Monday, December 16, 2013

The Lesson of Gene Autry

Gene Autry is a national icon. He rose from telegraph operator to Hollywood hero to owner of the Los Angeles Angels. He was known as a humble and decent man who made lifelong friends. He was a beloved hero to millions. He was also a solid conservative who supported Ike, Nixon, Goldwater and Reagan. Over the past few months, I’ve watched almost his entire film catalog and I’ve found many interesting lessons in these films. But there is one I want to talk about today.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Autry was a Top 10 Box Office star, and he remained super popular until his death. In fact, his popularity was astounding. What made Autry so popular? To put it simply, Gene Autry was essentially impossible to dislike because he came across as genuinely nice and he came across as someone who actually cared about everyone. Indeed, he always smiled, no matter what the circumstances. And he always remained relentlessly positive. Even when he faced the bad guy, he still smiled and chose to counter the villain’s conduct good-naturedly rather than with anger.

More importantly though, he cared about everyone. No issue was too small for him to want to help and there wasn’t anyone he was unwilling to help. In fact, in his films he rejects racism, classism and genderism. At one point, he created a Cowboy Code which he shared with tens of millions of kids and that code specifically said that a genuine cowboy “must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.” It also said that a genuine cowboy must “respect women,” may not take unfair advantage, must always tell the truth, must help people in distress, must be gentle with children, the elderly and animals, and must never go back on his word.

Right now, I can hear some people mocking him as “a Boy Scout,” but that says more about their cynicism than anything about Autry if they dislike people who display all the virtues we claim to prize.

Anyways, he was forgiving too and never acted in anger. Indeed, Autry never gave up trying to talk the villain out his plan because he wanted the best solution for everyone, not just victory. He would use violence sometimes, but only in genuine self-defense (not fake self-defense like modern heroes). Interestingly, he was also the kind of guy who would race to save a villain who had fallen over a cliff and would beat himself up for failing to save the villain from falling to his death.

Compare that with modern “heroes” who are cynical, nasty, and presume the worst. They only seem happy when they are kicking ass or killing bad guys. Autry never did that. Autry simply wanted to help people. He was the kind of guy who never failed to give the shirt off his back at the first sign of need. He never ridiculed anyone, never spoke ill of anyone, and never wished harm upon anyone... friend or foe. He had tremendous patience and was always willing to forgive. He was humble, honest, and he genuinely cared about everyone. This is what he projected on film and all indications are that this is who he really was.

Ok, so why am I telling you this? Because this is what made Autry irresistible to the American public. They loved him.

Now look at Ronald Reagan. How did Reagan come across to the public? He came across as humble and honest, and he genuinely seemed to care about everyone. He talked about making “all boats” rise, not just those of his friends, his donors, his voters, or people of a certain color or class. He spoke proudly of all Americans of any gender, race or religion. He never tried to section people off under the law and he never sold his policies as hurting or getting even with people he didn't like. He never ridiculed anyone, never spoke ill of anyone, and never wished harm upon anyone... friend or foe. Even as Tipp O’Neil and the MSM savaged him and tried to destroy him, Reagan kept his sunny disposition and treated them as friends.

And do you know what? The public loved him! He became the most loved politician this country has ever produced. Just think back to his funeral and you’ll see that. Think back to the hundreds of thousands of people who turned out to see his body, who lined the streets, and who openly cried that a man they hadn’t seen in 20 years had died. That is an amazing emotional connection, the same connection Autry achieved.

This is the lesson. It’s no secret how to be popular. When the public believes that you care about everyone equally, and that you do genuinely care and want to help people... when the public sees you as humble, honest, and decent... the public will love you. Ronald Reagan, just like Gene Autry, won over a massive majority of the public because the public knew that these were decent men who cared about everyone and wanted the best for everyone. That created the trust which caused the public to give Reagan a chance and to stick with him. If we want to regain the public’s trust, that is the course we need to take. It’s not about ideology, it’s about attitude.

To put a fine point on this: if conservatism wants to win back the public, it needs to learn to care about all Americans again, not just those it likes. Drop the anger, drop the exclusion, and drop the cynicism that is the essence of talk radio. Embrace America. Embrace Americans... every American. This is the greatest country on earth and her people are amazing. Give them the opportunities and trust them to excel. Be someone the public will love and respect and the public will love and respect you. It’s that simple. Remember this the next time a candidate tells you what his goals are.

