Monday, May 9, 2011

Fear of a White Hat

Good guys wear white hats, bad guys wear black hats.  Simple, formulaic, and true.  Like a passion play, or Commedia dell'arte, traditional westerns lay out a clear formula for us to follow and from which to learn.  Take Winchester ’73- Jimmy Stewart white hat clearly marks him as different from the villain, setting us up for the great moral lesson of the film: knowing when not to shoot is as important as knowing how to shoot.

For a long time we have distrusted the white hat hero.  The good, pure(ish) cowboy, paladin, or caped crusader felt insufficient in the complexities of modern life.  The black hat anti-hero and masked vigilantes have ruled comics for decades.  Almost a decade ago we looked for a hero, and a cowboy with a white hat came riding out of Texas to show us what was right and true.  But he was only human, and flawed, and we expected better of him.  It has taken us a long time to trust a white hat again. 

I think that we are coming back to a place where we can start to trust the white hats again.  The latest incarnation of the Rawhide Kid is without a doubt a white hat- a solid, morally upright paladin of the plains, if also incredibly conceited and self centered.  The Lone Ranger run in Dynamite may stray into a dark territory now and again, but overall the tone of the story is that of a man trying to do good from outside of the law.  They exist in a time when the traditional comics heroes are starting to shine again.  After decades of bloodbaths and superheroic nihilism, there is suddenly room for heroes again.

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