Over a year ago I wrote a blog post, Lone Ranger and Tonto: A Nostalgic View and Modern Critique, in which I relate my childhood experiences of growing up watching westerns on television, and in particular, The Lone Ranger, and how those programs influenced the way children of my era interpreted that violence. In that post, I also wrote how as an adult, my perceptions of the program changed, understanding the issues of Manifest Destiny and the complexities of the relationship between Tonto and the Lone Ranger. This post is a reflection on my experiences on how that show might have influenced the way we played as children.
To us kids, the Lone Ranger and Tonto were heroes, unselfishly searching out the “bad guys” and bringing them to justice during the Old West. It would be only natural that we would want to emulate these two heroes. For girls, it may have been less about guns and more about that there could be someone out there who could look after people who were under the thumb of the bad guy and make things right. The Long Ranger knew how to make a plan and carry it out with the help of his trusted friend, Tonto.
As I mentioned in the earlier post, although girls wore toy guns in holsters, usually as part of a costume, we never aimed our guns at each other or played mock shoot-outs. For the boys, it was different.
Boys played the games of bad guys versus the good guys, and this play usually involved some degree of aggression, usually in the form of rough housing. If I complained to my mom that the boys were playing too rough, she would say, “Well, it’s time to come in then.” It wasn’t a girl’s place to get involved in fights and tussles. At some level, I thought that boys seemed less civilized than my girl friends because of their aggressive play and coarse language, which sometimes morphed into cursing. Sometimes they could be outright bullies. If they were playing shoot ‘m up with each other, and if we wandered into the action, we’d be shot!
Occasionally, a story in The Lone Ranger would include a woman. I remember secretly hoping that maybe the Lone Ranger or Tonto might find a girlfriend, and always somewhat disappointed, when they would ride off into the sunset again without a storyline that included a woman. Even at age 8, I realized something was amiss.
The stories of the Lone Ranger became implanted in our consciousness, and Tonto and the Lone Ranger survive as mythic folk heroes for a generation of television viewers. Children could not grasp the idea that the Ranger was a vigilante who had no authority to enforce the law and who used guns to impose his will. Instead what we seem to remember is that the masked man and his partner played respectful characters who courageously stepped into dangerous situations with the unselfish goal to stand with those who faced injustice. As a young child, I guess I might have thought that any man who was that mannerly and courageous would wind up with a girlfriend . . . eventually.