WYATT EARP (1994)

Issue Essay

I want food.

(Man lies down on couch.  Silence.  Man begins to talk to Doc, the assumed analyst behind the desk, his chair is facing away from the man and can not be seen.  His actual presence is ambiguous.  A huge American Flag hangs down from ceiling.  The window is left open, so the flag ripples in the wind.  The day is hot.  The Devil Winds are blowing off the Mojave Desert.)

History is fabrication.  History is betrayal.

“What passes for identity in America is a series of myths about one’s heroic ancestors."  --James Baldwin

America and Me

(1)      History is fabrication, coated with honey, and bubbled from all evil, in order to make life worth living.  American History is no exemption.  Our history books contain heroes.  Men and women displayed to be as perfect in life as Christ himself.  Their lives are relived through the typed paragraphs, their faults extinct, their miracles numerous.  This is a fabrication.  A lie is a lie if only half the truth is told.  When genocide is remembered, we make the victims savages; this is monstrous.  When Vietnam is forgotten, this is a bubble community that believes what it wants to believe.  I want to know the entire truth.  I do not want to stumble upon the truth years later after already worshipping fabricated patriotic heroes.  I do not want to vomit the already ingested heroes out of my stomach.  I do not want to feel betrayed.  I want to possess the heroes that I have patterned my life around.

(2)      I am sixteen.  I have my first girl friend.  We are in love and talk about marriage.  We think we will grow old together.  I catch her in a lie and break up with her.  She comes to me crying, begging for forgiveness, she can not live with out me.  I forgive her.  We continue going out.  A friend tells me my girlfriend cheated on me the week she was gone.  I question my girlfriend, and she tells me her story.  I believe her.  Days later I hear the same rumor from a different pair of lips.  I question my girlfriend again.  She once again tells me the same story.  “A bolt of lightening whacks me!”   It does not matter what she says.  She has lied to me once; she will lie to me twice, and forever.  I ended it.  To this day, I have said no more than a “hi” to her.  I was going to marry this girl?  Now I can not stand her beastly face.

(3)      I am sixteen.  I am in tenth grade and in history class forming a relationship with America and her past.  This relationship has been going on since my birth.  I think I know her.  We have lived together for sixteen years.  I am in college now, twenty-one years old.  I have found out my America has lied to me.  America has lied to me more than anyone one in my life.  How can I ever trust her again?  I do not.  I end our relationship.  To this day, I have said no more than “hi” to her.

(Man speaks to the audience.)

(4)       For the rest of my life, America and I are in therapy.  Our analyst keeps asking the same questions of America: Why do you feel the need to fabricate?  Why did you feel you have to lie?  Why do you grasp the good and forget the bad.  America answers with continued lies.  So I am alone.  The rest of our marriage I will constantly try to figure out why America needs heroes.  But most of the time I would prefer to say only “hi” and go about my way.  I do not want to fight for answers.  The problem remains.  As long as I am her citizen, I am a prisoner of her memory.  America has lied so many times to herself that she now believes her own lies.  Either I leave her, or I fight with a mirror in my hand to show her her own face.  I am an ant.  I fight.  Come and step on me, but I prefer knowing who I am.

(Silence.  Man returns to session with Doc.)

The True West: The Betrayal

(5)      America started with a dream.  Manifest Destiny: to move west and take over the world as far west as the continent would allow.  Yet, America will forever be in search of more land, the land west of reality, the land west of all their oppressors, problems, and past.  Americans will be constantly moving west trying to forget their past and creating a new promise for the future.

(6)      Then came the Pacific Ocean, the natural reminder, barrier, and hindrance for America to possess its imagined dream.  American could not keep plowing west forever.  An overflow of bodies drowned in the Pacific Ocean with the illusion more land lay ahead.  The rest of the traffic seeing their fellow man die, settled down in fabricated houses with Spanish heritage, and founded a city called Los Angeles, the city of angels.  This city is the processor of dreams, the maker of the West that Americans herd to with blind faith.  This city helps America forget its heritage, forget the roots that formed a family and brotherhood.  Los Angeles gives Americans a heaven on earth.  This city creates heroes that spawned from idealistic fantasies.  This city is the home of Hollywood -- creator and mythmaker of our world today.

