A Parable of Ageism
Unquestionably, John Wayne is my favorite actor. Not to say that all his films were of the caliber of The Searchers or Red River. There were some stinkers, like the 1956 disaster, The Conqueror, in which Duke was cast as – wait for it – Genghis Kahn!?!
Another film that doesn’t rate high in Wayne’s artistic canon is 1971’s Big Jake. The considerable talents of Bruce Cabot, Maureen O’Hara and Richard Boone were mostly squandered in this B-grade oater, but the real draw to me is the underlying theme of ageism. I doubt Wayne and director George Sherman fully appreciated the significance of the statement they made about a grandfather searching for his kidnapped grandson.
Jacob McCandles shows up at his sprawling New Mexico ranch after an absence of 18 years, only to learn from his estranged wife (O’Hara) that a grandson he never knew he had, also his namesake, has been taken by a gang led by John Fain (Boone.) Big Jake sets off in search of Little Jake with the aid of his long-time friend Sam Sharpnose (Cabot) and two of his sons (played by real-life son Patrick Wayne and Chris Mitchum, son of Duke’s good friend Robert Mitchum.)
Patrick Wayne’s character resents his father’s extended absence and demonstrates it by repeatedly and disrespectfully calling him “daddy.” When the elder Wayne has finally had enough, he tells the young man “Well, son; since you don’t have any respect for your elders, it’s time somebody taught you some respect for your betters!” Big Jake then demonstrates that he is still a formidable foe.
This issue of disrespect is what it all comes down to. The story is set at the beginning of the twentieth century and progress is the order of the day, with sophisticated weaponry and the advent of the automobile to replace the horse. Big Jake proves in the end that newer and younger is hardly a substitute for tested, proven and wiser.
Perhaps that’s an attitude that might be considered today.
Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindall and many of the young turks of the Republican Party seem to be believing what they’re seeing in the liberal media about the GOP being the party of “old, white guys.” As I’ve stated before, that term is the trifecta of intolerance: old (ageism,) white (racism) guys (sexism.) Maybe they think they’ll remain young forever. *hint* It don’t work that way.
Perhaps rather than being totally dismissive of the old guys, a little something of value might be learned from them. Throughout history, cultures have venerated their seniors, often recognizing the tribal or community elders as sources of wisdom (meaning, in part, that they had learned from their mistakes.)
Aging does not always equate to senility. Some of us old, white (or black or brown or whatever color) guys and gals still have a lot to contribute.
When Big Jake overtakes and overcomes his nemesis, Duke holds the dying John Fain, whose last words are “I thought you were dead!” Jake replies “not hardly.”