Political Hatfields and McCoys

by CHARLES M. YOUNG

The History Channel mini-series “Hatfields & McCoys” reminded me of Clint Eastwood’s “The Unforgiven.” Both productions showed a lot of violence in all its fascination while making it squalid, absurd, arbitrary and devastating to the victims and everyone around the victims. Both productions take as their theme men creating theaters of heroism for themselves out of their own hatred and sense of honor. Both productions show the theaters crumbling in the end as the violence becomes too stupid and meaningless even for the prime agents to continue.

“Hatfields & McCoys” also reminded me of football. You’ve got two well-defined teams who place group loyalty above all other values, even as they claim the ethics of Christianity, which does not place group loyalty above all other values. So there is no substantive moral difference between the Hatfields and McCoys any more than there is a substantive moral difference between the Minnesota Vikings and the Arizona Cardinals. The only reason to join or root for one side over the other is because it makes you feel good to be part of something bigger than yourself. That’s attractive, and indeed the series attracted huge numbers of viewers. “Hatfields & McCoys” is reported to be the second biggest non-sports event on basic cable ever with over 13 million viewers.

I myself sat through all three two-hour segments, even though that meant watching about 20 commercials for every sordid killing. It’s hard keeping your head in a 19th century family feud when somebody is touting car insurance or credit cards every eight minutes, just as it is hard to keep your head in the game when someone is touting car insurance or credit cards with every change of possession.

Does the United States make anything besides car insurance and credit cards?

What if Shakespeare was interrupted by a talking lizard every eight minutes?

“Hatfields & McCoys” reminded me not only of football but of Democrats & Republicans, who also have very little substantive moral difference and a need to believe that there is a substantive moral difference, or else no one would pay attention to them.

The patriarch of the McCoys (Bill Paxton) looked to Christianity for justice and predictably descended into nihilistic alcoholism and madness, ultimately dying in a house fire of his own making. He seemed like a parable for the Tea Party. The patriarch of the Hatfields (Kevin Costner) looked to Christianity for forgiveness. He ended up a sadder but wiser old man in the tradition of Jimmy Carter and Al Gore who improved on morally substantive issues immediately upon leaving power.

Neither the Hatfields nor the McCoys were led by sociopaths. They were cult-like families led by the foremost of the true believers who didn’t care that much about money and power. They cared about being right and were willing to kill for it. The only sociopath in the mini-series was Bad Frank Phillips, a tough-talking hired killer who went into law enforcement. Bad Frank Phillips is pretty much everyone at the top of both political parties, although Bad Frank Phillips was man enough to kill by his own hand and not with predator drones. Bad Frank Phillips did not pose as a tough guy. He was a tough guy. Barack Obama is Bad Frank without courage.

Law enforcement was biased, corrupt and subject to manipulation, then as now.

While the Hatfields and McCoys did hate each other, they were in complete agreement that violence was a great way to solve problems and therefore had everything in common, just like Democrats and Republicans. The guy who most annoyed both sides was Johnse Hatfield, who didn’t care much for the war. He preferred to sit out by his still in the woods, drink corn liquor and get involved with forbidden McCoy women. His father had to twist his arm to get him to fight. Both clans hated him more than they hated each other. He was the Dennis Kucinich of the story. If the New York Times was writing it, they would leave him out, because there was substantive moral difference between him and the two warring tribes.

That’s why historical fiction is important. You can acknowledge the existence of Dennis Kucinich if you disguise him and have him live 130 years ago.

The History Channel is an odd operation. Years ago, it showed documentaries about American history. Now its programming is mostly reality shows about people who sell priceless family heirlooms to a Las Vegas pawn shop so they can go gambling in the casinos. It’s oddly engaging to watch, but when you think about it afterwards, you want to kill yourself. The History Channel’s twin, H2, used to show documentaries about world history. It still shows documentaries but most of them are about the influence of space aliens on the ancient Egyptians, or the influence of Satan in politics.

