Twisting the Armband: The Politics of Othering

Over the last three decades, academic leftists throughout the Anglosphere have attempted to rewrite their cultural past through a prism of shaming, in which Western history up to the mid-20th century is condemned as a lengthy dark age marked by sexism, racism and imperialism. In Australia, the term black armband theory has been used to identify the guilt-ridden cultural revisionism that’s currently espoused by that nation’s liberal elites; a syndrome largely reflected in modern American liberalism.

Outside academia, the chief engineer behind American black armband syndrome has been Hollywood, which has constantly used the cinematic medium to cast all the wonderful outcomes of capitalism and complementarity in a condescending light. Ill-documented chapters in American history have made for a sitting duck in these ideological exploits, for the voiceless past has no defense against a partisan present. Amongst those crowding this revisionary pulpit is feminist filmmaker Maggie Greenwald, who disemboweled the Western in her 1993 flick, The Ballad of Little Jo.

Greenwald’s flick takes biographical liberties over the life of Josephine Monaghan, a decorated 19th century frontiersman of whom a bizarre tidbit was revealed upon his obituary: the dude was a she. This germ of transgenderism sets the innuendo upon which Greenwald spins her black armband revisionism of life in the Old West. Jo has been expelled from her East Coast gentry for having bore a child out of wedlock, and so she travels westbound into the land where dignity is measured in beard length, thus prompting her to masquerade as a man. Flanking Jo at every turn is the behavior malaise that’s typically alleged of bygone, male-centric townships: belligerence, rakishness and vulgarity.

As with most feminist agitators, Greenwald’s insights into the male psyche are grotesquely misinformed. Her vision of man as savage rings all the more disorienting when coupled with the rosy veneers which she initially heaps upon the evil sex. The peddler Jo encounters at the outset of the story seems like a spirited, avuncular gentleman; that is until he announces her sale to the bandits. Likewise, Percy the stable-keeper comes off as a stoic man of modest intent; unlucky in love and perhaps rendered a eunuch. But then comes the gruesome incident between Percy and the goddess who serves as the unlikely whore in this story, and we’re left with nothing but disgust and hatred for the man. This schizophrenia which Greenwald depicts through men like Percy has confused some liberal viewers into praising her as a multi-dimensional character maker. To me it embodies the unsubtle  misandry behind the conception of this film; a jaundiced worldview in which bipolar disorder is endemic of men.

Redemption to the evil sex is served, consequently, by the token non-white character in this flick, Tinman, a Chinese emigrant whom Jo rescues from yet another round of backwoods banditry. The political innuendo of Tinman’s arrival is twofold. Since he’s the only non-female victim in this story, women and minorities are assigned comparative plights within Greenwald’s worldview. And since he’s the only non-female object of desire in this story, masculine sex appeal is now defined at the exclusion of white men within this worldview. It’s the politics of othering.

Implausible story threads and political innuendos aside, The Ballad of Little Jo is a genre film, and as such might adequately suffice with fans of the Western genre. For enlightened viewers of the 21st century, however, this film will appear dated and inflammatory, filmed as it was within the quagmire of third wave feminism during the 1990s. Liberals, meanwhile, will continue casting icons of otherness into their jaundiced rewrites of history. Personally, I’ll stick to true life heroines of the Old West, such as the one enshrined in singer/songwriter Andy Pratt’s 1971 classic, “Avenging Annie”:

Well, they call me Avenging Annie,
I’m avenger of womanhood,
I spend my whole life telling lies,
I’ll lead you on and mess you over good.

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