(7)      These fantasies are a mirage.  Assistant Professor at Lehigh, Drew Francis and I had a two-hour conversation about the West  (conversation was on Sunday, November 14, 1999).  He put into to words the images I was battling to figure out.  I came away with the interpretation that the American West is a cheap whore.  The American West is a desert of the American soul.  The dream of the cowboy to roam the desert is absurd.  The desert lacks the resources to nourish itself.  The desert is an empty well, and it is only a matter of time that America dies from thirst.

 (8)      Drew’s words have been echoing in my head all weekend.  The Desert has drawn America's curiosity for hundreds of years.  The desert has left us in a daze.  The Cowboy rides off into the sunset.  The sun glares in his eyes.  The cowboy and the desert are inseparable.  We think the cowboy has tamed the West, but in due time the demonic wasteland will devour him.  The desert is empty nothingness.  There is nothing America can use.  There is no water, no food, and no soil.

(9)      America was fertile once.  Cities were founded and built around water.  America was pure.  However, as time passed, the more corrupt America became and strayed from its past—the water that gave it birth—the further West America moved.  American Manifest Destiny made itself hollow in pursuit of a dream that could not feed them.  The desert can not flourish a nation.  A nation can not flourish in a desert.

(10)      Now America thrives on dreams that can not feed them.  As Sam Shepard, Pulitzer playwright conveys, America is starving.  There is no West left.  The West is developed with water sprinklers spewing out reclaimed water producing shiny green grass.  But this grass is poison.  This water can not replenish society it can only kill it.  The West’s grass is a façade.  The West is façade.

(11)      My thoughts are not new truths to America.  Nathanael West in 1933 cried out against America in The Day of the Locust.  Sam Shepard is America’s modern playwright that is screaming for American to remember where she once came.  Shepard’s genre reeks of cowboy sweat and family values that have become tainted by America’s Dream.  I feel Nathanael West and Shepard share my betrayal.  I feel their stomachs twist as they ingested the poisoned grass made to feed them.

(12)      Nathanael West captures L.A. and Hollywood perfectly in The Day of the Locust.  West curses Hollywood and its junkyard of broken dreams.  West sees L.A. no different than the Sargasso Sea.  L.A. has become a dumping ground for the broken dreams of America and the New West.  West forms these ideas through the narration of the protagonist Tod Hackett.  This narrator has a god’s perspective, viewing down on us mere mortals, able to see the lies behind the American West.

(13)     He left the road and climbed across the spine of the hill to look down on the other side.  From there he could see a ten-acre field of cockleburs spotted with clumps of sunflowers and wild gum.  In the center of the field was a gigantic pile of sets, flats and props.  While he watched, a ten-ton truck added another load to it.  This was the final dumping ground.  He thought of Janiver’s “Sargasso Sea.”  Just as that imaginary body of water was a history of civilization in the form of a marine junkyard, the studio lot was one in the form of a dream dump.  A Sargasso of the imagination!  And the dump which wouldn’t sooner or later turn up on it, having first been made photographic by plaster, canvas, lath and paint.  Many boats sink and never reach the Sargasso, but no dream ever entirely disappears.  Somewhere it troubles some unfortunate person and some day, when that person has been sufficiently troubled, it will be reproduced on the lot.  (The Day of the Locust 132)
(14)      West concludes L.A. is a dumping ground for shattered dreams; Hollywood is a place that produces these dreams for the public for food.  Later on, he captures the migration of America moving West and arriving in L.A.  He follows the route Americans take upon the arrival of shattered dreams.  Americans become violent.
(15)     New groups, whole families, kept arriving.  He could see a change come over them as soon as they had become part of the crowd.  Until they reached the line, they looked diffident, almost furtive, but the moment they had become part of it, they turned arrogant and pugnacious.  It was a mistake to think them harmless curiosity seekers.  They were savage and bitter, especially the middle-aged and the old, and had been made so by boredom and disappointment.
        All their lives they had slaved at some kind of dull, heavy labor, behind desks and counters, in the fields and at tedious machines of all sorts, saving their pennies and dreaming of the leisure that would be theirs when they had enough.  Finally that day came.  They could draw a weekly income to ten or fifteen dollars.  Where else should they go but California, the land of sunshine and oranges.
        Once there, they discover that sunshine isn’t enough.  They get tired of oranges, even of avocado pears and passion fruit….Their boredom becomes more and more terrible.  They realize they’ve become tricked and burn with resentment.  Every day of their lives they read the newspapers and went to the movies.  Both fed them on lynching, murder, sex, crimes, explosions, wrecks, love nests, fires, miracles, revolutions, wars.  This daily diet made sophisticates of them.  The sun is a joke.  Oranges can’t titillate their jaded palates.  Nothing can ever be violent enough to make taut their slack minds and bodies.  They have been cheated and betrayed.  They have slaved and saved for nothing.  (177-78)
(16)      West tracks the path that Americans take to follow their dreams.  He reveals the pain, frustration, hatred, and anger that Americans hold against their country for lying to them.

