The leading man, as many in America knew it, is gone and so, seemingly, is that frontiersman ideal that his characters espoused and America at its best seemed to live up to around the world.
This blolumnist is more left of center than otherwise but there's two points I want to make before I hit ya'll with the normal wickedness.
It was wrong of Michael Moore to leave Charlton Heston's house on a national film and put into national consciousness the image of an cantankerous old white man who didn't give a damn about what firearms have done to destroy people.
The man's life was so much more than that and a little crafty editing made him look like a gun nut, telling you to leave his Azelas alone lest he gets to dumping caps off in that a%$!.
The next line of conjecture praises the man. His death is the death of many ideals, whether you believe in them or not, of post-war, post industrial America.
If you look at it plainly, pop culture has gone from the every man with beard stubble -- the hero and anti-hero reluctantly stepping up to the challenge of his story arc to Australians playing American tough guys (see Russell Crowe) and Brits and Irishmen playing American cops with tortured souls (see Jason Statham and Colin Ferrell). Dont get me wrong, I like these guys, but they ain't "yanks," and what Charlton Heston's death reveals more than anything -- other than they can't get anyone except Walberg to play what is essentiall his character in remade versions of his classic movies -- is the death of the great American leading man, in the truest sense of the word.
Before you throw Will Smith in my face, I would say that the former comedy and party rapper is more Jimmy Stewart than Chuck Connors or Heston. Sorry folks, aside from Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman, no one else really comes close to Heston. I mean who can be Moses, John the Baptist and Ben Hur, Hamlet and Julius Caesar and then a cowboy? I'm waiting. Okay, find a casting agent who's got the same person in mind for all those reprised roles in this day and age and I can get you an adjustable ARM that starts at zero percent and then "adjusts" in three years. I'll wait for you to give me a name while you fill out your income statement fact sheet.
Heston's death is a blow to the sensibilities mid-century American white everymen everywhere but also to that notion that we can work, doing the same thing for thirty years and retire in great esteem only to not go gently into that good night with a respectable modicum of public service and activism. Sure it's bound to happen with some individuals but the average person getting into any profession in unlikely to be doing the same thing in ten years much less 60 years.
Heston was one of the biggest box-office draws of the 1950s, '60s and '70s, often playing legendary leaders or ordinary men thrown into heroic struggles something that America was built on. Nowadays such situations seem manufactured and staged, in real life and on screen. His legacy, in my mind, won't be tarnished even though he became polarizing in the sense that he became Reaganesque late in life, better known for his conservative politics and position on gun rights as the mouthpiece and leader of the National Rifle Association than as a thespian. Heck, Heston also campaigned for Republican presidential and congressional candidates and against affirmative action. He even dissed my man Ice-T, reciting his lyrics with disgust to make a point, while not addressing the substance of the argument that comes from a song such as "Cop Killer".
We can't all be perfect and who exemplified this better than Heston? But for better or worse, he's gone and so, seemingly, is that manifest destiny frontiersman ideal that his characters espoused and America at its best seemed live up to around the world. By manifest destiny I don't mean genocide and "Trail of Tears," or taking peoples land so that they wait 70 years to build casinos as consolation.
And I'm not sentimental or nostalgic enough to go back to the days when they called black men "cookie" and "boy" or when a Chinese man was called a "Chinamen" but somehow his passing coincides with a dissipation of our great American gravitas, that feeling of being against all odds and not going blindly and stubbornly and slowly to your dubious demise. Unlike say, the American newspaper, or the George W. Bush administration or the movie and music industries as we know them. No, Heston was all about improvising, switching up amid adversity, not being stifled by the sissy sensibilities of political correctness, he couldn't afford that luxury as a man, on or off screen and you have to respect that.
Whether you agree with him or not, here's a guy who said, "I like guns and it's my right as an American to like guns," and didn't mince words about it. I respect Heston because he said what he meant and meant what he said. Even if you disagree with me, I'd rather have you talking straight then telling me some of your best friends grew up in impoverished areas and how much you "like Public Enemy bro, awesome."
Beyond a little conservation, a better educational system, less wanton consumerism, we need more guys like this to balance a "real talk," discourse in America not just guys who play them on TV. RIP man.
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