"I will misbehave"
Not very many people will remember that Charlton Heston picketed a segregated theater premiering his own movie; or that he accompanied Martin Luther King Jr on the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington. All at a time when no one in Hollywood was willing to speak out against racism. It's more likely that he'll be remembered as the six foot three inch tall actor, who played Moses and Ben Hur, and later became the president and spokesman for the National Rifle Association advocating the right to keep and bear arms; or recall that he opposed affirmative action. But Heston the marcher and Heston the NRA president come closer together if one recalls that in the actor's mind at least, racial segregation helped the cause of Communism. The fight for freedom took many forms, but underneath its varied guises it was always the same thing.
Part of the problem with Charlton Heston wasn't that he was inconsistent, but that he was too consistent. And the common mistake, even of the Old Bolsheviks, was to suppose that following a set of principles was better following fashion. Those who wonder whether Heston had wandered off should ask themselves whether Martin Luther King, had he lived, might also have remarked to the nation's First Black President that ''America doesn't trust you with our 21-year-old daughters, and we sure, Lord, don't trust you with our guns.'' After all, King was a Republican and nobody remembers that either.
In one of his less remembered films, the Omega Man, Heston portrays the last modern man on earth. The movie is set in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles infested by mutants called "The Family", who have "reverted to a luddite lifestyle, employing medieval imagery and technology—complete with long black robes, torches, bows and arrows, and catapults." The Family is determined to end the last symbol of science on earth, as portrayed by Heston, and incidentally, subdue the final holdout against the Collective.
And yet it was the Family that divorced itself from the stream of mankind and Heston's character that maintained its link. History seems to suggest that in order to achieve the greatest universality a man must appear to be alone, just as in order to attain the greatest provincialism, membership in a mob is necessary. Maybe we live as individuals so that our only final kinship is with all humanity and not simply with a family, tribe or sect.
In 1999, in remarks before a Harvard Law School forum Heston warned against the bondage of the crowd and appealed to his audience to reclaim their humanity and its heritage of individuality.
You are the best and the brightest. You, here in the fertile cradle of American academia, here in the castle of learning on the Charles River, you are the cream. But I submit that you, and your counterparts across the land, are the most socially conformed and politically silenced generation since Concord Bridge. And as long as you validate that ... and abide it ... you are - by your grandfathers' standards - cowards. ...
Disobedience is in our DNA. We feel innate kinship with that Disobedient spirit that tossed tea into Boston Harbor, that sent Thoreau to jail, that refused to sit in the back of the bus, that protested a war in VietNam. In that same spirit, I am asking you to disavow cultural correctness with massive disobedience of rogue authority, social directives and onerous law that weaken personal freedom. ...
So that this nation may long endure, I urge you to follow in the hallowed footsteps of the great disobediences of history that freed exiles, founded religions, defeated tyrants, and yes, in the hands of an aroused rabble in arms and a few great men, by God's grace, built this country.
If Dr. King were here, I think he would agree. Thank you.
But Dr. King wasn't there. And Heston is no longer here. And the idea that the only real rebel is an individual or that a man might march with Dr. King and yet advocate the right to defend himself is so outrageously quaint that one wonders how many today find it completely inconceivable. But that almost proves the point.
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