(17)      In another aspect of dilution, Sam Shepard in Motel Chronicles, a collection of short stories, photos, and poems, uncovers the core of America.  Shepard, in L.A. at the time, captures the body of America, the flock of sheep that follow her dreams.

people here
have become
the people
they’re pretending to be

7-27-81 Los Angeles, Ca

(18)      Shepard simply holds up a mirror to America.  America fabricates history with heroes to model after.  America gives us empty dreams to chase.  America and her people become empty.  People in America can only become the people they're pretending to be.  WE can only pretend, because America is superficial.

(19)      So why won’t America acknowledge who she is and go find some water?  How am I supposed to live with her the rest of my life, knowing everything she offers is superficial?  The only America Dream I stick to is, “anything is possible,” yet even grasping to that is a paradox that blinds me from seeing the truth.

The Western

(20)      When the wagons traveled as far West as they could go, L.A. was produced.  L.A. produced Hollywood, and Hollywood produced dreams.  Since then Hollywood has forever propagated the Western Film to America.  Ironically, Hollywood must go East to film Westerns, yet the screen portrays the cowboy continually moving West into the vast country.  Unfortunately, this America can only exist on film.  Nothing in America remains untouched.  Even the desert is spoiled goods.  There is a gas station every ten miles.

(21)      When I think of a Western, I see an isolated man, trying to fit in, playing cards, drinking whiskey, seven-card stud, cheat!  knife, six-shooter, gunfight, fists swinging, jaws crunching, horses riding, hoofs, sand, thirsty land, vultures circling, mouth watering, lips chapped, sun flared, glaring, heat emanating, vapors—demonic land. This visual is so clear in my mind, it transcends my thoughts faster than I can talk.  Every Western possesses these images.  The Western theme is circular and revolves around isolation and violence.

(22)      Isolation and violence are not the only themes in the Western plot; however, there is direct relationship to the American public and American culture that flock to the Westerner.  Robert Warshow, author of The Immediate Experience: Movies, Comics, Theatre & Other Aspects Of Popular Culture, connects America to its two most successful heroes in film.  Warshow compares the gangster and the Westerner to America and her values.  He states that the gangster and Westerner are both violent creatures of guttural instinct both needing to use it to fulfill their desire. The gangster needs power, and the Westerner needs honor.

(23)     The two most successful creations of American movies are the gangster and the Westerner: men with guns.  Guns as physical objects, and the postures associated with their use, form the visual and emotional center of both types of films…The gangster movie, which no longer exists in its “classical” form, is a story of enterprise and success ending in precipitate failure.  Success is conceived as an increasing power to work injury, it belongs to the city, and it is of course a form of evil…the gangster is the “no” to that great American “yes” which is stamped so big over our official culture and yet has so little to do with the way we really feel about our lives.  (135-36)
(24)      Warshow depicts the gangster as a rebel of the American dream.  The gangster violence is misguided and evil.  The gangster will die, and America will see that his life of lawlessness brought his life to a tragic end.

