I hate John Wayne. Actually, that's not quite fair, considering that I never met the man. And for that matter, I can't say that I've even read any interviews with him or done any real in-depth research on him. But the characters he's known for playing and what he represents in popular culture, yeah, I hate that.
My reasons for this should be fairly obvious to any one who has been paying attention while reading my rants (or looking at anything else on this site, for that matter). Simply put, John Wayne is about as non villainesque as you can get (note: from this point on, when I say "John Wayne", I'm not referring to Marion Morrison, the actor; I'm talking about his alter ego, the iconic character and everything which he symbolizes). However, my dislike of Wayne is not due to the fact that he is considered a heroic icon, but rather that I naturally despise many of the standards and tendencies that seem to cause one to be labeled as "heroic". This inclination is one reason why I consider myself a villain, and why I know that individuals like Wayne and I would not get along at all if we were to actually meet in reality. He's too strict, too humorless, takes himself way too seriously and does not seem to be very creative at all. There's nothing sneaky about him, and he's very keen on doing things by-the-book. To summarize, my biggest complaint is that, although he's not portrayed as being particularly stupid, he is not a very intelligent or flexible character either. And despite his concern for right and wrong, he seems to lack any decent level of sensitivity or understanding. I think it's safe to say that The Duke is not a particularly insightful individual.
Characters like John Wayne have had a profound impact on how we think about cowboys; in many ways the ideas have become inseparable. Aside from the fact that Wayne and his fellow cowboy archetypes are on the opposite end of the personality spectrum from dark intellectuals (the not so subtle connotation behind the name "Twisted Jenius"), there is another reason why I dislike the iconic cowboy. These simple minded, straight shooting, all too rugged, no nonsense idols are symbolic of the virtues of the common man (and you know how I hate that). Although, they have become mythic heroes in present culture, cowboys are, in essence, glorified manual laborers. And this is just what many people like about them. They possess slightly exaggerated versions of the attributes which the common man holds dear. The same attributes which many working Joe's possess (though maybe not at the same level of quality) and the standards and anti Darwinist principles which help keep the common man alive.
Another good example of this hero/ Joe citizen connection is Superman. He's an individual who relies primarily on physical prowess, protects the weak, has a very strict moral code, fights for truth, justice and the "American way" (gag!) and who constantly puts his well being and personal best interest in jeopardy to serve others. Now, compare that to a character like Lex Luther, who is much more offensive, possesses a superior intellect, has very few scruples and is always sure to look out for number one. Heroes, by their very nature, are constantly on the defensive, trying to thwart the schemes of the "evil doers" and fight to merely maintain a sense of safety and stability. In a way, this has some symbolic parallels with the average Joe who can "never seem to get a head" and who "can barely make ends meet". Basically, heroes survive, and villains try to excel. Even in the cowboy days, intelligence was more profitable than physical prowess. This is why the big (economically) powerful villain or mastermind is often seen as trying to trample the "little guy". And just like in many old western movies, the defenders of mediocrity, lacking any real intellectual, social or financial power, must resort using their physical abilities and sheer numbers against this villainous threat. The only thing more despicable and useless then a super hero, is a working class one.
Although I realize there is something to be said for physical prowess as well as various other abilities (and I do applaud any form of exceptional ability), as humans, physical power is not what has gotten us this far, and is insignificant compared to that of many other types of animals which inhabit this planet. If there is a defining ability of the human species, it must be intelligence. So, by that logic, intelligence might be used to gauge the inherent superiority (or lack thereof) of any individual. Even social standards seem to reflect this view ("thinking" type jobs often pay better then manual labor). For those who do not have much intellectual ability, or hope for rising above where they are, it's easy to demonize more capable individuals who have power over them and choose to exploit it; while exalting others who have more in common with them. The working class hero's weaknesses really bleed through when one considers the fact that they are "working class".
As a villain, I have to tip my hat to the robber baron industrialists whose time was toward the end of the heyday of the American cowboy (and whose railroads were responsible for ending that heyday, hehehe). When I worked at the zoo, I witnessed several conversations between my coworkers as they dwelled on the obscene wealth of Bill Gates. I imagine such conversations go on in workplaces all over the country. I can't say that I blame them for being jealous, but what I find really amusing is the idea that cowboys may have had similar conversations about the robber barons of their time. Considering the fact that cowboys made considerably less than most employees do now and that their work environments were almost certainly more dangerous and uncomfortable, this must have been very discouraging for them indeed. We must also remember that many of these robber barons had significantly greater wealth for their time. At one point, John D. Rockefeller owned about one percent of all of the money in the United States. One percent! Bill Gates never even owned 1% of 1% of all the money in the U.S.! Say what you like about their tactics and ethics, but who could deny such an impressive feat. Even the devil himself would have trouble pulling that off! I can't help but wonder whether those old time cowpokes bitched about their lot as much as the contemporary working class does today. I'd like to think so; it's a delightfully disheartening and ignoble image, for the heroes of the old west.
One thing that I must give the image of the cowboy credit for is the notion of self reliance and independence. Though, there are other archetypes which also embody these virtues (such as many villains, for instance) and don't possess those other, more undesirable traits. So, let us raise our glasses to the intellectuals, the manipulators, the engineers, writers, scientist, artists and megalomaniacs everywhere. To the innovators and the freaks, and all those daring, selfish or just plain strange enough to ignore the rules of how things are supposed to be done and whose actions create real, dramatic change in the world; for good or ill. Suffice it to say, the kinds of individuals that I choose to give my respect to, aren't content to spend their lives driving cattle.