RELIGION, VIOLENCE, AND RUGGED INDIVIDUALISM
Cowboys and Aliens was a film recommended to me by some kids at school. I had high time decided it was time to RedBox a film I had meant to see in theaters. In the spirit of Joss Whedon’s Firefly/Serenity, Cowboys And Aliens was a science fiction work set in the Western Frontier, and apparently, word has it from friends on Facebook (they know who they are) it was a politically subversive graphic novel by Fred Van Lente. Similarities to Firefly include: a dead preacher, a prostitute with a heart of gold, a wimpy doctor who can’t fight if his life depended on it, and a femme fatale with paranormal abilities. Oh, yes, and hideous creatures that threaten the existence of humans, minus Firefly’s cannibalism. And that’s about it.
I think that Julie Clawson had it right in her review: the film remains unable to get past negative stereotypes of First Nations people. In fact, it is the slaughtering of Indians that give several characters status. At the beginning of the movies, as poor rancher Roy was bashing his boss, the Colonel, he says, “I don’t care how many Indians the Colonel put under neither.” Later, the Colonel to his Indian worker, “You get it through your thick Indian skull. Those stories weren’t for you.”The more Indian scalps you earn, the more larger than life you are in the Old West. This was exactly the case, as the Colonel and his son Percy have their way with the town. Their violent bullying not only represents hostility towards Native Americans (and our U.S.American history thereof), but also shows a lack of notion for an ethic of hospitality. Cowboys And Aliens promotes White male vigilante justice versus the dark Stranger. Before the last stand scene, Black Knife (the Apache leader) argued with Colonel, which leads Colonel to say, “There’s no reasoning with them [the Apaches].” The disagreement centered around Natives’ belief that the whites had brought the monsters. On the other hand, Colonel says that Black Knife, Apache leader IS the Evil One. Of course, we can’t accuse our beloved
Newt Gingrich Colonel a racist, because he has a token Native friend, Nat Colorado, who vouches for him in the end, convincing the Apaches and members of the other tribes follow the Colonel’s military strategy by telling them of the Colonel’s kindness imperial paternalism.
Let me suggest that the community’s reception of the Apaches as well as Jake Lonergan and his gang is symptomatic of their individualistic religious sensibilities. As the aliens are invading, the preacher suspects it was demons; “a bunch of Bible stuff,” in the words of Doc. Doc continues to receive advice from the Preacher, who says that he needs to get a gun and learn how to shoot it (read: adopt rugged individualism and violence as a way of life). While “Reverend” Meacham is teaching Doc to shoot, he says that Doc has to earn God’s presence, recognize it, then act on it (by doing good). Grace is eliminated from the equation. What “Reverend” Meacham says is simply not true, from a Christian perspective. God freely sends God’s presence where God chooses. It is not by our actions that the Triune God is with us, but in the mission of the Incarnate Son and in the sending of the Holy Spirit. Meacham’s worldview reads more like an Enlightenment Deist, which went hand in hand with U.S. American rugged individualism. It is this Enlightment religion that advances a closed notion of the self, where the self works to over come the Other, and closes itself off from Others, to have life, liberty and the pursuit of property, ala John Locke. It is little wonder that an ethic of hospitality and openness is missing in this movie, and in communities that still adhere to such a view.
“Reverend” Meacham’s last words to Jake Lonergan, our protagonist, “God don’t care who you were, son. Only who you are.”
HOW CONVENIENT INDEED!
*Although I was highly critical and ripped this movie’s representation of First Nations peoples a new one, it was highly enjoyable, and I would recommend it, with a few qualifiers.