(25)      In opposition to the gangster, Warshow concludes that, though both use violence, the Western does it in the name of honor.  Thus, by doing so he concludes the Western as the good hero vs. the bad gangster anti-hero.  In fact, by labeling the gangster as the “no” to that great American “yes,” Warshow immediately labels the Westerner as the “yes” to that great American “no.”  The cowboy rids the world of the gangster.  The cowboy is who we all want to be as kids.  We, boys of America, want to put on the cowboy hat, six-shooter, and stand off the American “no.”   Warshow then proposes the question, “What does the Westerner fight for?”  To answer America’s battle cry, he concludes:

…The Westerner himself, when an explanation is asked to him (usually by a woman), is likely to say that he does what he “has to do.”…What he defends, at bottom, is the purity of his own image—in fact his honor.  This is what makes him invulnerable.  When the gangster is killed, his whole life is shown to have been a mistake, but the image the Westerner seeks to maintain we know he is on the side of justice and order, and of course it can can be presented as clearly in a defeat as in victory: he fights for advantage and not for right, but to state what he is, and he must live in a world which permits that statement.  The Westerner is the last gentleman, and the movies which over and over again tell his story are probably the last art form in which the concept of honor retains its strength.  (140-41)
(26)      The Westerner’s justification of his action is understood.  He results in violence because it is something he “has to do.”  Meanwhile, Warshow explains the gangster’s life has been a mistake.  The Westerner is the last honorable gentleman.  He should be modeled after.  America is looking for the Westerner.  Warshow does not capitalize “gangster.”  But he makes the “Westerner” capitalized because he is the savior America looks to flock to and model after.  America is the good guy, the honorable gentleman that uses violence because she “has to do” it in the name of honor.

(27)      The Western Film is patriotic.  The Western reeks of red, white, and blue.  Go move west.  Be a cowboy, be honorable, fight for justice, and the American way.  The Western uses violence as a necessity for survival.  The Western and the War film in this sense do not stray far from each other.  Be a patriot.  Fight for your country.  Be a good guy.  Bad guys die, and the good guy rides West.

(28)      The most notable Westerner character in the Western Film movement is that of the lawman, the marshal, and the peace officer.  Wyatt Earp is the legendary lawman who has been continually portrayed in Westerns as the ultimate American Hero.  Wyatt Earp killed men in the name of honor while wearing a badge.   Wyatt Earp has had more than twelve major movie productions based on his life (and a numerous number of B films), his own TV series, and countless variety of biographies written about him.  Wyatt Earp’s life is no longer with mortals, but America has used it and taken it for her own needs, and made him a hero.

Wyatt Earp

(29)      In 1848, Nicholas Porter Earp named his newborn son, Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp in memory of his old captain.  Wyatt Earp more than filled the boots of the man he was named after.  Wyatt’s name forever stands for Law, justice, and America.  Wyatt Earp lived a life as a Businessman: most of his years were spent as an American parasite making money from other people’s weaknesses.  Wyatt Earp chased every mining town down and staked claims in saloons.  He would deal faro, serve liquor, and even pimp prostitutes.  During his lifetime, prostitution was illegal, but the laws were rarely enforced.  Laws were enforced when taxes were due.  Prostitution was needed to draw the cowboys into the town.  If sex were not offered, the cowboys would go places where sex was provided.  In cowtowns and mining camps, the cowboy and miner were the one’s consuming and spending a ridiculous amount of money when they rode through.  Towns depended on cowboys for their own survival.  In fact, being on the side of the law, was a side job for Wyatt Earp.  His side job offered benefits of always being on the side of the law no matter what he did.  Wyatt Earp used the law to protect his business.

(30)      The film Wyatt Earp, Warner Bros., 1994, directed by Lawrence Kasdan, is the closest major motion picture to the historical facts of Wyatt Earp's life.  Kasdan pursues the truth of Wyatt Earp.  Kasdan explores the entire life of Wyatt Earp and confronts America with his dark side.   In the film, Earp is a drunk, a horse thief, a pistol-whipping deputy, a cold businessman with no feelings for women.  He simply uses women for sex, until he meets Josie.  Wyatt later becomes a man possessed with a personal vendetta.  After the famous shootout in the O.K. Corral, 1881, Wyatt Earp’s brother Morgan is assassinated.  Wyatt retaliates by taking the law into his own hands.  He kills Frank Stilwell, Indian Charlie, and Curly Bill.  Kasdan portrays Wyatt Earp as a cold-blooded killer. Kevin Costner, playing Wyatt Earp, continuously fires into the already dead bodies of Stilwell and Indian Charlie.

