Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Straight Shootin'

In one of my dreams I was shooting at desperadoes from the window of a train. I don't believe I hit any of them; one never does.

It's something that annoys me in westerns- how the hero manages to pull off amazing feats of marksmanship with the not particularly accurate firearms of his day. I lost all interest in Winchester 73 after the scene in which Jimmy Stewart pings a silver dollar around the sky with the eponymous firearm. I'm told it's a good film; I just couldn't believe in it any more.

OK, maybe circus artists like Annie Oakley could pull off that kind of stunt but I don't believe your average dusty-chapped saddle-tramp would have managed it, no matter how brave and incorruptible he was.

The marksmanship equalling virtue thing isn't a new trope. A few weeks back I made a valiant attempt to read a novel by Walter Scott- the hero of which is a boringly virtuous chappie who is introduced to us as hitting a far-off mark with a 17th century carbine from the back of a galloping horse. O come off it! I know Sir Walter is a figure of towering importance in the history of the novel but I've made several attempts to read him as an adult and I'm sorry, but I just can't...

And of course the trope goes back and back and back. Ever since we started waging war we've liked to tell ourselves that martial prowess equals virtue. It underpins the narrative of self-deception we call chivalry. I give you Robin Hood. I give you Sir Galahad- who- according to Tennyson- declares, "my good sword cleaves the casques of men because my heart is pure". It began with Gilgamesh and it continues to bedevil us today. What are the NRA but a bunch of men who watched Winchester 73 and thought they'd seen the light?
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