35 comments:

Tennessee Jed said...

back in the saddle again!

Kit said...

AMEN!

Kit said...

Read his diary. You get a sense of the man's love for America and his desire to see every American, and everyone in the world, live free and happy lives.

Lives without fear of nuclear war or communist dictatorship.

Tennessee Jed said...

Although when I was old enough to watch t.v., Roy Rogers was THE man, I loved these guys including Gene. As kids in the 50's, we all wore those western shirts (back in style with geezer rockers like myself, and called Retro, today. ;) Not to many know that Gene was a flight officer in the AAF in WWII. He mostly did singing shows, but did fly a mission or two if memory serves.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I haven't seen Rogers's catalog yet,but it wouldn't surprise me if he was of a similar mold. So at this point, I can only speak for Autry. And in that regard, it's just amazing how compelling he is as a person, and this seems to be his "trick."

And as I note, he's not the only one. Look at Reagan and even others like Mandel, Gandhi, various Pope's. When people believe you genuinely want to help them, they will follow you anywhere.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, You mean Reagan?

Kit said...

Yeah, I mean Reagan. Sorry about that. :)

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, I've never read the whole thing, but that is the unmistakable impression you get from Reagan. He truly wanted a better world for everyone, and that made him irresistible even as the left did their best to smear him time and again.

AndrewPrice said...

BTW, Jed, Not only was Gene a flight officer, but he took dangerous duty -- he wasn't in the Hollywood Division. He was flying supplies over the Himalaya mountains into China ("the hump"). And that was apparently one of the most dangerous flying missions.

Patriot said...

Andrew....Was Autry the "singing cowboy?" I remember him as one of the many "cowboy" actors we heard about growing up. Autry, Roy Rogers, John Wayne, Gary Cooper, etc.

As far as "universally loved," I don't think anyone is, or ever was. I'm sure Autry had his detractors, just as anyone does. Not everyone loved Reagan. I agree that certain men profess their desire to help all mankind, but then it can devolve into something akin to what we have going on today with the narcissist we have in the White House. He's only doing whatever "to help those who can't help themselves."

Also, many talk radio hosts profess to want the best for ALL Americans, not just special groups. They too are loved and respected by many.

I just think we need to be careful in ascribing traits to actors and public figures that can be too good to be true. So, an actress who plays a sweet adorable Disney angel, in real life turns out to be a drunken, immoral bitch. I don't know if Autry was anything like he appears, though I like the fact that he was patriotic, brave and appears to have led a good, productive life.

That much should be wished for all of us, regardless of how the movie studios could make the talent appear on film. By their actions shall they be known...not their publicists.

With all that said, Autry was one of my favorite movie screen actors because of how he portrayed the characters he played on the screen.

tryanmax said...

This isn't meant as a counter, but think about how even Obama got elected. He fooled enough people into believing he cared about everyone and only those willing to dig a little deeper knew any better. In retrospect, I don't think there was any way Obama would not have been president. But it's the anger, exclusiveness, and cynicism of the right that got him his second term.

BevfromNYC said...

Patriot - I believe Autry lived as he was portrayed on the screen. He was genuinely a really nice and generous person. And he took that his image very seriously. Just like Rogers, Reagan, Stewart etc. That doesn't mean he was perfect. And if there ever was a person that would have an "expose" written about him if he WAS a son-of -a-bitch, it would be someone like Gene Autry.

BTW, if you are ever driving up I35 between Dallas and OKC, visit the Gene Autry Oklahoma Museum in Gene Autry, OK. HIs family had a ranch nearby.
Gene Autry OK Museum

AndrewPrice said...

Patriot, the key word is genuine. The talk radio guys, just like Obama will say, gee, I love everyone and turn around and spit out venom.

As for not everyone loving him, well obviously, there is nothing everyone loves. But so what? If 60% of the public loves you, then you're unbeatable. .. like Reagan. And right now with most leaders scoring a soft 30%, 60%would be amazing.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I agree. I've never seen anything bad about him and if there was, there would be books on it because that's the kind of cynical society we have.