(31)      I congratulate Kasdan for deymythisizing the legend of Wyatt Earp.  However, at the same time Kasdan glorifies the killing of Curly Billy in slow motion, with the bullets passing through his coat.  Kasdan skillfully skewed the historical events, and made Wyatt Earp's dark side justified.  Kasdan makes Wyatt Earp a man that deals with the loss of his wife, and gets drunk, and steals a horse.  Kasdan justifies Earp’s vendetta, because nobody else would pursue the assassins of his brother.  Kasdan glorifies Earp, the man, a cowboy that kills because he “has to do” it because nobody else will.  Kasdan praises Wyatt for fighting for justice when nobody else will.  Kasdan places Earp in the good guy American Hero role vs. the gangster cowboys.

(32)      Wyatt Earp’s life fits the part of a hero.  He was businessman looking to strike it rich fast, a gambler, and a man of the Law.  Wyatt Earp always found himself in a bind between Law and Order vs. the Outlaw because in his line of work there where no clear borders or boundaries that separated the two.  Just like today, there is not much difference between working on Wall Street, gambling in Vegas, and robbing the local convenient store: everyone wants money and is willing to do anything to get it.  America is consumerism.  The mighty dollars make the righteous, and Wyatt Earp evidently stood to protect the money, the town, and investments of such as Dodge City and Tombstone.  Thus, finding himself on the side of the law, even as a killer.  Kasdan ends the movie with Wyatt Earp’s wife Josie assuring Wyatt he will be remembered as a Hero.  Even though Earp does not believe in his own herofication at the end of the film, Kasdan assures Wyatt through Josie, that America will forever remember him as a Legendary Lawman and an America hero.

(33)      Why will America forever look to Wyatt Earp as a Hero?  Where did it all start?  Hollywood certainly helped mold American minds.  However, everyone in Hollywood maintains the knowledge, “make the book, then the movie.”  Stuart N. Lake wrote “The only authorized biography” of Wyatt Earp in 1931.  Lake’s book, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshall was not the first about Wyatt Earp, merely Lake’s biography was the best-written one.  Lake added a dramatic license to his book.  Even though Lake only had eight interviews with Wyatt Earp before he died, after his death Lake conveniently found it better to put the biography in first person.  The combination of Lake's poetic ability and making Wyatt Earp say everything has forever captured Wyatt Earp as The American Hero.

(34)      Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshall dropped in American homes during the lowest time in American history.  The Great Depression had completely taken the soul out of Americans.  America needed a hero to look up to and a savior that would fight for them.  Stuart Lake provided America with Wyatt Earp.  Lake’s book was and still is the historical document that movies grasp onto and base Wyatt Earp movies on.

(35)     In 1931, Lake published Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, which featured a hero who single-handedly cleaned up the worst frontier hellholes.  This book subsequently became the authority for nearly all the film portraits of Earp.  Acknowledging Lake’s biography on screen lent a kind of historical authenticity to these films, but the trouble was that the book was an imaginative hoax, a fabrication mixed with just enough fact to lend it credibility.  Although he claimed to have interviewed his subject—and used Earp’s authoritative first-person voice throughout his narrative—Lake later confessed that “as a matter of cold fact, Wyatt never ‘dictated’ a word” to him.” (John Mack Faragher, "The Tale Of Wyatt Earp" 154)
(36)      Lake lied to America.  But Lake’s lie was for a worthy cause.  Lake gave America a Hero to model after.  The legend evidently is the only thing America now is willing to see.  America no longer wants to watch a movie about Wyatt Earp the human being that suffers the same things we suffer.  Wyatt Earp was not a successful film because it did not portray Earp as the Hero America knows him to be.  John Mack Faragher, author of "The Tale of Wyatt Earp," denotes that the film “Wyatt Earp is truer to the messy historical facts than any previous Earp film, but it’s lifeless.  Loading us down with facts, it presents very little of what Earp’s life might have meant and finally has nothing important to say"(160).  The film is three hours and twenty minutes and boring because Wyatt Earp is a man.

(37)      Films today still use Lake’s biography because it is more dramatic.  The book sells.  Make a movie based on a popular book, and it gets the asses in the seats.  Make a movie on a Hero based on a book, even if one knows the book is out-dated and wrong, because the book is a biography and the film can be based on fact.  Put in sub-titles, “This movie is based on a true story.”  The audience is entertained and feels that they learned about America.  They feel they know the Western culture because they saw a movie.  Today’s culture looks to historical films to teach them.  We do not want to read a book about Wyatt Earp.  The movies are better.

