The Myth of the Loner
We’ve been listening to Austin City Limits Music Festival all weekend. Not that we’ve been on the festival grounds, but we easily hear all the bass notes and percussion through our walls, providing an underlying rhythm to our days and nights. This mosaic is a picture of music, even as the object, the CD, is becoming an extinct way to listen.
I’ve been considering the myth of the loner which has always been integral in our culture. The original figure of the loner was an individual doing battle single-handedly against evil forces, or against nature run amok. This is the cowboy-versus-the-storm theme of so many western paintings, and the subject of valiant battle scenes featuring the hero leading the fight for freedom over tyranny. Sometimes the loner was standing up for right against the howling mob, as in Abraham Lincoln standing up for freedom for the slaves. We have inherited mythic figures in cartoon form and science fiction. We still have Super Man to cheer. More recently, the public myth of the loner has morphed into the heroic figure of the self-made millionaire or billionaire who has the world for her asking. Whether the celebrity is manufactured for reality TV or is a long-term TV fixture, such as Oprah, we love the idea of someone competing and beating the rest of the world with only her dreams for armament.
Of course, there really is no winning loner, no one who has truly made it on his own. For each of us there is an entire army of family members, teachers, public servants, employers, employees, customers, donors, authors, manufacturers, spiritual advisers, friends, and neighbors who have either willed our little world into existence or, at the least, exhibited for us the path not to choose. We are trees sinking roots into soil fertilized from the molecules of once-living bodies that have gone before, and the larger the tree, the more nourishment it needs.
This tree represents the mythic loner in the landscape, having survived its fellows against all odds, and now dead from the effort. We look and conclude, “Never give up, be brave, succeed or die trying.”