There’s a scene in an old Gene Autry movie (well duh, all of them are old) in which the star and his sidekick swagger up to a bar.
“What’ll it be, strangers?” the bartender asks.
“I’d like a glass of milk,” Autry’s buddy says.
Seeing a startled bartender, Autry goes into damage control: “Aw, he’s always kidding. We’ll drink whiskey straight and wash it down with lye.”
It was commonplace at that time to portray heroes as perfect human beings, and while the script called for the cowboy to visit a bar, the scenario had to be Autry only joking about drinking alcohol. He was a wholesome character and milked it for all it was worth. (Kind of like Bill Cosby but we won’t talk about that.)
So how did we get from there to here, where so many of our current heroes are drug addicts and sex perverts, and in many cases both. Too often we elect them to public office. It’s been said but I like the saying so I’ll repeat it, that more Americans have been married to Kim Kardashian than died from Ebola.
That statement suggests two thoughts: One is how media tend to predict the sky is falling whether or not it is. The second is the sad reality that a person like Kardashian can exist in our approval when there appears to be nothing in her life that deserves approval. So why is she so popular among millions of people who seem not to give a damn whom they worship? But wait, there’s more. In a moment.
I have a friend who has no teeth, never cuts his hair and rarely bathes. I hasten to add that we aren’t close friends. Anyway, his real name is Ralph but we’ll call him Joe. Joe sports tattoos all over his body. There’s no room left for any more and that I’m sure is a disappointment to Joe. For all I know he has tattoos on his butt but I haven’t asked about that and don’t intend to because he may say yes. I wonder sometimes why he bought so many tattoos when some of that money would have been better used fixing his teeth, or at least getting a haircut. Joe goes through life without teeth, tattoos apparently being more important. I’ll bet he thinks about that every time he eats a Big Mac. Joe is a nice guy but some of the choices he makes are suspect, at least they strike me that way.
So, what’s the point? Well, it seems to me that a lot of people want to shock us and will go to great lengths to do it, no matter the cost. The days of Gene Autry are fading into the sunset. Quickly now to the NFL, or is it the NBA, or does it matter?
When people are on top of the world, making millions of dollars for throwing a ball around, no one cares about their literacy or morality. They’re heroes because they can throw a ball around. But for some, thank God not all, that isn’t enough. They defy good sense in all other aspects of their life. They crave even more attention, of any kind as long as it’s attention. They — hell, you know what they do. Even though they know that kids idolize them they see no responsibility in that.
I like sports. I am an occasional if not faithful watcher of the NFL, the NBA, and every now and then a baseball game. Sometimes if I really don’t care which team wins, I’ll pull for the team populated by the fewest known jerks. Hey wait a minute. Didn’t Gene Autry own a football team? Yes, I think he did. No, I got that wrong. It was a baseball team. The California Angels, I think. But even Autry, the straight-shooting American hero, had something to hide: His name wasn’t Gene Autry. It was Orvon Grover Autry. But I don’t think we would have gone to see movies starring Orvon Grover Autry. Autry probably had other business he wasn’t proud of, but back then, private business was considered private. For all I know Orvon was a lush, but he didn’t make a show of it.
He washed it down with a glass of milk. S
Gene Cox is an author and inventor who recently retired from a 35-year career as a television anchor in Richmond. Connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @genecoxrva.