(38)      The first major Wyatt Earp movie, My Darling Clementine, directed by John Ford, 1946, is considered by scholars the absolute best Earp movie made yet.  The first time I watched this movie I had absolutely no idea why.  Perhaps, films are now like wine, only good with age.  Any modern film that contradicts the classic is automatically wrong, boring, and quite possibly the biggest blunder of the year.  My Darling Clementine is considered to be among Ford’s best-directed films, out of the fifty-six that he made (Faragher 160).   Can somebody help me understand this?!  My Darling Clementine had absolutely no historical truth.   Ford even blotched the famous O.K. Corral gunfight.  Ford stuck with what he knew.  He knew how to make a great Western Film -- the truth is the last thing that counts.  Ford claimed he based the movie on the conversations he had with Wyatt Earp during his earlier directing days.  However, film historian John Tuska questioned Ford.  Tuska said, “why didn’t he shoot the film the way it actually happened?”  Ford retorted, “Did you like the film?  “What more do you want?” Ford replied after Tuska said it was his favorite (158).   Ford was there to entertain and make Western Films.  Ford knows how to pan across the countryside and use the camera to gives us the raw environment of the West, but he does not care about historical truth because the West is a myth.  Nobody wants to know the facts when the legends are better.  Myth making is American.

Wyatt Earp’s America

(39) What is the first name that you think of when I say the words cowboy, western, duke?  John Wayne, exactly.  The Duke!  “Drop the hog irons, pilgrims, wallaaaahun.”  I can not say John Wayne and not do a quick impression.  John Wayne is America.  He is perhaps the biggest movie star ever known.  He went from Westerns to War films and back to Western.  The last film The Duke did on his deathbed was a Western, The Shootist.  Righteous violence is the foreground of the American Hero.  John Wayne gained his hero-dom as a plains drifter and a cowboy.  The world followed him.  When World War II, Korea, and Vietnam came around, John Wayne jumped into the battlefields of Hollywood.  He then became a war hero.  Just like I want to imitate The Duke in speech, Americans wanted to be like John Wayne in action.  Americans followed blindly in faith that they could be a hero.  That they could kill for righteousness.

(40)      John Wayne is an actor.  His model was Wyatt Earp.  Wayne repetitively admitted he was trying to portray Wyatt Earp, when he was on film.  Wayne confronted Hugh O’Brian who played Wyatt Earp in the TV series, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.  Wayne was a prop boy in Hollywood and overheard many of Wyatt Earp stories when Wyatt would come to the lot and sit down with Ford.  Wayne told O’Brian,”Hey kid, you do a perfect Wyatt Earp.  I knew him, and you’re terrific….No shit.  I really think you do a great job, and I knew him…I often think of Wyatt Earp when I play a film character.  There’s a guy who actually did what I’m trying to do” (Tefertiller, Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind The Legend 340)  John Wayne is Wyatt Earp, then Wyatt Earp must be the American Dream.  I always thought Wayne was an original, but now I find out he is a carbon copy of Wyatt Earp.

(41)     In Hollywood and American History, compiled by Michael Pitts, there is an article about John Wayne’s last film The Shootist.

(42)     There is a scene in John Wayne’s final film The Shootist (Paramount, 1976) where an opportunistic young newspaper reporter (Richard Lenz) tries to convince a dying gunman (John Wayne) to let him write his memoirs.  The writer tells the shootist what he does not know about the man’s life he will make up.  The gunman’s reply is to force the writer to swallow the barrel of a revolver while he is backed out of the man’s boarding house and kicked into the street.  While amusing, this scene more than pointed out that many of the tales of Western heroes were just that, greatly embellished and not concrete fact.  One Western hero whose career my well have been more fiction than fact was Wyatt Earp (1848-1929).   (151)
(43)      This scene parodies Stuart Lake and the biography of Wyatt Earp.  If Wyatt were alive when the Lake told him what he was going to do, I’m sure Wyatt Earp, like the Shootist, would have put the barrel of his revolver in Lake’s mouth.  However funny this scene is, I think it captures the consumerism that America sells her citizen's imagined heroes.   A writer needs to sell books.  Make it up, and make it sell.  America needs to sell a dream, make it up, and make it sell.

