There is a classic Western film called “High Noon” that was very popular in the days before most of us were born. Like others of its genre, it was a story that pitted the decent and honorable against the forces of chaos and evil.
Here’s the plot:
Marshal Will Kane, who is much admired for having brought order and justice to Hadleyville, has just married his Quaker sweetheart and, at her request, resigned his position. As they prepare to leave town, Kane learns that Frank Miller, a murderer arrested five years earlier, has been pardoned and released from prison.
Miller is set on vengeance and traveling to Hadleyville on the noon train. Three fellow outlaws are waiting for him at the station, and other malefactors are celebrating in the local saloon.
The town’s new marshal has not arrived, and so Kane decides to stay. He asks for help, and is turned down by everyone: the judge who sentenced Miller to hang, Kane’s deputy lawman, the former town marshal, Kane’s best friend, the mayor, the congregants at the town church and even Kane’s new wife, who says she’s leaving on the train, with or without him.
Kane finally recruits one man to help, but even he backs out as Miller’s train approaches and Kane is writing his will in the marshal’s office.
When the train arrives, Kane stands alone on Hadleyville’s empty main street to face his enemies and protect the town. He succeeds, aided only by his new wife, who has changed her mind.
The movie ends with townspeople gathering to thank Kane and praise him. Disgusted, he drops his badge on the ground; he and his wife leave Hadleyville forever.
Then and Now
This is a classic film, but it has become an artifact from history. We’re more cynical now, and we have developed an appetite for Tarantino-style battles among assorted bad guys. We have superhero movies that derive their conflict from two-dimensional characters in old comic books. We have online “communities” where people never meet each other as human beings.
The effects of these changes become more obvious with time.
What we don’t see much and certainly have not observed in the last month or so is a single prominent person who has confronted run-of-the-mill everyday evil, no matter the personal cost.
Harvey Weinstein, et al
This is a man who has done terrible things for more than 30 years. He also is rich, influential in a self-regarding community and a lavish funder of that community’s favorite pet projects.
His life is coming apart now, and there is no reason to feel sympathy for him or triumphal about his downfall. What he leaves behind is the recognition that there are many others like him — people, mostly men, who will do any rotten thing they can get away with and who will bully and attack anyone who tries to stop them.
We have police forces to keep a lid on the most obvious public outrages, but the mundane bad guys are more often encountered in day-to-day interactions. The only deterrents to these are people who practice good values and raise honorable children. Without them, we get schoolhouse bullies, scary neighborhoods and workplace squalor.
Cases like Weinstein’s fester when people lack the courage to speak the truth, which in fact is much easier than being a single lawman facing a squad of armed bad guys. We used to watch movies like “High Noon” for a reason.
There seems to have been no Weinstein Company executive, no co-producer, no director and no talent agent who knew the “open secret” about Harvey Weinstein’s piggery and stopped dealing with the man because of it. (I hold out hope that there was at least one executive assistant in the organization who, after escorting a third ingenue to meet bathrobe-clad Harvey in his hotel suite, protested loudly and then quit in protest.)
There apparently was not a single actress or model who called the police to report that Harvey Weinstein had raped her. Not one of them seems to have said, “Nope, I’m not signing a non-disclosure agreement even if it means I don’t get my six-figure settlement money.”
Many have explained to us that they believed they had to put up with Weinstein because their careers were at stake, but still: These people’s voices, in aggregate, could have stopped his abuses many years ago.
Now that the danger has passed, the female claimants and their male enablers are singing like songbirds. Many, many other people are stepping up to say that they too have been abused by other famous men. They are being lauded as victims.
I do feel sorrow when people have been victimized, but I’m getting a little tired of being expected to regard victims as the noblest persons among us all.
(This reached its grotesque apex for me a couple weeks ago when a bunch of new self-styled victims staged a White Lives Matter rally outside Nashville. My only consolations were that they were vastly outnumbered by counter-demonstraters and also by religious opponents who participated in prayer vigils in churches across the region.)
When did we last admire a person for doing the right thing, even when it involved personal cost? Except for the occasional Tom Hanks nice-guy movie, I can’t think of much in popular entertainment.
The country could use an outbreak of good character right now. Maybe we all should stream “High Noon” at home tonight on our big-screen televisions.