Wednesday, November 17, 2010

America's Love of Fictional "Everyman" Underdogs

LAST TIME:  Radicals Stood on Principle, Regardless of Consequences to Selves

Even while the American masses may be “disposed to suffer” death by a thousand cuts, as the Declaration of Independence suggests (see last post), at the same time the masses vicariously enjoy the exploits of the few who refuse to be intimidated. So, in any given holiday movie-going or summer reading season, it is possible to find fictional radical characters pushing back against overweening or unjust government. “Who are we to just lie there and do nothing?” asks fictionalized radical-James Farmer Jr., for example, in the 2007 movie The Great Debaters, during a debate about the morality of civil disobedience in response to Southern lynchings in the 1930s. “There is no Rule of Law in the Jim Crow South,” Farmer continues, “not when Negroes are denied housing, turned away from schools, and hospitals. And not when we are lynched. St. Augustine said, ‘An unjust law in no law at all,’ which means I have a right – even a duty – to resist, with violence or civil disobedience. You should pray I choose the latter.”

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” the Wizard-government of Oz commands as he madly works the levers and wheels trying to maintain his grasp on power in one of the most popular movies of all time, The Wizard of Oz - while radical-Dorothy scolds him for his hubris and refuses to allow him to usurp her own autonomy or to mistreat her friends. Dorothy implicitly understands the Wizard is human, no better or worse than herself – and she demands the restoration of justice and tolerance to the Land of Oz.

Or, on the lighter side, Theodore (Dr. Seuss) Geisel’s radical-turtle Mack in Yertle the Turtle implicitly knows that King Yertle is not so special that he should be able to cruelly command all of the other turtles to stack themselves up merely so Yertle will have a better view from atop the stack - so he does something about it. Mack “did a plain little thing. He burped. And his burp shook the throne of the king! … And Yertle, the King of all Sala-ma-sond, Fell off his high throne and fell Plunk! In the Pond! And today the Great Yertle, that marvelous he, Is King of the Mud.” And best of all - “the turtles, of course … all the turtles are free. As turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be.”

There is good reason Americans today are so inspired by underdog stories of courageous individuals who take on an unjust Establishment and prevail – it is in their blood. It was their ancestors, after all, who against heavy odds declared and won independence from the mighty British Empire on the audacious principle that government serves only as liberty’s servant; and that the people may abolish any government that fails to do so. As the Declaration of Independence declares:

"We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed … with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of those Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles."

NEXT TIME:  Americans' Hunger to Believe Liberty and Equal Justice Will Ultimately Prevail