Independence Day: Characters Count
The fourth of July has become somewhat of a bittersweet holiday for me. Although the birth of our nation was founded on inclusive, democratic ideals, the current climate of the American political system can be, well, downright depressing. Although I want to show patriotism for my country on the day of its birth, how can I celebrate the spirit of America when those in the public sphere are not exhibiting it themselves? Well, I’ll tell you how: through the movies. Yes, there are certain classic film characters that have stuck out in my mind as embodying the true sprit of America. Armed with integrity, a strong sense of democracy and a tenacious, spunky attitude, the following three classic movie characters all represent the best this young nation has to offer.
At the start of the film, to call Jefferson Smith naive is to call the kettle black. Of course he’s naive — that’s why he was chosen, so to speak. He so genuinely believed in the American Spirit, in the American Way, that it never even crossed his mind that the government, let alone a trusted friend and politician, could be rife with greed and corruption. His disillusionment is something that, in my opinion, every observant, patriotic American citizen will one day endure. I only hope that we can all endure while exhibiting the same dignity and integrity as Jefferson Smith.
Much like the forefathers of the United States, Jefferson would not sit idly by and watch as corruption and lies ruled the American (or in the forefathers’ case, Colonial) landscape. To be honest and loyal to the people of a government — and not simply to the government itself — was of the upmost importance. So what did Mr. Smith do? Well, he fought for what he thought was right. He stood up to the government in its own building, surrounded by those whose only wish was to see him fail, and through the discourse of the American Spirit, reminded the most corrupt of the American people (the politicians), the meaning of what it is to be American.
“There’s no place out there for graft, or greed, or lies, or compromise with human liberties. And, uh, if that’s what the grownups have done with this world that was given to them, then we’d better get those boys’ camps started fast and see what the kids can do. And it’s not too late, because this country is bigger than the Taylors, or you, or me, or anything else. Great principles don’t get lost once they come to light. They’re right here; you just have to see them again!”
To me, Atticus Finch (just like Gregory Peck) is seemingly too perfect to be true. Intelligent, compassionate, and oh-so gosh darned good looking, I can only wish a man that perfect, that dignified, could really exist. But, as of now, I am willing to accept him for what he is: a representation of American Ethics.
What always stuck about Atticus was not simply the fact that he was willing to defend Tom Robinson, but rather, what the trial as a whole symbolized to him. The trial was not simply a job; the fate of a single man in a racist, small town. For Atticus, the case represented something more. He was not just fighting for the innocence of an individual; he was battling the precedent of an unfair, unjust legal system. He was fighting for the American people and arguing for the responsibility each American has for his fellow man. And even if the battle was uphill, even if failure was imminent, and we all know it was, that was not the point. The point was to do what was right; to work towards equality and democracy even if the outcome is already prescribed.
“In our courts, all men are created equal. I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and of our jury system – that’s no ideal to me. That is a living, working reality! Now I am confident that you gentlemen will review, without passion, the evidence that you have heard, come to a decision and restore this man to his family. In the name of GOD, do your duty.”
Stubborn, crass, with a great capacity for learning, Billie Dawn’s narrative arch is not unlike that of the United States. Kept as a prize by a larger domineering entity, the only thing the United States and Billie Dawn needed was a little education and a little push to break away from their oppressors.
The reason I chose Billie Dawn to represent American Tenacity, as opposed to another, how shall we say, more couth character, is because America isn’t always very couth — and I don’t consider that a bad thing. Billie is rough, Billie is tough, but most of all, when given a fair chance, Billie is smart. Her hard edge and simple disposition may fool those around her, but deep down, Billie is as capable of learning the highest concept of the American Ideals as any Harvard Graduate. And once she became aware of her own power, nothing could stop her.
“Because when ya steal from the government, you’re stealing from yourself, ya dumb ass.”
Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub