When I was a younger, pretty much everyone knew about Judge Roy Bean (1825-1903, link to bio). There was a TV show (with Edgar Buchanan as the judge--see image above), 1955-56 (I was in sixth grade) (link to full episode on YouTube) and--later--a movie directed by John Huston and starring Paul Newman, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, 1972 (the year our son was born). (Link to trailer.) And this fabled judge (a very corrupt one in "real life") was a character in numerous Western films and TV shows.
He still has something of a following in Langtry, Texas (his resting place), and elsewhere (link to museum website), in the southwestern part of the state, right near the Mexican border, about 200 mi west of San Antonio.
So what got me thinking about Judge Roy Bean--"the only law west of the Pecos"--yesterday evening? It was watching some of the analytical fallout from the recent political debates--and the voting in New Hampshire.
I found it very odd that many got on Marco Rubio for always being scripted--just as they get on Trump and others for being unpredictable in what they say. (By the way, this is a nonpartisan post!)
Which are you? Scripted? Unpredictable?
And which would you be in their places?
In the "old days"--pre-TV, pre-social media--politicians could pretty much say one thing in Alabama, another in Massachusetts. They could stumble in Stanley, North Dakota, and no one would know--or care.
Not no more, they can't.
Any stumble becomes an Internet/social-media sensation. The 24-hour news channels go over it and over it and over it. The news-comedy programs (Daily Show, Nightly Show) and the late-night comedians and SNL keep it alive and kicking until the next flub flounders onto the stage.
And so--a few days ago--we had Gloria Steinem (now in her 80s) speaking extemporaneously about the reasons young women are flocking to Bernie rather than to Hillary, and her frivolous comment--as they say--"went viral" and probably did more damage to this feminist hero (and hero to me, by the way) than anything else ever has. All those decades she's fought for women's rights erased (at least in some minds) by one comment on a Friday night comedy show (Bill Maher's).
And Rubio's repetitive comment in the debate that Obama knows exactly what he's doing earned sneers from Gov. Christie (who's just dropped out) and from the media and comedians.
So, what's a public figure--a politician--to do? Stay on script and be accused of being a robot? Go off script and risk a fatal stumble? (Only Trump seems immune from this: The more outrageous he gets, the more followers he attracts. Go figure.) Try to find some "balance"?
Would you like to have all the good/kind/generous/whatever things you've ever done absolutely canceled by some quick, careless thing you said on the Internet? This is what public figures, especially, have to deal with, every waking moment.
On Facebook, I routinely see posts by people who have found a quotation (or a video clip) from some political figure they don't like; they share it; it (potentially) goes viral. What bothers me? Sometimes the quotations are bogus, sometimes wildly out of context and entirely misrepresentative of that political figure's overall views. But there it is, whirling around permanently in the Internet vortex of animosity.
There's a recent book I read about Internet character assassination--Jon Ronson's So You've Been Publicly Shamed (2015)--a book that made me shudder. It showed that all of us are vulnerable to cyber-assault--especially if we have any Internet presence. He tells story after story about people who tweeted (or posted) something they hadn't thought all that much about (or thought would be funny) and found their lives shattered--loss of job, of friends, of reputation--and their names popping up early in Google searches. (By the way, Google "Internet Character Assassination"--you'll be surprised by the number of sites--almost a million when I just did it.)
And for me, this is the worst thing about all of this: We're doing this to one another. Commentators have noted numerous times that it's the Internet's anonymity that allows us to be so savage. No identity, no consequences. Our justly treasured free speech has become a license to kill.
When I was a kid, it seemed that the preachers in the churches I attended (preachers including my father, grandfather, and uncle) were constantly alluding to those notable lines from Matthew 7:
Matthew 7:1-3 King James Version (KJV)
7 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Consequently, many of us are becoming Judge Roy Bean--corrupt, cruel, declaring others guilty first, asking questions later (if at all).