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Critical Thinking: 6 Degrees Of Gene Hackman

“Today’s question, M.”

“I’m all ears.”

“How do get from Gene Hackman to hating on John Wayne?”

“Uhhh… They’re both old act—”

“The correct answer is via Wes Anderson, of course.”

“Huh. Would not have guessed that in a—”

“I know, right. So I was watching The Royal Tenenbaums a couple nights ago.”


“Well, one, Gene Hackman was my dad’s favourite modern actor.”

Modern actor?”

“My dad’s old, M! Old enough to be dead in fact.”

“Aren’t we all. All of us dying the moment—”

“Spare us, Nietzsche.”

“That how you pronounce it?”

“As far as my dad was concerned, nobody could ever top Jimmy Stewart but Hackman rose to a certain elevated esteem in his view. ‘Nothin’ fancy’, dad would say.”

“Just like that? ‘Nothin’ fancy’. All growly-like.”

“Just like that. ‘Nothin’ fancy, Em’. Like they’re not even tryin’. Like they’re not even in a movie, right?”

“Jimmy Stewart and—

“Gene Hackman, yeah. ‘Workin’ stiff types. Like anybody could do it’.”

“OK. I can see that.”

“And two, every now and then I feel like I have to rewatch some Wes Anderson to see if I should really spend time watching Wes Anderson.”

“Right. So you watch Wes Anderson, rewatch Wes Anderson to see—”

“It doesn’t have to make sense, M.”

“OK, good. And so what was the verdict after The Tenenbaums? Worth your time and effort?”

“Well, his first big splashes in the deep end? After Bottlerocket and Rushmore? The Tenenbaums, The Life Acquatic and The Darjeeling Ltd.? M’eh. If I never watched any of them again I would not die unhappy. Moonlight Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel? Love them. Isle of Dogs and Fantastic Mr. Fox? The best. The French Dispatch? A step back into the not enjoyable enough to be that inconsequential.”

“Woah. Précis, m’moiselle.”

“It’s what I do. The point here, though, isn’t Wes Anderson, not The Royal Tenenbaums or even Gene Hackman. At least not directly.”

“Right. You mentioned John Wayne. Hating on the Duke”

“While I’m watching The Tenenbaums, as I’m want to do when I get a little bored, I check out the actors’ bio and stuff.”

“To pass the time.”

“To pass the time. I didn’t even know if Gene Hackman was still alive!”

“Is he?”

“Yes, he is, M. In his 90s. And did you know that Gene Hackman is also a novelist?”

“I did not know that, no.”

“Neither did I. Turns out, he is.”

“What has he writ—”

“Doesn’t matter. We’ve moved on from Gene Hackman for the moment. So, when I Google him, one of the first links that come up is a blurb from John Wayne’s daughter who said that her dad didn’t much care for Gene Hackman.”

“Is that right?”


“Did she say why?”

“She wasn’t sure, according to the article.”

“Huh. Maybe it was because people called Gene Hackman the thinking man’s John Wayne.”

“Did they?”

“I don’t know. Wouldn’t it be fun if they did?”

“A barrel of laughs. After a little more searching, it turns out John Wayne had beefs with a lot of people.”

“Communists. War protesters. People who insisted on calling him ‘Marion’.”

“Sinatra. Eastwood. Montgomery Clift.”

“Sacheen Littlefeather.”

“A hard-to-verify contested confrontation, let the record show.”

“Is that so?”

“There is no official record. Only hearsay.”

“That’s too bad.”

“All of it, pretty much Hollywood gossip fodder. Ho-hum. Whatever, right? Until, that is, I come across an unearthed Playboy interview John Wayne did in 1971. Popped up again in 2019.”

“Huh. And?”

“All I can say, M, is, jesus fucking christ, right? I had to double check to make sure the thing was real. It didn’t seem possible.”

“That good and juicy, eh?”

“John Wayne, as the prototypical man of his time, pretty much helped to define the myth that was America, wouldn’t you say?”

“The cowboy. The swagger. The easy-to-provoke bellicosity.”

“Crazy-assed racist and homophobe. An historical ignoramus. Not a lick of self-awareness or iota of self-doubt… Sure, I did some dumb stuff but it was all just fun and games. Never hurt nobody… unlike these damn kids today…”

“… Hmmm. That you trying to do a John Wayne impersonation, M?”

“C’mon, pilgrim. Who else would it be?”

“But none of this can come as much of a surprise to you though, Em.”

“Motherfuck him and John Wayne!”

“Right, Flava Flav? And now you’re like all cancel culture? Tearing down the statues and monuments? Rename the airport—There’s a John Wayne airport somewhere, isn’t there?”

“In the OC, apparently.”

“Remove his films from the Criterion Collection?”

“Look. I don’t know… that’s… whatever. Who knows? But let me just say this. John Wayne’s America, the one he starred in, the one the studios put out there and profited from, the one he still believed in and believed to be true until his dying days, serves as the foundational history that is proving to be painfully difficult to dislodge, the patriotic song that’s sung from the hymnbook, words and music immutable.”


“And all the piddly revisionism that happened later, Red River, maybe, The Searchers for sure, just nibbled at the edges of the established myth. In the end, doesn’t make a lick of difference to the canon or to the way of thinking that conservatives like Wayne indulged in. He, and red America, believed in his own legend, and couldn’t be convinced otherwise. Which, if it all died with him, dead and buried, right when the body started to get cold in 1979, fine, whatever. A cinematic footnote.”

“I sense a but coming here, Em.”

“But… the sentiments John Wayne expressed in that interview in the early 1970s? They would not be out of place coming from the mouths of today’s conservatives and Republicans. More than 50 years on. That’s two generations on, M!”

“John Wayne was considered a reactionary back then. What do we call the people spouting the same nonsense now?”

“Oh, there’s a word for it. And let me take it a step further here, M, and tell you that there’s a straight line from John Wayne to Andrew Tate. What do you think about them apples?”

“I think that if it wasn’t just the two of us here, talking to each other, if we had any sort of audience following along, our phone lines would be lighting up right now, an internet posse of man-babies would be already targeting you with a campaign of harassment, Em. Is what I think.”

“Well, good thing it’s just the two of us talking here then.”


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