Thursday, February 02, 2006

Wild Western Tale True Test of Tolerance (by John Kass, The Chicago Tribute)

Note to the illustration: John Kass

February 1, 2006

The Swede and I were talking movies over lunch at the Cambridge House. He had the steak and eggs. I had the stuffed pepper. There's no symbolism in this. It's just what we ate.

Then the subject of Westerns and shepherds came up, and he shocked the heck out of me.

Hollywood has relentlessly promoted the gay sheepherder movie for the Oscars, and it made the Oscar list that everybody's talking about, and the news roils with Oscar tidbits and celebrity this and that, and it's all quite fascinating.

I'm also fascinated with Hollywood's newfound love for shepherds. Hollywood will offer another shepherd story to the Oscars next year, in which a Middle Eastern shepherd has a forbidden love affair with a woman named Mary. They secretly have a child. And if anyone gets too nosy about the kid, a Roman Catholic sect dispatches a crazed albino monk to blow their brains out.

Since this is what Hollywood promotes as tolerance, I thought I'd try some too. Unfortunately, I asked the Swede this question: What's the best Western movie you've seen?

"I really haven't seen any Westerns," the Swede confessed.

You don't watch Westerns? (I could feel the irrational hate welling up in me.) Tell me it's not true!

"Maybe a part of one Western," he said, referring to a picture in which a gunfighter shames another by insolently speaking Latin, while brandishing a teacup in a most threatening manner. That's not what I had in mind.

"I'm just not into Western movies," he said.

The Swede, who helps me with the column, hasn't seen the gay shepherd movie, but a lot of people, including me, haven't gotten around to seeing it just yet, though it's received a big "thumbs up" from the critics.

What's shocking to me is that the Swede hasn't seen any Westerns--gay, straight or androgynous. And I don't mean to slight lesbian Westerns. If they exist, and I'm sure they do, the Swede hasn't seen them either.

"I did see `Pete's Dragon' when I was a kid," he said. "It's a cartoon about a little boy who has an invisible dragon. They love each other."

"Pete's Dragon" is not a Western. It doesn't creak of leather and sweat and saddle soap and gunplay on the purple plains. You don't like Westerns?

"Why would I watch Westerns when I lived the cowboy life?" he asked. "I had a horse when I was a kid on the farm. When the chores were done I was always out in the woods on my horse, Red. So I didn't have time for movies. Including Westerns."

You lived in Michigan! Cucumbers grow in Michigan, blueberries and steelhead, but not cowboys!

"I don't care," he said.

You think you know a guy. You've met his wife, parents, he works for you, and then you find out that he's never seen a Clint Eastwood Western.

"No," he said. "I haven't seen one."

Not even "Unforgiven" or "Pale Rider"?

"No," the Swede said.

You've never seen the old "Shane" movie with Alan Ladd, yet you call yourself an American?

"I read the book. I know that Shane has extensive conversations about the latest Parisian fashions with the wife of the settler," the Swede said. "They go on and on about the Parisian fashions."


"I don't care. They talked about fashions in the book," insisted the Swede.


"Are you guys all right?" asked Doris the waitress, who walked up to investigate.

Doris, he doesn't like Western movies.

"No?" asked Doris, pouring coffee.

"No," the Swede said. "I didn't see `Shane,' but I read the book. And I read all the Louis L'Amour books too."

Books don't count, I snapped. Ever see a John Wayne western?

"No," he said.

I sat there, stunned, unable to speak, clutching a fork, thinking about stabbing him in the forehead. Instead, I counted to 10 and in a calm voice, said: So this means you've probably never seen "The Searchers," either, right?

"No," he said of the John Wayne classic, wherein the Duke revenges himself upon Native Americans who killed his family and stole his niece.

"I've never seen `The Searchers.'"

Desperate to jar some childhood memory in him, I yodeled the theme song--Ride away, Ride away--ayy--ayyy?


Swede. You're fired.

"You can't fire me for not watching Westerns," he whined.

I'd unwittingly hired a Westernaphobe, meaning someone who has an irrational fear of Western movies, since only an irrational fear would prevent anyone from watching a Western. I'd fire him immediately, but I can't--not without being accused of a hate crime.

Besides, if Hollywood can be tolerant, so can I.


Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

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