Sunday, June 23, 2013

Dennis Weaver As a Symbol of the Downtrodden White Man in the Early 70's

The late 60's and 70's seem like they must have been hard times for working and middle class white folks. Especially white men. Everyone was going crazy and demanding they be treated equally. Even women. The Equal Rights Amendment, bussing, Affirmative Action. All the traditional doormats who simply had to take whatever hatred the white man was dishing out were now giving it right back. That was scary. And it showed in the cinema and television shows of the day. Dragnet, Adam 12, even Star Trek. But no star of the day epitomized the ideal of the middle class family man just trying to do his job and being harassed on all sides by hooligans, thugs, punks, and the pressure of maintaining order in a society gone crazy than Dennis Weaver, star of McCloud. Although McCloud had little to do with the phenomenon I'm describing, two of his most memorable movies did.  

In the 1971 made for television movie, Duel, which I am contractually obligated to point out was Steven Spielberg's first movie, Weaver is terrorized by a maniac trucker, who despite this digitally enhanced photo, we never see. Weaver's only transgression seems to be passing the trucker on an incline, making the trucker drop a gear, but the retribution is severe and grueling, as the furious truck driver pursues Weaver through the desert seeking his pound of flesh. In my opinion the truck symbolizes all the societal pressures put upon the working class white man as he simply tries to do his job. Is Weaver a bad man in this movie? Does he have a backstory of sin and hatefulness? We don't know. We just know he's a white man trying to get to his next sales stop, and something huge, black, and unstoppable is chasing him down.

Dennis Weaver
In 1973 Weaver returned in Terror On the Beach, where he plays the put upon patriarch of a typical American family. His son wants to go out and "do his own thing," and his daughter just wants to make sure he never gets any sleep. They're on vacation. When they run into one of the most menacing, bloodthirsty gang of...

dune buggying, surfing, apparently middle class white kids on break from Berkeley you've ever met. So, if the middle class white man was being terrorized by the black man and his wife seeking equality, why are all the villains in all the aforementioned shows and movies innocuous looking white kids? 

I don't know, either, but I have a feeling it has something to do with a Freudian defense mechanism. The white man couldn't just come out and say he felt threatened by ERA and Affirmative Action so he took out his wrath on these somewhat comically chosen straw men. I'm not saying Terror On the Beach won't make your skin crawl a little as the thugs get under Weaver's skin, but they're not what he was really fearing. Then again, maybe it's just a movie about Terror On the Beach.

In both movies Weaver seems oblivious that anything in the world could possibly go wrong. After all he's white, he's trying to do the right thing, and how could anyone take issue with that? And once the intimidation begins Weaver is ineffectual at stopping it and taking care of himself and his family. He's a pansy. Far from the tough guy, rugged character he portrayed in the westerns. The audience, probably composed mostly of similar white people, is meant to side with Weaver and root for him to eventually kick some ass. They also must have seen themselves as victims of some encroaching force. Some big, black infringement on their ability to just take comfort in the middle class freedom and entitlement they had been guaranteed somewhere in the Constitution.

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