I also agree about perfection. Nobody's perfect and demanding perfection is just an evasion to avoid the issue. The key is genuineness, and that is something you get with Autry and Reagan and Stewart and a select few more.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I don't think Obama ever got the public to think he cared about them. I think he told the public, I'm not like these other assh*les -- I'm moderate and something different. And that was enough given the current state of our politics.

Outlaw13 said...

I think the outlook and behavior you describe in your article is what everyone was supposed to try and do, at least when I was a child raised in Texas back in the late 60's early 70's...you were expected to emulate those ideals. This is what I was taught in school and at church. That's the real puzzle, what happen to that America?

Tennessee Jed said...

Outlaw 13 - it is very similar to "the golden rule," and the way most thinking conservatives were raised. What happened? In a word "entitlements." We had a long run of extreme national prosperity. But when you set public policy that requires no individual sense of responsibility, it changes the moral tenor of the populace.

Critch said...

Outlaw 13 hit it on the head...I had an AMMO Chief in the USAF who used to talk about the Cowboy Code and how it applied to us in everything we did. It's funny how people like Autry, Reagan, Robert E. Lee and many others are viewed...they were genuinely respected and liked by their peers, allies and enemies alike..that says a lot about a person.

EricP said...

Thanks for the reminder of what a phenomenal person Autry was, AP, and a big "Amen!" to what Outlaw said, too. The Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage has been in my backyard for almost 18 years, and haven't visited once. Really need to fix that.

AndrewPrice said...

Outlaw, That is a fine question. Judging by the way people who live by this code are idolized, I suspect that this is still the American ideal and people really do still yearn for people to be like this. But since so few are, I suspect that most people settle for "close enough." But when you see the real thing, you do see people get drawn to these people.

And I think you do still run into people like this all time and in different walks of life.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I think entitlements have hurt, I think an overly-intrusive legal system have hurt, I think the internet has put a premium on anger and rumor mongering. All of those things have hurt. But I do think that even though our culture tends to bounce along at lowest common denominator, the good people still cut through and become the ones we love. People love Gary Sinise, they laugh at Lindsey Lohan.

AndrewPrice said...

Critch, They were genuinely respected and liked by their peers, allies and enemies alike..that says a lot about a person.

Absolutely! And excellent addition of Robert E. Lee. He's another one who falls into this category.

AndrewPrice said...

Eric, You're welcome! And yeah, go check out that museum!

But even more importantly, keep this in mind that it's really not that hard to be like these guys. This is a lesson we should all learn. We know how to do it. We see the results in terms of happiness, success and respect. Why not? :)

Kit said...

As well as Washington and Lincoln.

Koshcat said...

People like Autry are around us all the time and typically they are the people who truly inspire you. Not with some speech but with every day activity and contact. I think people are looking for these traits when they are looking for leaders. I also think people were duped into believing Obama had it. I remembered listening to people at work, etc. who were inspired by Obama and I think they truly were. The problem is that Obama is a grifter. Talking with these people now, they are very conflicted. To admit they were conned is difficult because it makes them look and feel weak. Bluntly throwing in their face makes them react very negatively. Sort of like getting an alcoholic admit he has a problem. They need to come around to the truth that they were fooled. Hence, this is why I think you see so many lame excuses for Obama's failures. The most recent one I saw blamed the Sandy Hook massacre.

Unfortunately, I don't think what Autry or Reagan had can be learned. I think you either have it or you don't. It was easy for Gene because he had it; he wasn't trying to be the way he was. He just was.

In Ethology, there are four types of behavior in animals: Egoistic, Cooperative, Altruistic, Revengeful. Only the Cooperative behavior benefits bother the giver and receiver. Obama is revengeful which tends to weaken both. I think Bill Clinton may have been egoistic.

Think about the people or leaders in your life you really respected. After spending 10 minutes talking with them, you were ready to take a bullet for them. They were cooperative and you felt it. You didn't mind if your work benefited him because you did too.

tryanmax said...

Interesting bit about the Ethology. For some reason, Cooperative behavior is equated with socialism by the far right. They seem to favor Egoism over anything else, with a bit of Revenge mixed in. On the left, Cooperation is something you make other people do, again with some Revenge mixed in. Is there a name for Altruism with other people's resources? LOL

Koshcat said...

