September 07, 2019


One of the most iconic American films is Shane, starring Alan Ladd, which came out in 1953. I remember seeing it around that time, or maybe shortly after, although I cannot now recall what I thought of it at my tender age. Oddly enough, I ran across a copy of the book on which it is based in a cafe in Mexico City a few days ago, and read the text for the first time. I don't know how faithfully the film follows the novel--66 years later it's hard for me to remember much of the details--but I think the basic narrative is the same: a quiet, rugged, handsome cowboy comes into town, rids it of the bad guys, and then rides off into the sunset.

I call the story "iconic" because it seems to encapsulate key elements of the American value system. First, the basic plot line--the story of America, as it were: Good Conquers Evil. There is no complexity here, no character development; most of the dramatis personae are cardboard figures, and indeed, the tale is told from the viewpoint of a young boy.

Second, Shane is the ultimate loner. Nothing is revealed of his past, and nothing is said about who he actually is. He is self-contained and silent: the rock. He comes out of nowhere, does what he has to do, and then disappears into nowhere. He has no family or community ties, and doesn't really want any. He offers support to the boy's parents, but he himself depends on no one. He is described in almost animal terms: alert, powerful, always ready for action. Shane represents the radical individualism of the American West, the ultimate self-made man.

Third, no one in the story has any intellectual interests whatsoever. No one reads, no one owns a book, and no one has any interest in the world around them beyond their immediate physical environment.

What the narrative tells the American reader or filmgoer is that this is what a true hero consists of. The boy is starstruck by Shane; he wants to grow up to be just like him. I imagine films with John Wayne or Clint Eastwood have had a similar impact on the American psyche. But exactly what is it that is being idealized? Shane might as well have landed from the moon. He is a one-dimensional character, bereft of all human ties. His horse and his gun are apparently the only serious attachments in his life. He's a kind of atom, floating in interstellar space--an ideal millions of Americans aspire to. From inside the narrative, Shaneworld is dignified, heroic (and very masculine). Looking at if from the outside, however, it comes off as a species of insanity--alienation taken to its logical conclusion.

Joe Bageant used to say that Americans lived in a kind of hologram. I have, on a number of occasions, likened American life to a sphere lined with mirrors, such that American values are constantly reflected back, and where no light (or air) from the outside ever gets in. Shaneworld is very much like that, and in the end it can only suffocate, and implode (which is what is going on today). For this America--our America--is a mythological construct, and very few of its citizens manage to get beyond the myth, which is essentially a form of (very successful) indoctrination. Shane is probably the myth in its purest form.

"Don't go, Shane, don't go!" the boy cries at the end of the film. But Shane goes. He has, in effect, been apotheosized as a god. To stay, after all, would have been human.

(c)Morris Berman, 2019

September 06, 2019


We are imploding on a daily basis. It actually has more to do with what America is, than with Trumpaloney. Altho I love Trumpaloney, and want him to keep doing what he's doing. Other than that, let's all remember that this is the only blog that deals with Reality. Everything else is a thick syrup of warm dog poopy.