Orville Taylor | Shane: The real movie
He rode into the wild western town, a quiet character with a shadow of mystery. The town badly needed a hero. Its townsfolk were under pressure from a tyrannical set of thugs, and the sharecroppers were fighting to hold on to their land and dignity. This stranger fit the part, he was not rough and tumble, and when he entered the saloon, he opted for the soft drink instead of whisky. Sneers from detractors surrounding this 'alien' even led to a provocation and a physical encounter.
His name was Shane. He didn't look the part but he was amazing with the gun, a charmer and fearless. On his shoulders rested the hope of the community. As fate would have it, he faced down the opposition and ... .
This is loosely the plot from the 1949 novel Shane, written by Jack Schaefer, and which was made into a blockbuster movie in 1953. It was a film which was still being shown in the 1970s when we as teenagers were made to feel proud of our Jamaican identity. In fact, I read the original text along with multiple Louis L'Amour books and the series by George G. Gilman called Edge. The protagonist in the latter was a deadly loner, born Josiah Hedges. In the 1970s, we adored the gunman cowboy from the Wild West. Ask the entertainer called Josey Wales, Lone Ranger and the retired police officer monikered Trinity, where the names came from.
NATIONALISM WAS INFECTIOUS
The '70s was a decade of contradictions. On the one hand we embraced the film and text heroes but at the same time, we were marking our cultural and national borders. It was a year or so after the 1976 general election and the People's National Party (PNP) had won a resounding victory. Nationalism was infectious. Even among the neutral, non-partisan youth like myself, Africanism and Jamaicanism were growing. There was the still popular song My Leader Born Ya by Neville Martin ringing the airwaves. For my partisan friends, it was a rallying point. However, even as a teenager I disliked it because I thought that it was discriminatory.
After all, I was attending a high school with more than half of the faculty being expatriates, many of whom had lived here most of their adult lives. They had given yeoman service and the reverend Jesuit gentlemen had taken vows of poverty, earning and owning nothing for their labour.
The early PNP was not big on the place of birth issue. After all, several prominent Jamaicans, such as George Headley and the party's own Dudley Thompson, one of the three most influential Jamaicans in the pan-African struggle, were born in Panama.
By the late 1970s when a Canadian with Caribbean roots was born, Michael Manley, the less elitist leader of the party and son of Norman, had initiated myriad cultural programmes and institutes. Wearing the Afro was fashionable, the dashiki was in, Jamaican arts and culture were on television weekly, and even the Pope's school, St George's College, my alma mater, accommodated a vibrant African Studies club.
'NO BORN YA' CARD
By the 1990s, the party had evolved to have less interest in persons' birthplaces. Helped by the unpopularity of Edward Seaga, the leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), the PNP could pull the 'no born ya' card, given that Eddie was American by birth but gave up his citizenship to be Jamaican and serve Jamaica. Hate or love him, it for me is still very admirable. Even people who do not like Labourites respect him for that.
In the nicknamed 'buy' election in South Eastern St Mary, the young Canadian had aspirations of running for the PNP and representing the people. Somehow, it came to the public fore that he was not a Jamaican citizen. True, there is no requirement in law that he should be a Jamaican, but unless someone is reserving brain capacity for use later in life, it must have occurred to the tribalist members of the party that it could have caused an electile difficulty for the young doctor.
Shane was no western hero. This was reality and his party had failed to guide him or itself properly. There was no victory to be gained for the stranger who rode into town. All 7,230 Comrades voted for him, just 94 fewer than those who voted for Winston Green last year. It was a self-delusion of the party. Around 1,000 more voters turned out to vote, whether bought, induced or simply outraged. For the party to have won, it would have had to have found more than 700 more voters than ever voted for the PNP in that constituency and from the same voters' list. The Labourites found them.
- Dr Orville Taylor, senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host, is the author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and tayloronblackline