Posted on February 19, 2019

John Wayne Has Been Dead for 40 Years. Maybe Focus Your Ire Elsewhere

Madeline Fry, Washington Examiner, February 19, 2019

On Sunday night, someone posted screenshots of offensive comments that John Wayne made in a 1971 Playboy interview. People who had previously been going about their lives not caring about retrogressive ideas expressed decades ago were suddenly outraged, and the material was shared and liked more than 20,000 times.

Liberals and conservatives all reacted predictably. Some on the Left called Wayne racist, the “worst human,” and “rotten.” On the Right, people excused Wayne as simply reflecting the prejudices of his time.

Some of Wayne’s comments were typical of mid-20th-century, anti-communist conservatism. Subsidies and socialism abuse tax dollars. Hollywood shouldn’t try to meet diversity quotas. The U.S. should remain in the Vietnam War.

Others were typical, not necessarily of the Republican Party he supported, but of the right-wing reactionism he also maintained. If white settlers had driven Indians from their land, the Native Americans were “selfishly” trying to keep it for themselves. Sex should be in movies, but not homosexuality. And certainly the worst of it has to be this: “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility.”

{snip} But unless your entire point is to upset people, why would anyone waste their energy slamming a long-dead actor for reciting old prejudices?


There is no statute of limitations on bad ideas, but there may be an expiration date on the value of discussing them. And there must be limits on the ex post facto condemnation of attitudes that were once commonplace. In death, Wayne can become one-dimensional enough to serve as an easy target, instead of people who are still alive and making decisions and spreading their ideas — modern-day losers like Virginia politicians or anti-Semitic congresswomen.