The left is all about revenge cloaked in altruism. Bees are probably the best example of altruism; giving itself up for the good of the colony. Another example may be a mother jumping into a river to save her child. This is what communist want people to become but humans just don't naturally behave this way in day to day practice. The most successful process to develop altruism as a group has been through Christianity and even that has had a rocky history.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, You are absolutely right -- when you meet people like this, you just feel amazing loyalty within even a few minutes. There's just something you can sense about them that pulls you in. And you're right, they are everywhere... and they tend to be the people everyone loves and respects.

I also think you are right that by and large, you either have this or you don't within you. BUT I would have two responses. First, recognizing this, maybe we can get better at spotting the leaders we should be promoting and those we want to avoid. Right now, we seem to be picking the absolutely worst -- mouth-foamers because they say things we like. Maybe it's time to realize that we shouldn't be liking some of these things? And even if we don't feel it, at least we can understand it and act accordingly.

Secondly, more personally, I think people are capable of becoming more like this, but it takes an honest assessment of ourselves, which is the really hard part. It's easy to be an asshole, especially when we tell ourselves that everyone else is rotten and when people have redefined sour grapes and schadenfreude as "tough love." And bad habits become very hard to overcome, especially when we don't even see them as bad habits anymore. But even minor changes can add up fast and it's something I would honestly urge everyone to consider. You just might make your life happier.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax and Koshcat, I've long argued about altruism with various professors and colleagues. There is a cynical school of thought that there can be no such thing as altruism, and that seems to have crept into our culture and politics. And interestingly, these people like to see themselves as sophisticated and "realistic." But the truth is they have simply deluded themselves about the nature of the world to hide their own failures by telling themselves that everyone is like they are.

Seriously, the world is full of altruistic people and altruistic moments, large and small. You see stories about it every day. I see people do it every day. From little things like the guy at Wendy's today who got out of his seat, crossed the restaurant, and held the door open for an old woman he didn't know, to finding out about the good deeds Paul Walker did without ever telling anyone, to hearing about people risking their lives to save others. This happens millions of times a day.

The ideologues underestimate human nature because they want to pretend that their nasty impulses are normal.

Koshcat said...

I generally agree with your first post although try as I might I just don't have "it". I'm ok with it because I have other gifts and abilities. One can be honest without being brutal.

Koshcat said...

In what I was referring to was a general concept. The fully altruistic specifies weakens itself to better another. In you example, the amount given up is relatively small as well as the benefit. But these small helps over millions or billions add up and make this an overall better society. I would almost call that cooperative behavior rather than altruistic but we are probably splitting philosophical hairs.

Koshcat said...

Specifics should be species

Patriot said...

Other than the aforementioned Gary Sinise, who 'alive' today would fall into the "Gene Autry" respected category?

AndrewPrice said...

Arg. Lost my comment. :(

Koshcat, I agree that having "it" is pretty rare. But I think at least getting closer to it is pretty easily attainable. And I think you are correct that there are many steps between brutal and angelic, and we don't need to get to angelic to make a better world. Similarly, we don't need to get to angelic to start winning people back. Just moving in that direction could do both.

On being cooperative, that's an interesting idea, but I think that ultimately these things are altruistic because there is no self-interest involved, these behaviors aren't simply things society expects of us, and they often do get to the point of being self-destructive. Obviously, opening a door isn't, but seeing people race into a stranger's house when it's on fire, for example, is something you do see a lot.

AndrewPrice said...

Patriot, The "still alive" limitation isn't needed since all these guys were recognized as such during their lives, not after their deaths.

That said, there are bunches of these people alive and well all around us today. Here's a name that jumped out at me immediately: Derrick Brooks. He's a Hall of Fame football player who was the captain of the Buccaneers during the 1990s and 2000s. He is beloved in Tampa, and not just because he won the Super Bowl. He was the undisputed leader of that team and a pillar of the community. He established a ton of community organizations to help young kids. He was everywhere around town to help people out. FSU even named him to their Board of Trustees because he was so beloved and so respected. No one ever said a bad word about him or questioned the genuineness of everything he did for the people he met.

An actor that I would say had it, but has squandered it a bit because of dabbling in politics, is Tom Hanks. Tom Selleck might be on the list. At one point, Walt Disney. From the corporate world, you had Dave Thomas of Wendy's. There are a great many.

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