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Hatfields & McCoys & Democrats & Republicans

 

The History Channel mini-series “Hatfields & McCoys” reminded me of Clint Eastwood’s “The Unforgiven.” Both productions showed a lot of violence in all its fascination while making it squalid, absurd, arbitrary and devastating to the victims and everyone around the victims. Both productions take as their theme men creating theaters of heroism for themselves out of their own hatred and sense of honor. Both productions show the theaters crumbling in the end as the violence becomes too stupid and meaningless even for the prime agents to continue.

“Hatfields & McCoys” also reminded me of football. You’ve got two well-defined teams who place group loyalty above all other values, even as they claim the ethics of Christianity, which does not place group loyalty above all other values. So there is no substantive moral difference between the Hatfields and McCoys any more than there is a substantive moral difference between the Minnesota Vikings and the Arizona Cardinals. The only reason to join or root for one side over the other is because it makes you feel good to be part of something bigger than yourself. That’s attractive, and indeed the series attracted huge numbers of viewers. “Hatfields & McCoys” is reported to be the second biggest non-sports event on basic cable ever with over 13 million viewers.

I myself sat through all three two-hour segments, even though that meant watching about 20 commercials for every sordid killing. It’s hard keeping your head in a 19th century family feud when somebody is touting car insurance or credit cards every eight minutes, just as it is hard to keep your head in the game when someone is touting car insurance or credit cards with every change of possession.

Does the United States make anything besides car insurance and credit cards?

What if Shakespeare was interrupted by a talking lizard every eight minutes?

“Hatfields & McCoys” reminded me not only of football but of Democrats & Republicans, who also have very little substantive moral difference and a need to believe that there is a substantive moral difference, or else no one would pay attention to them.

The patriarch of the McCoys (Bill Paxton) looked to Christianity for justice and predictably descended into nihilistic alcoholism and madness, ultimately dying in a house fire of his own making. He seemed like a parable for the Tea Party. The patriarch of the Hatfields (Kevin Costner) looked to Christianity for forgiveness. He ended up a sadder but wiser old man in the tradition of Jimmy Carter and Al Gore who improved on morally substantive issues immediately upon leaving power.
Johnse Hatfield, circa 1882 and 2012, hated by both sidesJohnse Hatfield, circa 1882 and 2012, hated by both sides

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