Some people call me Dad. I like this. Not because I’ve fathered any children that I know of, or because I am disappointed in the people around me, but because it is a term of respect. I look up to my own father immensely, and if someone were to draw the comparison between me and him, I would say, “Why thank you, kind sir, that top hat makes you look like a wealthier Mr. Peanut.”
I actively try to mimic certain things about my dad, even if it doesn’t come naturally to me. For instance, he loves sports. I do not. I am a gentle soul, and I have a double-jointed elbow, so when I throw things, they always veer slightly to the right. I pathetically try to follow basketball so that when he mentions a team, I can at least say, “Well, I am aware that the Cougars are a College Basketball Team in the NAACP.” (“No, Matthew, the NAACP is not the NCAA and might, in fact, be offended by this spelling mix-up, though in your defense they do share many letters. You’ve always had such a good eye, son!”)
My dad also loves Westerns. He looks up to John Wayne like Paul Blart looks at the possibility of a sequel (Winter 2010). Heck, I think he moved to Texas because the great West needed to be tamed and there was only one man with fingers fast enough to calculate the average net realizable value of a compounding convertible preferred stock (DRAW).
So to my delight, this break I was assigned to watch any Western film from the 1940s. It was time to follow my father’s footsteps and journey into the West.
The plot of the 1948 John Wayne film “Red River” is as follows: Enter cowboy, Mr. Wayne. Fifteen years ago his woman was slaughtered by the Indians. Now the Civil War has just ended and the South ain’t doing too good, so it’s time to move some quality beef up to Missourah and cash in. He’ll take anyone that wants to come, but this cattle drive is gunna be ruff, ya hear? Once you join you can’t quit or else he’ll kill ya (not to spoil anything, but he proves this point multiple times by killing people). Then they make it to the their destination. Fade out to “The End” spelled in lasso-cursive.
Now I know that movies that establish clichés aren’t supposed to be cliché because that’s not fair, but gosh darnit, this movie was hokey in the “Oh, well it was the 1940s so they didn’t know any better” way. The Native American resembles a Neanderthal with a debilitating brain condition and speaks without articles (“You lost gamble, they my teeth”). The women are idealized dates for Chris Brown (“If it helps any, you could hit me”). John Wayne speaks in pedantic phrases that are supposed to convey wisdom but in reality are just a word followed by its definition (“I don’t like quitters — especially when they’re not good enough to finish what they started”).
I couldn’t connect with this enchanting Western the way my father had. Experiencing the lag time between a gun being shot and a tin can flopping lazily into the air felt like suffering through the first few volumes of “Trapped in the Closet.” But for my dad, this was the stuff of dreams. It brought him back to his childhood when he’d watch “cutting-edge” shows like this every week. When he watches them today, he does it through this filter of nostalgia. I don’t have this; I am forced to digest the racism and misogyny through an awkward “that’s just the way things were back then” mentality.
Tossing off this silly film, I watched five episodes of the hit television show “Battlestar: Galactica” with some friends. It was incredible. We were finishing Season 2 and you WOULD NOT BELIEVE the shit that goes down (note: I AM NOT CAUGHT UP TO THE CURRENT SEASON, NO SPOILERS). There was political tension within the Quorum of the Twelve, the President of the Colonies had to make tough decisions about colonization, Raptor ships were trying to jump back to the planet Caprica using their FTL drives, the Cylon robots were acting oddly towards the humans and the Battlestar Pegasus was being rebellious towards the Galactica. Whew.
And then it hit me: this is the exact same shit that my kids will not understand when I’m my dad’s age. I’ll tell them I loved sci-fi as a kid and couldn’t get enough of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Battlestar: Galactica.” And they’ll think, “What? Those cheesy special effects! Robots as humans! Battlestars! This is awful! Come on, Dad, let’s program Gruffy our Galactic CyberDog to catch the WhizzBuzz Disc and we can go to the Virtual Park!” I have a deep-seated love and admiration for these quality television shows that my own children will never be able to truly share. Who knows, maybe in 30 years the concept of having a robot human will be offensively racist and I’ll have to use the filter of nostalgia to enjoy it.
So though I try to be like my dad, there are certain things that time will not allow us to see Colt .45-to-laser pistol on. But I can at least recognize his admiration and respect for something I think is cheesy, because the same thing is going to happen to me. At least he gets hard-ass cowboys and violent gun fights. I’m doomed to reminiscing about teenage vampire killers and Cylon Basestars.
OH MY GOD, BEST SHOWS EVER.