Thursday, April 12, 2007

Who Was That Masked Man?

After my dentist appointment last night the Doctor and I were talking about the radio station he pipes in throughout the office, which turned into him saying, "I have no idea what kids are saying these days" which was followed by "Don't you wish there were TV shows that were family friendly, with heroes that you could watch with your kids?"
"Like the Lone Ranger?", I replied.
"Yes! Exactly. Like the Lone Ranger!" At this point the doctor turned to his young 20-something receptionist and asked, "You know who the Lone Ranger is, right?"
Ernestly, she replied, "I've heard the name, but I have no idea who he is."
I'm sorry, what?
You have NO IDEA who the Lone Ranger is?
Let me tell you.
The Lone Ranger was a Texas Ranger named Reid, who, as the story begins, was pursuing the criminal Butch Cavendish and his gang with a group of other rangers. The leader of the group of rangers was stated to be Captain Reid, his brother. The party finds itself in a murderous ambush arranged by Cavendish and a man named Collins, who has infiltrated the Rangers for the gang as a scout, that seemingly leaves every ranger dead. Then Cavendish shoots Collins in the back, reasoning that someone who would betray the rangers could also betray his gang.
Reid's childhood friend, a Native American known as Tonto finds the party and finds Reid alive. Tonto takes him to safety and nurses him back to health. Tonto reminds Reid of when they were young, and Reid had rescued Tonto after renegade Indians had murdered his mother and sister and left him for dead. Reid gave him a horse, and Tonto insisted that Reid accept a ring. It is by this ring that Tonto recognizes Reid.
While Reid recovers, Tonto buries the dead rangers. Reid vows to bring the killers and others like them to justice. So he asks Tonto to make a sixth grave to make people think that he had died as well. But Collins is also still alive, and tries to kill the pair so he can take Tonto's horse, Scout. But he falls to his death while trying to drop a rock on Reid. Thus perished the only other man who knew that Reid survived.

By amazing happenstance, the pair discovers a magnificent white stallion, wounded by a buffalo. Reid and Tonto nurse the stallion back to health, which is then adopted by Reid as his mount, Silver. Whenever the Ranger mounts Silver he shouts, "Hi-yo, Silver, away!" which besides sounding dramatic, originally served to tell the radio audience that a riding sequence was about to start.
As an aside, my first introduction to classical music was through "The Rabbit of Seville". My second introduction was "The William Tell Overture", used as the theme music for the Lone Ranger.

They also find an old mentor of Reid's, who discovered a lost silver mine some time back. Reid's mentor is the only one besides Tonto who knows the identity of the Lone Ranger. And he is willing to work it and supply Reid and Tonto as much silver as they want. Using material from his brother's old Texas Ranger vest, Reid fashions the mask that will mark him as the Lone Ranger. The Lone Ranger decides to use only silver bullets, as a reminder of his vows to fight for justice, and never to shoot to kill. Together, the Lone Ranger and Tonto wander the Old West helping people and fighting injustice where they find it. Episodes usually ended with one of the characters lamenting the fact that they never found out the hero's name ("Who was that masked man?"), only to be told, "Why, that was the Lone Ranger!" as he and Tonto ride away.
Now this is all well and good. But for me, The Lone Ranger is a hero from my childhood. Throughout my young life both Channel 5 and Channel 25 aired reruns of "The Lone Ranger" in glorious black and white. The plots were simple, and the morality was just as stark as the black & white film used for production. I always knew who the good guys were, I always knew who the bad guys were, and I always enjoyed watching The Lone Ranger bring his brand of justice to the frontier.
Later on my tastes in westerns would move sideways to "Maverick", a laconic, smooth-talking, reluctant hero. Series creator Roy Huggins (who would also create "The Rockford Files") deliberately inverted the usual screen-cowboy customs running rampant through television and movies at the time by dressing his hero in a fancy black broadcloth gambler's suit (an outfit normally reserved in western films for villains) and allowing him to be realistically (and vocally) reluctant to risk his life, although Maverick always eventually wound up forcing himself to be courageous, usually in spite of himself. But I digress...
America does not have its own mythology. The Norse Mythology of the Germanic tribes, Celtic Myths of the Tuatha Dé Danann in Ireland and the Greek Myths of Mount Olympus all served to join their peoples in a rich, mythological history. American society, the "Great Melting Pot", simply left the tales of our ancestors back in the "old country" while we systematically eliminated the mythology of the Native Americans who were here long before us. Therefore we needed to create our own mythology.
The earliest forms of these come from American Folklore, which is essentially about immigrants and their misunderstanding of each other, and of the new landscape they found themselves conquering. Paul Bunyan, John Henry and Molly Pitcher are all example of early American Myths. As our society grew, so did our heroes until, finally, the Modern Heroes of the 20th century were born.
'The Lone Ranger" is a staple of a modern hero in the American Mythology. So were "Tarzan", "The Green Hornet" (who was a grand nephew of the Lone Ranger) "Flash Gordon", "Buck Rogers", "John Carter - Warlord of Mars", "Zorro" and so on. These characters were larger-than-life heroes, with whom the dreams of an entire nation were embodied. All of these heroes had their origins in the Pulp Magazines which were inexpensive fiction magazines widely published from the 1920's through the 1950's. Pulp magazines often contained a wide variety of genres , including, but not limited to, fantasy/sword and sorcery, detective/mystery, science fiction, adventure, war, sports, railroads, romance and horror/occult (including "weird menace" - usually aliens). The Old West was a mainstay genre of pulp magazines, and lasted longest of all the traditional pulps.
It is no coincidence that post-WWII heroes are grand and noble men while post-Vietnam heroes are flawed - often tragically. "Jack Bauer" from "24" is a great example of a new hero in a disillusioned society. By his actions Jack is often indistinguishable from the villains that he battles, yet he still battles for the "greater good". But again, I digress...
My shock in the lack of knowledge from the receptionist in question stems more from disappointment than anything else. How can people who live in this country be unaware of even the basics of a character (or characters) that have been shaped by our cultural identity? It wasn't as if we asked her to "Name the greek gods" or "Who kills Odin during Ragnarok?". This was the Lone Ranger, an American Icon, and we freakin' LIVE in America.
Who was that masked man? Why, that was the Lone Ranger.
And we should know who the legends are.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Running Out of Time

Was there ever really any doubt about the effects of global warming?
If so, this report should end THAT debate.
In this time of Easter, when the celebration of a Resurrection is upon us, let's say a small prayer that planet Earth is not beyond a miracle, too.