It’s the day that no one thought was coming. On February 19th, 2019, the mob came for John Wayne. I know what you’re thinking: but Barrett, my trusty old internet pal, that’s impossible. John Wayne was born in 1907 and has been dead for 40 years!

It doesn’t matter, dear reader. With social justice, anything is possible. You see, a 1971 Playboy interview resurfaced and some woke-ass tweeter was shocked to discover the insensitivity that The Duke showed to people of colour and women. Of course when a social justice maniac discovers something offensive, Twitter simply must explode with outrage and memes. It’s the law. In this particular instance, it was genuinely difficult to determine who was serious and who was taking the piss.  

Now, if The Duke were around these days, he would probably be kicking some woke ass. After all, “a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.” But since he isn’t here to defend himself, I just pray to god that the internet doesn’t find out about the spanking scene in McLintock!

I’m aware that I don’t need to convince the culturally literate about the important the contributions of John Wayne, one of the giants of American cinema, but increasingly, our cultural landscape is being defined by the culturally illiterate. And this is why I’m compelled to write about this

I will concede that Wayne had some seriously unwoke views in 1971, but then again, who didn’t? It was 1971 for god’s sake. The idea that today’s progressive standards must be grafted on to yesterday’s culture is preposterous to say the least.

People seem to be doing this a lot these days—digging up old tweets or old footage and then using this archival content to generate a brand new controversy. It works because context doesn’t matter in 2019, and people are desperate to feel like they are a part of a virtuous cause.

It’s absolutely fascinating to think about how motivated people are to manufacture outrage these days, how positively addicted they are to that dopamine rush of identifying, stripping and shaming the heretics—so much so that they actually have to travel back in time to make it happen.

It happened to Kevin Hart and he lost his Oscars hosting gig. It happened to James Gunn and he lost his directing gig. I could go on, but the larger point is this: why limit this practice to the living. Why let the dead off the hook for their problematic pasts?

It occurs to me this growing trend of archive outrage is happening more frequently because, in real time, we are all guarding our speech so carefully that it’s getting harder and harder to bust people. And, more importantly, things in 2019 are really just not that bad, so we are forced to turn to the past to find our outrage fix.

I reckon I should just forget about what they did to The Duke. After all, this “scandal” will go away almost as fast as it broke. But I can’t help but wonder when we will learn how destructive all of this is.

It feels like we are destroying our culture from the past-up. And for what? What is the end game? Do we really want all of our cultural figures to be perfect, obedient, and safe? Do we really want all of our heroes to be immaculate victims?

It seems to me that this mentality is how situations like the Jussie Smollett hoax happen, where an actor actually staged a hate crime in order to combat the perceived intolerance of the kind of people who enjoy the movies of John Wayne. We would rather believe in implausible hoaxes than probable truths.

It time for all of this to end. We need to be smarter. As The Duke himself once said, “Life is tough, but it’s tougher when you’re stupid.”