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The Return of the Lone Ranger: Who is that Masked Man Anyway?

First of a 2-part article seeking to explain (and not defend) the location of lone rangers in society.

In this society everyone wears a mask.

The Lone Ranger character, of comics, radio shows and television, has resonated with me since childhood. This mystery man who would ‘ride into the sunset’ (the unknown), was a saviour to some, enemy to others, and be understood by few if any, fascinated me! This ‘resurrected’ ‘masked’ man on a white horse (Silver), with only two friends (Tonto and the Old Miner), limited resources, silver bullets used to shoot but not to kill, fought for justice in the desert.

Being ‘masked’ (not showing emotion); ‘cool’ (in the face of isolation); facing feelings of loneliness, rejection and misery, working against the grain; pursuing justice in the face of scrutiny is/was how I saw myself. It became how I describe(d) my experience as a man and a concert dancer from the Caribbean. Its appeal framed and reflected experiences across age, class, gender, geography, orientation, race, sexuality, spirituality etc.

A few years ago, information emerged to complicate and discombobulate the Lone Ranger as simply a North American Western elitist, white, patriarchal, supremacist assumption (Lewis, Nurse). For my PhD thesis, this concept was considered problematic and not Caribbean. I persisted, and got as far as my oral defense, when I was advised to remove it. The framing of silence as a tool to navigate one’s calling/passion remained as a pillar of my work (as the Lone Ranger concept rode into the sunset).

Ironically, the original Lone Ranger is an African-American called Bass Reeves. Born in 1838, he escaped enslavement into Indian territory, learning the customs, landscapes and languages of the Seminole and Creek peoples. Returning to Arkansas after US Emancipation in 1865, he married and had 11 children. From about 1875 Bass served as a deputy US Marshal using his tracking skills to help capture over 3000 criminals, all without ever being shot. There is even a statue of him in Arkansas. In 1907 he was removed, as new state-laws in Oklahoma prevented him from continuing because of his race. He died three years later (history.com).

Bass Reeves

“Bass Reeves is the closest real person to resemble the fictional Lone Ranger on the American western frontier of the nineteenth century” (Burton). Then, in 1933, radio shows depicting the Lone Ranger as alone, a mystery and as a “white” saviour begin in Detroit, USA.

‘Lone ranger’ describes those who ‘go against the grain’, who “succeed” without consensus or support. Loners, “lone rangers” and “cowboy masculinity” are all connotations of coolness (bell hooks). Some embrace loneliness as a badge of honour. Our ability to persevere as an individual is respected once our persistence pays off. Denying our humanity, managing the taboos while getting little or no emotional support is condoned.

Silence certainly can offer enough contradiction to confront and negotiate social scrutiny. Beyond the silence, we embody contradiction, celebrate humanity while negotiating the spaces that seem to conflict with conventional reality.

Tune in next week for the Part 2, The Return of the Lone Ranger: Lone Rangers in Our Society.

—“Masking” and “silence” become tools for camouflage, contraction and resistance to challenge a closeted, heterosexist and homophobic, recolonizing space.—

Dr. John Hunte PHD Cultural Studies UWI Cave Hill

Culture Clinic is a weekly column crafted by Dr. John Hunte.


Works Cited

Burton Art Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves (Race and Ethnicity in the American West) Nebraska Bison 2008

https://www.history.com/news/bass-reeves-real-lone-ranger-a-black-man

hooks bell We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity New York Routlege 2004

Lewis, Linden “Caribbean Masculinity at the Fin de Siecle” in Rhoda E. Rheddock (ed) Interrogating Caribbean Masculinities: Theoretical and Empirical Analyses Kingston, Jamaica UWIPress 2004

Nurse, Keith “Masculinities in Transition: Gender and the Global Problematique” in Rhoda E. Rheddock (ed) Interrogating Caribbean Masculinities: Theoretical and Empirical Analyses Kingston, Jamaica UWIPress 2004

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