DUFF HALE: Where have all the westerns gone?

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Someone once called television “a vast wasteland.” They were, in my opinion, right on point.

Just watching commercials for upcoming shows illustrates how far down TV has come in the past few years. We now have a choice between “Beat Shazam,” “Big Brother,” “Survivor,” “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Superhuman,” or probably the most disgusting of all, “Modern Family.” Oh, and I guess we shouldn’t forget “Love Connection,” or “The Bachelor.”

Are there any lessons to be gleaned from the current crop of sewage on TV? Yep. Lust is a good thing, infidelity and homosexuality are OK since everyone does it, corporations are bad and pollute everything, lawyers and their devious tricks to win cases and turn the bad guys loose are really the good guys. Well, anyway, TV lawyers never represent anyone who is guilty to begin with. Without sex or sexual innuendo, today’s TV offerings would be without a theme. No show exemplified that better than “Friends.” There would have been no plot or no comedy if it were not for sex or sleeping around.

Now for my confession: I don’t watch much TV. I miss westerns. I long for the return of the cowboy. No one summed up the emotion, hostility, prospects, and fantasy of American independence better than the cowboy. They represented the rugged individualism and spirit of our American people better than anyone on “The Big Bang Theory” could ever dream of.

I am a Western-genre junkie and feel compelled to tell succeeding generations of the importance of these figures. You see, I grew up on Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Lash Larue, Rocky Lane, Rex Allen, Hopalong Cassidy, Red Ryder, “The Cisco Kid,” “Tales of Wells Fargo,” “The Virginian,” “Death Valley Days,” “Bonanza,” “TheLone Ranger,” “Gunsmoke” and so many more. These people were the Old West for me as a youngster. And, after that I wanted to learn the real history of the West, yep warts and all.

Now, that’s not to say there aren’t any decent shows today. I think “NCIS” is very good along with “NCIS New Orleans.” Also “Blue Bloods.” But, give me, for instance, “The Rifleman” starring Chuck Conners. Here was a man, a widower, raising his son by himself and trying to teach him not only violence was a last resort but also that you had to stand up for yourself. Many lessons such honesty, truthfulness and respect for others – especially women – were actually manly virtues.

Such shows as “Wagon Train,” “Gunsmoke” or “Rawhide” were very entertaining without being loaded with underlying themes. There was, however, always an underlying lesson to be learned and it usually involved a positive ideal. Again, honesty, integrity, and in some cases the virtue of self-preservation or self-defense.

One of the few great western character actors today is Tom Selleck. I watched “Monte Walsh” last night, and while it differs from the book by Jack Schaefer it still is a terrific show. He also plays in a Louis L’Amour story, “Crossfire Trail” and an Elmore Leonard story “Last Stand at Saber River.” Both are terrific movies.

Speaking of Jack Schaefer, I’m reading another of his books that was made into a movie: “Shane.” It’s a terrific story about a man who, against all odds, stands up for truth and a friend, and the movie sticks pretty close to it. One of the great lines in the movie is when Shane is teaching young Joey Starrett to shoot and Joey’s mother tells Shane she doesn’t want guns to be a part of her son’s life so Shane tells her, “A gun is a tool, Marian; no better or no worse than any other tool: an axe, a shovel or anything. A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it.” Just plain ol’ common sense it seems to me.

But, admittedly, my TV viewing habits might change if there were some good westerns on the “tube.” There will always be, on my part at least, a love of seeing the classic western hero, who by exhibiting great courage and competence, fights alone and leaves without riches or fame, with nothing but his honor.

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