(44)      Screenwriter Pete Hamill of Doc, 1971, a Wyatt Earp film, connected his script with the Vietnam War.  “We were continuing to fight [in Vietnam] because of some peculiar notions of national macho pride,” Hamill wrote.  “Indochina was Dodge City, and the American were some collective version of Wyatt Earp.” (Faragher 159).  America and its good guy Western hero kill because it’s justified, go to other countries and play Wyatt Earp.  Walk down the street to the O.K. Corral and start shooting.  Flying over to Indochina and start the massacre.  Born on the Forth of July’s Ron Kovic blamed John Wayne for making him want to fight for America.  Ron Kovic is a Vietnam Vet who came home paralyzed.  Kovic went outside America and discovered his country and John freaking Wayne were lies.  Kovic’s entire life had been a betrayal.  Kovic’s betrayal started with the myth of America, like Wyatt Earp and John Wayne -- fight in the name of honor.  Kovic felt he “had to” fight and honor his country.

Death comes from eating dead things.”
(Nathanael West, The Day of the Locust 139)

(45)      America gives us the West as a dream, our Manifest Destiny.  America says come West and have my ripe fruit, have some oranges.  America gives us dead dreams.  The West is a desert that bares no resources.  The West can not maintain a population in a land that is not fertile.  America gives us Western Heroes.  Live an honorable life because you “have to” live by the rules of the moral West, she says.  Wyatt Earp is a Savior, follow him to the Promised Land, she says.

(46)      I have already figured out that America is a whore, and she sleeps with everyone, and tells them all that she loves them.  She climaxes with multiple orgasm and cums when I do.  She loves me?  I do not know what is worse, living a pipe dream married to the America dream, or knowing that she fakes her orgasms and is a nymphomaniac that humps everybody who opens her door.  If America lies to me, she lies to everybody.  The worst is I know I can no longer take the uterine flight.  I can’t escape.  No womb, no sleep, no more safety!  I know America lies.  I can no longer bed down with her.  Listen, Doc, I really can not afford all this time, and effort, and money this therapy is costing me.  I am sick of all this shit.  All America does is go in a Biiiiiig circle--one hero to another hero, one war to another war—I mean isn’t this fucking session supposed to have stopped the repetition.  She still doesn’t answer your questions, this entire time I sit here, lying on my back, trying to figure her out, and you keep asking me, “Why do you think she does this?”

(47)       Listen, is our time up yet?  Hey?!  America?!  You feel like growing up? You gonna stop feeding us death, with all your dead heroes, we're supposed to model after.  When will you accept the fact that I have a brain.  HUH?!  Let me use my brain, I am a fucking individual that can realize the shit your feeding me is poison!   I am starving!  I want some food, meat, sugar, candy, milk, water, something,  CAN YOU HEAR ME!!!  DON’T COVER YOU EARS!!!  I’M TRYING TO TALK TO YOU!!!

(Silence.)

(48)      You can’t feed me.  Can you America?  I don’t want John Wayne or Wyatt Earp.  I want substance.  I want food.  I want hope.  I want real people real heroes.  I don’t want no Mickey Mouse or Disneyland Land ride.  I want this marriage to work out……a………an………and……….i….i…if.. …if you can’t give me that….if you can't offer me anything….

(Silence.)
….lie.

Works Consulted

Faragher, John Mack.  "The Tale of Wyatt Earp." Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies.  Ed. Marc Carnes.  New York: H. Holt, 1995.  154-61.

Pitts, Michael R.  Hollywood and American History:  A Filmography of Over 250 Motion Pictures Depicting  U.S. History.  McFarland & Company, Inc,.  London: 1984.

Shepard, Sam.  Motel Chronicles.  San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1982.

Warshow, Robert.  The Immediate Experience: Movies, Comics, Theatre & Other Aspects Of Popular Culture.  New York: Doubleday & Company, 1962.

West, Nathanael.  Miss Lonelyhearts & The Day of the Locust.  Toronto: New Directions, 1933.
 
 

Copyright (c) 1999 by Joseph Daniel Gibbs, Undergraduate at Lehigh University.

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