You never know when a moment of inspiration will come along and distract you right when you were minding your own business. I had such a moment in the past week.
It has been a long time since I read Edgar Rice Burroughs, and with the pending release of the “John Carter” movie I thought I would go back and re-read the books the movie was based on.
No, this isn’t going to be a book report. I went through my ERB phase many years ago. This reading was just to refresh my memory, but it got me thinking…
One of the fundamental themes of the story is the unimpeachable honor of the protagonists. It is, perhaps, a caricature or an idealistic representation of an age when a man’s word was his bond, when a handshake was as good as a signed contract.
When I read the John Carter and Tarzan books back in the 80’s, the willingness of the characters to accept calamity and even death rather than betray their honor seemed, at times, frustrating in its absoluteness. Yet its idealistic view of humanity had its appeal.
Adherence to a code of honor is what made the heroes, heroes; and the failure to live up to such a code made the villains, villains. Redemption was often achieved through a return to a code of honor. A century ago, the stories were popular and the ideals respected.
To set a time reference, the tale of John Carter began as a serialized story entitled “Under the Moons of Mars” published from February to July, 1912. Five years later, that story was published in book form under the title “A Princess of Mars”. There are eleven books in the series. They are all in my library.
These stories thrived through two World Wars and the Great Depression. Times when hope was in high demand. Perhaps John Carter, and Tarzan, paved the way for the golden age of westerns. The age of John Wayne, Zorro, The Lone Ranger, Bonanza, and many others.
I’ve been watching reruns of The Rifleman on MeTV lately, and the stories seem like they were from a different age. This was a show that I watched as a kid, but I see things in it now that I don’t remember from the past. Maybe I took the whole “code of honor” thing for granted back then, and maybe I absorbed it as an impressionable child. But in this day and age, it seems out of place. Cities, and people, have changed.
It also seems like the environment that conservatives want to herd us toward.
A time when almost everyone carried guns, and the rule of law hung by a thread. A hair trigger. The next shootout. Funny how things get broken or shot up each week, but nobody goes broke from the cost of the damage. Somebody gets shot, and they are either recovered or written out to the script by the next episode. Lukas McCain spends almost no time working his ranch. Personal responsibility. Self reliance. Nice and clean. How Utopian. All honor and community – and no consequences. The government is not giving away free homestead land anymore. People’s lives are too interconnected – with other people and with businesses. We are no longer an agrarian culture, and there is no going back.
ERB called his fictitious version of Mars “Barsoom”. It was a dying world where where life was both cheap and precious because the resources that supported life were scarce and dwindling – and fought over. We wouldn’t do that, would we?
He was well ahead of the environmentalists that conservatives denigrate. We are heading for such a world ourselves as the world population goes up even as our water and food supplies becomes more strained and vulnerable.
Big Oil brags about having 100 years of supply, if only we would exploit it. They use the promise of cheap and plentiful oil and natural gas to encourage us to burn through it as quickly as possible with no thought to the future. Barsoom paints an image of what happens when that oil and gas runs out, when the drinking water runs out, and we are not prepared for it because it was not profitable to pursue alternatives. It is a buggy-whip economy on steroids. I am sure the movie will be a special-effects extravaganza.
“Safely develop” supplies. “Millions of jobs” created.
There is no honor in perpetuating lies.
Where is the demonstration of honor? Is it in all the pledges that republicans require before they are let anywhere near the oath of office?
- The Grover Norquist pledge
- The Susan B. Anthony pledge
- Contract with America
- The Balanced Budget Amendment pledge
- Family Leader
- Personhood USA
- and how many others?
Each pledge narrowing the constituency base they are committed to serve, until they are committed to serve only a small fraction of America. That…is a crime against representational government. The party that wants to radically re-engineer America around the towering code of honor represented by John Carter never fails to prove that they do not, themselves, embrace such a code to any meaningful degree.
Lee Atwater, Rush Limbaugh, James O’Keefe, and FOX News.
Watergate, the PATRIOT Act, the Iraq war, ALEC, sowing distrust of science, education, the free press, Congress, the Presidency, and the Judiciary.
The 2012 GOP primary season, and the death of the “eleventh commandment”.
The republican party is a living testament to the fatal flaws in their own ideology, living proof that they are committed to fantasy and failure – and dishonor.
They might as well be living on Mars.
As for me, I am presently in my Harry Potter/Honor Harrington phase. I still believe in honor, and am still drawn by its appeal.
“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
Now that’s a pledge to believe in.