Monday, February 28, 2011

Who Will Save Us?

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I'll meet you there.

---Jalal-ad Din Rumi

Would that life were like the shadow cast by a wall or a tree, but it is like the shadow of a bird in flight.


We would rather be ruined than changed,
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.

---W.H. Auden

Those of my generation, in our seventh decade, were raised by a mom who was home and a dad who worked. They were assisted by watchful relatives and neighbors, a school you could walk to...and come home for lunch...our church and community organizations. But alone in our rooms---and many of us had rooms of our own---all of those were assisted, however dubiously, by comic books and radio drama. We had real heroes, like baseball players, but for the tough jobs like saving the world from power-hungry bad guys or a family in trouble in the Wild West we needed our imaginations.

There weren't many special effects yet in the movies of the 1940s. Bogie lighting a cigarette was good enough for us. Flash Gordon's spaceship had sparks that came out the back and then fell down onto a table or something. Even we knew there was no gravity in outer space. The real effects were from superheroes in the comics or from the voices and sound effects on the radio. Mom and Dad worried all that stuff was a waste of time and maybe worse. Were they right? How do the Lone Ranger and Tonto help me face Ohio Senate Bill 5?

Superheroes worked best in comic books. Superman on the radio just didn't cut it. A single frame in a comic could show Superman flying around the earth to turn the clock back to an earlier time. You couldn't do that on the radio and we had to wait for Christopher Reeve to show us in the movies. The Green Hornet and the Shadow were great on radio, but they weren't true superheroes. Batman and Robin had to be comics, and the Joker on the page still transcends even Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger. (Joker may be working for FoxNews though.)

What we liked about superheroes was that most of the time they were regular people. Sometimes they even were disabled people...but when duty called or ultimate danger was in the air for all humankind, they changed into beings who could fly or have incredible machines or impenetrable suits and superhuman strength. They could and did save us with these powers.

OK, we knew all that stuff was fantasy and just pretend. But Westerns were different. Here we could go to the movies...and we did every Saturday afternoon. But the most popular Western on radio never worked in the movies. Jay Silverheels WAS Tonto, but you couldn't get a Long Ranger except on the radio. He had been a lawman whose unit was ambushed and wiped out by bad guys. He wore a mask so no one would know he had survived, saved by Tonto in fact. Why Tonto was a lone Indian never was explained I think, but today we can imagine perhaps his tribe had been rubbed out or driven away.

So here were these two individuals riding around trying to right wrongs and help the Wild West become safe and peaceful. The Lone Ranger's mask made people think he was an outlaw, no matter how famous he became. Tonto was feared because of the heritage of his race, so the whole project of doing good was an uphill battle. They had a secret silver mine where they made their ammunition. His horse was named Silver and his calling card was a silver bullet. All of these aspects enriched the saga that every kid knew probably until more recent times.

Now as I hobble into our present day, what have these stories brought me? We have an overcrowded planet and countless more babies born every minute. The earth's ability to sustain life as we experience it may be in peril. Air, water, and resources are increasingly dear. Employment soon may return precisely to what the boss thinks of you rather than how you can prove you do the job well. Governments, that we set up originally as a kind of fortress against the wilds of Nature, no longer may protect us. Disasters of health and finances will be a death sentence, unless you personally can find help somewhere.

I cannot hope for the Lone Ranger to arrive in a cloud of dust and a hearty HiYo Silver! I must take the lessons he and Tonto taught me and use them to support my friends and family. I don't have the riches of Bruce Wayne or a ward who can become Robin the Boy Wonder. I have no superpowers. I can write this essay though. My imagination from all those old radio shows remains keen and sharp. Is there a way out of this mess? Is there something I can do besides cower before those who already own so much and are buying more and more? I have published my values and they may know who I am. Soon I may be completely vulnerable, exposed, captured. In that event, may I have the courage I learned in my youth!


mowrey said...

Still workin' that graveyard shift I see, Cap'n Carlson. Great essay. But if your captured can I have your copy of City of Glass?

jazzolog said...

City of Glass now on a Capitol Kenton CD devoted to the music of Bob Graettinger. Live performances of individual movements reveal there are improvisation opportunities in the work.