I am a living anachronism. I’ve known this for a while but with the business of adult life, its easy to forget when I don’t have any free time to dwell on it. But with our current shutdown, I’ve had both time & opportunity to remember. It seems during our current apocalypse, binge watching old television shows has been the thing to do. There was a time–before smart phones & social media of course–when watching TV was considered a colossal waste of time as the custodians of our society considered it mindless, idle time. Well, I was never the poster boy for what the “custodians of our society” thought we should do; and, true to form, I disagree with their grossly generalized statement. I agree that watching TV can be a waste of time but it can also be a worthwhile use of time: all depending on what it is you choose to watch. Today I watched an episode of Longmire that made me remember something about myself. I am currently on Season 6/ Episode 7 & deeply regret that I stand just three full episodes away from completing the entire series. Endings are always so bitter-sweet. And so is the revelation that I experienced while watching the show today. I, too, am a man better suited for a different era; someone mismatched for our current time.
Here’s what I like about television shows. They are rich with stock characters. If you remember from your lit classes of yesteryear, stock characters are characters molded out of rigid stereotypes with the assumption that they are so cliche that every town or community would have their own version of that same character. I realize that the “custodians of our society” have attempted to ween us off the idea of stereotypes as a means to “universal social justice.” But in literature, or in a TV series, we don’t have enough time to experience the full depth of a character’s personality & only need to know them in terms of what personality traits coincide with the story line. That said, while it’s debatable how useful stereotypes are in real life, they are obviously useful in performance art in the form of stock characters. Think in terms of the town drunk, the noble hero, & the selfish villain. These are all examples of stock characters whose one-dimensional aspects may clash with the values of the “custodians of our society” but certainly make for rich story telling.
Today’s focus is on Walt Longmire–the hero of the series. I’ve read online reviews of Walt as a “throwback character” from the old western genres but tinged with fallible qualities to make him more believable to contemporary audiences. He is a career sheriff in the fictional Absaroka county of “big sky Wyoming,” set during contemporary times. He works with no more than three deputies who, along with him, patrol a vast western wilderness scattered with communities living a simple, rural life. Walt is not the traditional hero by contemporary standards. He is faithful to his deceased wife as the series begins. He later reveals that he & his wife held off on sleeping together until their wedding night. Despite being an accomplished football hero, Walt is shy around women. He is also sympathetic to the victims of the crimes he investigates but stern with the suspects behind those crimes. Walt Longmire, as one if his own rivals in the fiction reluctantly proclaims, “Is a man of honor.” And he manages all of this without the benefit of a smart phone!
Early in the series, Walt is able to apply his old world approach to policing his county successfully. By old world approach, I mean he interviews suspects without corroborating witnesses. He rarely wears a wire or feels the need to record any conversations or actions. Walt’s reputation is such that he is able to police with his word being as good as the law. While this refreshingly simple approach functions well in the early seasons, Walt eventually finds himself in deep legal trouble & social controversy. Media scrutiny & modern day bureaucracy demand proof of every claim. Before Walt can prove a criminal guilty, he must first prove himself to be innocent. Walt’s simple world, his small town rural community unpolluted by the “guilty by hearsay unless you have iPhone footage proving otherwise” modern dynamic, turns into a world of baseless accusations & creates an environment where whoever is willing to cry foul first wins with the community’s blessing. Walt considers retiring as he feels as though the culture governing the people he has been elected to police has rendered him an artifact from a by gone era. A man’s word is no longer as good as a thirty second iPhone video. The reputation built by a lifetime of doing everything the right way, the hard way; suddenly evaporates. Towards the end, Longmire bemoans to his law school-educated daughter, “I don’t want to spend the rest of my career defending my career.”
We live in a day when “progressive” is the golden standard. By definition, progressive means moving forward; promoting change. And while some change is useful & even necessary, sometimes it seems as if society pushes us to change just for the sake of change; just to uphold this mantra of progress. What happened to the idea, “If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it”? “Traditional” has become a bad word. The stock character of Walt Longmire comes from a time when men would politely ask a lady to dance & honesty was commonplace even among wrongdoers. Longmire sees his career coming to an end as the mayor & other public influences bring in developers to create new employment & income opportunities into their quiet corner of America. In doing so, they sacrifice the charm of their secluded hamlet that has remained unchanged for generations. This new world has passed Longmire by. His fictional Absaroka county has finally joined the modern age, but in doing so, sold its soul. Longmire is one of the few characters who recognizes the flip side of progress–that there is a price to pay for anything, even something good–& he is willing to mourn that loss openly. So dies the age of the cowboy & the folklore traditions of rural America.
At least Longmire was true to himself, as I strive to be in my own life. Let the chips fall where they may–CNN be damned. We are who we are, & in the competition of life, there can still only be one number one. In my humble opinion, all we can do to be worthy of winning status in our own lives is to be true to ourselves–whether or not doing so aligns with the wishes of the “custodians of our modern society.” I’ve had my teeth kicked in enough by real life to realize that we all don’t get to ride off into the sunset triumphantly. But if I can at least be true to who I was meant to be, I know that I will at least be at peace. And so for better or worse, “Gettyup cowboy.”I’m still going to ride out my own path.