Maybe as sequel, the History Channel could have a flying saucer land on the Kentucky/West Virginia border in 1880 and a bunch of space aliens from Occupy Earth could explain to the Hatfields and the McCoys that their true enemy is not each other but the coal mining companies. That’s something I’d sit through even if I had to watch a talking lizard sell me car insurance every eight minutes.

Charles M. Young is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent two-time Project Censored Award-winning online alternative newspaper. 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
September 4-6, 2015
Lawrence Ware
No Refuge: the Specter of White Supremacy Still Haunts Black America
Andrew Levine
Compassionate Conservatism: a Reconsideration and an Appreciation
Paul Street
Bi-Polar Disorder: Obama’s Environmental Bait-and-Switch Politics
Arun Gupta
Field Notes to Life During the Apocalypse
Steve Hendricks
Come Again? Second Thoughts on My Ashley Madison Affair
Ron Jacobs
Bernie Sanders’ Vision: As Myopic as Every Other Candidate or Not?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Arkansas Bloodsuckers: the Clintons, Prisoners and the Blood Trade
Richard W. Behan
Republican Fail, Advantage Sanders: the Indefensible Budget for Defense
Ted Rall
Call It By Its Name: Censorship
Susan Babbitt
“Swarms” Entering the UK? What We Can Still Learn About the Migrant Crisis From Che Guevara
Kali Akuno
Until We Win: Black Labor and Liberation in the Disposable Era
John Wight
Adrift Without Sanctuary: a Sick and Twisted Morality
Binoy Kampmark
Sieges in an Age of Austerity: Monitoring Julian Assange
Kathleen Wallace
The Child Has a Name, They All Do
David Rosen
Why So Few Riots?
Norm Kent
The Rent Boy Raid: Homeland Security Should Monitor Our Borders Not Our Bedrooms
John Helmer
IMF Officials Implicated in Theft, Concealment of Ukraine Loan Corruption
Michael Welton
Canada’s Arrogant Autocrat: the Rogue Politics of Stephen Harper
Patrick T. Hiller
There’s Nothing Collateral About a Toddler Washed Ashore
Ramzy Baroud
Palestine’s Crisis of Leadership: Did Abbas Destroy Palestinian Democracy?
Pepe Escobar
Say Hello to China’s New Toys
Sylvia C. Frain
Tiny Guam, Huge US Marine Base Expansions
Pete Dolack
Turning National Parks into Corporate Profit Centers
Ann Garrison
Africa’s Problem From Hell: Samantha Power
Christopher Brauchli
Poor, Poor, Pitiful Citigroup
Norman Pollack
Paradigm of a Fascist Mindset: Nicholas Burns on Iran
Roger Annis
Canada’s Web of Lies Over Syrian Refugee Crisis
Chris Zinda
Constitutional Crisis in the Heart of Dixie
Rannie Amiri
Everything Stinks: Beirut Protests and Garbage Politics
Missy Comley Beattie
In Order To Breathe
James McEnteer
Blast From the Past in Buenos Aires
Edward Leer
Love, Betrayal, and Donuts
Cesar Chelala
Cruelty is Not a Human Right
Louis Proyect
Migrating Through Hell: Quemada-Diez’s “La Jaula de Oro”
Charles R. Larson
Class and Colonialism in British Cairo
September 03, 2015
Sal Rodriguez
How California Prison Hunger Strikes Sparked Solitary Confinement Reforms
Lawrence Ware
Leave Michael Vick Alone: the Racism and Misogyny of Football Fans
Dave Lindorff
Is Obama the Worst President Ever?
Vijay Prashad
The Return of Social Democracy?
Ellen Brown
Quantitative Easing for People: Jeremy Corbyn’s Radical Proposal
Paul Craig Roberts
The Rise of the Inhumanes: Barron, Bybee, Yoo and Bradford
Binoy Kampmark
Inside Emailgate: Hillary’s Latest Problem
Lynn Holland
For the Love of Water: El Salvador’s Mining Ban
Geoff Dutton
Time for Some Anger Management
Jack Rasmus
The New Colonialism: Greece and Ukraine