Tonto uses when he addresses the Lone Ranger, from “the name of a summer camp in upper Michigan.” By the way, in Spanish, tonto means foolish, so in Mexico he is known as toro.

Also, and this is really weird: The Green Hornet is a radio spinoff from The Lone Ranger. The Green Hornet character, according to Wikipedia, is “the son of the Lone Ranger’s nephew Dan [Reid]” and that “[i]n the Green Hornet comic book series [. . .] the Lone Ranger makes a cameo appearance by being in a portrait in the Reid home.” However, “[c]ontrary to most visual media depictions ,[. . . ] his mask covers all of his face.”   It seems as if the Lone Ranger franchise really keeps close reins on its property rights.

After being exposed briefly again to this boyhood hero of mine, I recognize the Lone Ranger’s affinity to both Natty Bumppo and Ishmael, alienated, like them, from his culture and seeking, like them, only male companionship with a native Other.

No, it’s not the Green Hornet the Lone Ranger reminds me of, but Caine from Kung Fu. The Lone Ranger’s reluctance to kill people seems more Eastern than Western, if not downright un-American.kungfu1

[1] Actually, the lyrics aren’t that difficult: “It’s Howdy Doody time/It’s Howdy Doody time/It’s Howdy Doody time/It’s Howdy Doody time . . .

[2] Actually, the episodes of the episode are broken into odd segments that are sandwiched between seemingly interminable commercials aimed at octogenarians, the catalogue of potential side effects seeming to take as long as the episodes themselves. My favorite side effects of the night, both appearing in the same sentence, “If you get an erection that last more than three hours or your breasts starting making milk, stop taking [can’t remember the product] and see a doctor.” I swear I’m not making that up.

[3] Think of the narrative chorus in The South Park episode on Mormonism.

Chico Feo, TS Eliot, Joseph Conrad, Lost Souls, & I-and-I

For whatever perverse reason, I prefer dives to tony bars and restaurants. The same goes for neighborhoods. You couldn’t pay me to live on Kiawah or Daniel Island. The manicured bicycle paths, the antiseptic standards of what is allowed architecturally, the non-diversity of income and outlook, and the bland, vowel-less intonations of their residents and tourists would produce in me fogbanks of despair.

Nor would I want to live in an upstate mill village where all the small clapboard houses have the same floor plan and everyone twangs vocally the verbal equivalent of out-of-tune banjo strings.

No, what I like is diversity, the mixed neighborhoods of the Upper Peninsula and the non-gated barrier islands. So I’m very happy here on Folly where a million dollar house might stand next to quaint cottage or a ramshackle two-story paint-peeling survivor of Hurricane Hugo, happy to live in a community where trick-or-treating is forbidden because the poorly lighted streets have no sidewalks and vehicular traffic can be, well, unsteady.

Like the various options in housing on Folly, the island also offers a variety of drinking and eating establishments, and since the closing of the Brew Pub on Center Street, my favorite hangout is Chico Feo, an outdoor Caribbean “restaurant” whose limited menu consists of curried goat, Dominican beans, or shark or pork tacos. In the unlikely case you’re an old-time Charlestonian, think Captain Harry’s without walls or a roof. Like Captain Harry’s, beers are sold out of coolers and the seats are not very comfortable.

Click the arrow in the frame above for a panoramic pan of Chico Feo

Counting the left turn onto Second Street, Chico Feo lies a mere six blocks from my house, so I ride my bike there, weaving my way through the clogged cars of day trippers to enjoy a brew or two beneath the overarching trees – and maybe, just, maybe, to knock off six or so essays.

Yesterday, however, I left my stack of essays at home [‘”Argue that Conrad’s Heart of Darkness can be read as the debunking of stereotypes found in Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The White Man’s Burden”‘] and carried with me instead Hugh Kenner’s 1964 book TS Eliot: The Invisible Poet, my journal, and a trusty pen.

Chico Feo attracts locals – a homeless man named Greg, surfers in their late twenties and beyond, musicians, C of C alums/dropouts who never left (damn them), and Folly residents like me – and, yes, many of us are indeed “ugly boys” in keeping with the English translation of the bar’s Spanish name.

After the bartender Charlie provided me with my Bell’s IPA, I found an empty table with a view of Second Street where I could watch locomotive skateboarders with backpacks glide past the mural of Bert the Pirate that graces his iconic market, or I could cast my critical eyes on the never ending parade of pedestrians headed either to or from the beach.

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Yesterday, inside the friendly confines – and Chico Feo is incredibly friendly – the bar was occupied with an eclectic group of imbibers: a limping, bearded 50-something sporting a straw cowboy hat, a slender long haired surfer dude, and a group of already-over-the-hill 20-somethings with expanding hips and incipient beer bellies.

On the large picnic table a tableaux of young, middle class hedonists bowed down looking at their cell phones in the attitude of prayer. The temperature was perfect, and the onshore breeze provided a bit of respite from the gnats.

So I opened Kenner’s book and began a chapter devoted to the philosopher Francis Herbert Bradley’s influence on Eliot’s thought and came upon this passage:

My external sensations are no less private to myself than are my thoughts and feelings. In either case my experience falls within my own circle, a circle closed on the outside, and, with all its elements alike, every sphere is opaque to the others which surround it [. . .] In brief, regarded as an existence which appears in a soul, the whole world for each is peculiar and private to that soul.

I looked up from that passage and caught sight of one of the most grotesque human beings I’ve ever encountered.

Where to begin?

The words “obese” and “corpulent” don’t begin to do justice to this shambling Rabelaisian, Falstaffian 400-pound 25-year-old. All he wore was a pair of board shorts that clung precariously an inch or two below the broad expanse of the Brobdingnagian belly that sagged and quivered with every painful, bare-footed step he took on sun-blistered feet and legs. I’ll forego a description of his breasts – let it suffice to say they drooped the way you might imagine Mae West’s drooping in her Myra Breckinridge era. I could see from where I was sitting that he was stoned or tripping or worse.

I returned to Kenner ‘s take on TS when I heard, “Hey, man, how’s it going?”

My deafness has gotten so bad that I didn’t even notice that the giant had pulled up at my table.

I looked up, and there he was sitting, his blue eyes as vacant as a Detroit warehouse, glazed, abnormal.

He commenced a monologue of his surreal misadventures of the previous 24 hours, which I’ll summarize as briefly as possible.

Someone had offered him an LSD-laced drink because they wanted to kill him because he had come here from Kentucky to make and sell art, i.e., sun hats made out of palmetto fronds. They had drugged him, and he had passed out on the beach. He was supposed right now to be with some “sweet honey” from Summerville [I’m ashamed to admit I tried to imagine what contortions must take place to achieve heterosexual intercourse with this man], but now he’s lost her forever, and he remembers the night before gaining consciousness in a restroom downtown washing his hands and screaming, “The water is scalding my hands!”

I patiently listened as I sipped my beer, nodded my head sympathetically, muttered an occasional, “wow-that-sucks.” Finally, when the beer was done, I bid him good-bye and wished him better luck.

Alienation – the great theme of 20th century literature – “every sphere is opaque to the others which surround it” – or as Marlow puts it in Heart of Darkness, “No it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation in any given epoch of one’s existence – that which makes the truth, its meaning – its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream – alone.”

Or as Eliot himself puts it in “The Waste Land” :

I have heard the key

Turn in the door once and turn once only

We think of the key, each in his prison

Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison . .

The image that stays with me is that of those friends around the picnic table together but apart, prayerfully bowing their heads as they stared into their cell phones – an image of our times.

 

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