Friday, November 12, 2010

What I watched last night: Walking Tall (1973)

Thursday, November 11, 2010 12:11 PM

Last night, Olivia and I watched Walking Tall , the semi biographical film about Tennessee's Sheriff Buford Pusser. Even though I had never seen the film, I have vivid memories of it . It played on television on a Sunday night and was all everyone talked about about at school the next day .
Let me clarify, everyone in 4 th grade got to watch it, except me. When I saw it in a newsgroup last night, I thought now is my chance. I could remember the enthusiasm my 9 year old peers brought to the critical discussion at lunch that Monday; they were all impressed by the car chases, fighting, and Joe Don Baker's (as Sheriff Buford Pusser) use of a big stick to mete out justice to the bad guys.
Were I able to travel back in time to the lunchroom of Pleasant Street Elementary School in 1974, I might have pointed out that what was dished out in had more to do with revenge and vigilantism than justice. Wikipedia defines a vigilante as
someone who illegally punishes someone for actual or perceived offenses, or participates in a group which metes out extralegal   punishment   to such a person. Often the victims are criminals in the legal sense, however a vigilante may follow a different definition of criminal than the local law. (italics mine)

And that was how Buford Pusser found solutions to his problems with organized crime and corruption in Mcnairy County, Tennessee. After retiring from his career as a professional wrestler, he returned to his parent's home, and quickly ran afoul of the local crime syndicate. This began an increasingly violent series of confrontations between Pusser and the gang of criminals. When he was arrested and put on trial, he realized that the local law officials were corrupt and he was on his own.

Even after being elected sheriff, Pusser's attempts to end the illegal gambling, moonshining and prostitution failed. He was critically wounded and his wife was killed in a gun battle.  After he funeral, he took the law into his own hands, and crashed his car into the criminal's hangout, killing two men. The towns people arrived and made a bonfire out of the wreckage, pledging their fealty to Sheriff Pusser and his individual code of law.

As Pusser, Joe Don Baker delivers a perfect two-tone performance; either dewy-eyed sentimental or red-faced indignation. There are no gray areas in between the two. This polar opposite, world view can create an ugly frame of mind, where one's personal frustration level dictates right and wrong. If Pusser had continued to seek legal redress, he may have saved his family from harm. At the very least, he would have avoided committing murder himself.

Parents and schools strive to educate children from the harmful effects of acting out while angry, that violence is seldom the solution to problems. But as a nation, when we lapse into bouts of fist pumping jingoism against perceived enemies, we run the risk of doing the same and subverting our established legal system, thereby becoming criminals ourselves.

Friday, November 12, 2010 07:47 PM

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