Once Aryan Skynet Goes Live It Doesn't Matter Who Pulled The Switch
The western genre is often celebrated by its admirers as an expression of expansive American confidence in a singular national destiny – and also chastised for precisely this reason. The symbolic and political uses of the western, however, have always been mutable. While critics tend to focus on the genocidal implications of the canonical pre-war western, the fact of the matter is that, during its 1950s high water mark, when westerns played every night of the week on television, the genre had mostly taken to emphasizing positive portrayals of Native Americans – albeit with ulterior geopolitical motivations. Mass media scholar Michael Ray Fitzgerald, in his study Native Americans on Network TV: Stereotypes, Myths, and the “Good Indian”, discusses several primetime network series against this background and explores, for one example, the ways in which the Lone Ranger’s relationship to sidekick Tonto promoted desirable images and outcomes for U.S. foreign policy.
One reading of the program’s premise “might present the Ranger as an allegorical stand-in for the president of the United States or perhaps an idealization of what a president should be and how he should act – in other words, a fantasy substitute,” Fitzgerald continues:
This is inherently a political statement and an endorsement of authoritarianism. The Lone Ranger as a presidential figure offers a “hardline” alternative to – or example for – incumbent Harry S. Truman. Although Truman played the role of hardened zealot – for example, he claimed he had “never lost a minute of sleep” over his decision to drop atomic weapons on civilian targets in Japan – he was not nearly aggressive enough for the hard-line militarists of the Cold War. In 1949, the year The Lone Ranger made its television debut, Republicans – and even some Democrats – blamed Truman for “losing” China to a communist revolution. By the 1952 presidential election it appeared Truman might “lose” Korea, too. The president had been constrained by the United Nations charter, which was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1945, making it the law of the land. Thus the Korean War was, by law, to be fought under the auspices of the UN, not by the United States. The commander of the UN forces was General Douglas MacArthur, whose plan involved the use of dozens of atomic bombs in Korea and China. However, British and French officials strenuously objected to what they saw as MacArthur’s reckless ideas. On the other hand, U.S. hard-liners charged that Truman’s decision to rule out the use of nuclear weapons was spineless and soft and that he had caved in to the UN. Many felt the United States should act unilaterally, ignoring the objections of our allies.
In this reading, the Ranger symbolizes a leader very much like MacArthur. The program’s villains might have represented renegade leaders such as Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, Marshal Tito, Mohammad Mossadegh, Gamal Nasser, and Ho Chi Minh. It is illuminating to look at the series in light of developments in the Cold War as well as the anticommunist witch hunts, which were just beginning in 1949. By episode 3 (“The Lone Ranger’s Triumph”), it becomes clear that the gang members have infiltrated local government in the fictional town of Colby. Cavendish’s foot soldiers have installed themselves in the second and third most important positions in local law enforcement, as sheriff’s deputies, without the sheriff’s knowing their true motives. The sheriff – an allegorical allusion to Truman, perhaps – is well intentioned yet slow and fails to see what is going on right under his nose. Only the Ranger understands the true extent of these threats and how to deal with them. This scenario might be an allusion to communist infiltration of the executive branch of the federal government – possibly a reference to Alger Hiss, a state-department official who had been accused [correctly] of being a Soviet spy in 1948 and was tried for perjury in 1949, the same year the Ranger made his television debut.1
Alternatively, the Ranger could stand “as the personification of the United States itself,” while “the villains might symbolize ‘rogue’ nations, and the dead Texas Rangers [killed by a traitor in the episode relating the hero’s origin story] could be a metaphor for failed international law – the UN perhaps – suggesting that the Lone Ranger, that is, the United States, must act unilaterally, imposing a Pax Americana.”2
The figure of Tonto, though rejected today as a crude stereotype of a subservient Native American lackey too stupid to speak in proper English, was in its time a progressive civic nationalist model of a minority joining forces with the white man in promotion of the American way of democracy, law, and international order. The U.S. State Department, sensitive to the American image in the emerging Third World and eager to differentiate it from European colonialism and recently defeated Nazi Germany, pressured Hollywood to abandon the outmoded convention of savage Indian antagonism3. The result was sympathetic depictions of Native Americans as innocents or, like Tonto, reliable partners in the war against lawlessness. “Ultimately, however, the Lone Ranger figure should be examined as a metonym for benevolent white supremacy,” Fitzgerald asserts:
This “white man’s burden”, bringing the Anglo-Saxon “gift for governing” to the barbarians of the world, has been a recurring theme in literature, used to justify conquest. In this fantasy, helpless Indians eagerly welcome the white man’s superior law and order. Tonto and his people, decimated by renegade Indians, desperately need to be rescued by a white savior. Tonto enthusiastically welcomes the imposition of Anglo-American hegemony: “Me want law here too – for all.” He is eager to fight on the side of the noble white savior because he believes in Anglo-American law and order and is painfully aware of the inherent inefficacy of American Indian oral tradition as opposed to the Anglo-American written law […]
Westerns often made allegorical references to foreign policy. Film scholar Stanley Corkin writes, “[T]he western was well suited to convey important ideological rationales for postwar U.S. foreign policy, including the inevitability of American expansion and the strategies for hegemony that guided the Truman administration’s foreign policy.” If the philosophy of The Lone Ranger is any indication, it is apparent that the series’ creator, George Trendle, though a staunch Republican, agreed to some extent with Truman on the issue of interventionism: the Ranger is clearly an interventionist. The difference is that Trendle felt the United States should act unilaterally, whereas Truman was constrained by the United States’ treaty with the UN. Tonto is presented as pragmatic, having seen firsthand the weakness in his people’s lack of preparedness and defensive technology. This could have been a comment on the debate over military “preparedness” (or lack thereof) that was used by U.S. leaders to sell the Cold War to Congress and the public. This program also demonstrates that the cooperation of “colored” (i.e., nonwhite) citizens is crucial in the fight against “godless communism”, personified by white evildoers.
Issues of masculinity abound. Not only is Tonto feminized, so are his people: decimated by a stronger tribe, they are helpless. […] Countries too can be seen as either masculine or feminine. Both Korea and South Vietnam were feminized in the popular (i.e., mediated) view, in need of being rescued, much like Tonto.4
Today, with colonial patterns inverted and postmodern globalist imperialism the order of the day, one finds a different set of transnational masculine-feminine definitions in the process of being delineated in the popular culture. Now, instead of the Anglo-Saxon savior bringing truth and justice to the benighted darker peoples, it is the enlightened Global South that will come to our rescue.