I suppose if there is one film that emphasises the American ideal of two centuries past what better tale than The Big Country. A sweeping tale of post civil war boom and push across the continental divide. True that the war between the states halted or at least slowed the westward expansion that had begun as the Scotch-Irish newcomers to land of manifest destiny. Of course our penchant for land speculation grew from the beginnings of our colonial roots with tales of gold nuggets waiting for the casual passerby to pick them up and take them to the local bank. Not that many of those earlier settlers would have know what gold looked like if it bit them in the southern hemisphere. Well, that did that The Treasure Of Sierra Madre to bring to our attention a certain amount of ignorance of mining and mineral classification. I suppose I should have taken the mineralogy when I had the chance, although if truth be known, I can just as easily read the book and obtain a few samples to confirm my knowledge. Still, it takes a big country to attract men and women to loosen their binders and set out on that new road to perceived greatness. I wonder if the Romans, when they set out in Britain for the first time, ever felt that this was the new and wild frontier or were they simply carrying out orders from Rome. It would take a few more centuries to make it merry old England if I am any judge of film history. On the other hand, as the conquistadores set out to tame their new world with the expectation of taking the loot back to the old world and impressing the old high school crowd, did they ever feel that theirs was a big country or just another brick in the wall to wealth.
The idea that this was the land of limitless opportunity has died a slow death of late in the minds of many of its inhabitants and I don’t wonder why. The east and west coast states exhibit a concentration of people in excess of any distance that defines a feeling of space. Houses crowd in upon one another, residential areas appear more like festering wounds upon the skin we call Mother Earth. Scenic beauty is defined as no structure closer than five hundred feet to another. I have lived in a number of regions in this country, most of which I wouldn’t give a nickle to visit, let alone live. Seems I have grown rather particular where I want to live. And I suppose that where I live now will grow tiresome in ten years of so. When I drove truck for several years I found few areas that I would like to settle for the long haul. On the other hand I don’t perceive any foreign shore as the next coming of the great American opportunity. As it is, opportunity seems to have vanished and while I could wish that it had not, I fear that it will never come again. And as the film showed us, there was a price to be paid for those big dreams, nothing ever comes free.
Americans have had a love affair with the idea of “The Big Country”, our novels and films in the past have explored such ideas. The giant ranch with thousands upon thousands of acres of cattle wrest from hostiles and nature by supreme human ambition and effort or that large plantation like affair with sharecroppers, cotton gins, and towns beholden to the landowners of thousands of acres of farmland. On the other hand, the excitement of the stock market seems a bit tame compared to hostiles and natural forces. The corporation is not seen as the last frontier, merely a collection of goods, services, and money. Manifest Destiny is expressed by investment in multinational corporations and favored country trade deals and other instruments of restraint of trade. We now can count debt in terms of billions and trillions of dollars and yuans and yen and rubles and euors. Instead of breaking wild broncos we break unfriendly governments. the world has changed a bit since Kirk announced the final frontier. And we must have big government, or so the progressives tell us so. Economies of scale, that’s the ticket. Yes, multi-billion dollar deals need economies of scale. So our banks grow to more than global reach proportions. Indeed, one might think we were financing the universe as we know it, although I doubt many really know about the immediate reaches of space, let alone those areas some fifteen billion light years out.
At least we have not discovered universe warming yet, the average temperature of space is still five degrees, god forbid someone discover universe warming. Well, what is the climate of space? A vacuum, of course, Electrolux, I think. Hoover? No, I don’t give a dam. Back to our problems. The scale of the worlds economic activity are so great that it has become incomprehensible to the average individual. We cannot imagine a trillion dollars let alone one hundred trillion. If I were to say to you that the Chinese government’s known debt is well over 25 trillion dollars, what would that mean to you? How does one compute trillions? Oh, we try to use infographics where we cover football fields and the tallest skyscrapers, but that is an exercise in uselessness. True, one can fit a million dollars inside a briefcase if one uses hundred dollars bills, but few individuals carry briefcases any more. It was far easier imagining twenty thousand head of cattle grazing on twenty thousand acres than to imagine a stack of one trillion dollar bills. So here we are at high noon expecting the hired gun of the international corporation in a showdown with the giant government agency. No need to duke it out, simply buy the agency our or pass some new laws and regulations against the multinational corporation. Money is the new speak for doing business as both a corporation and as a government.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Ma and Pa are waiting for the sons to return with the news. Will it be good or bad, or will it really matter? America has low voter turnout and even lower awareness of public affairs unless these affairs involve celebrities. What passes for political candidates on both sides is little better than road kill. Elect me, a dead skunk, for president or whatever. Yes, Hillary will fight for women’s rights just as soon as she can accumulate a billion dollars in her charity. Bernie knows how to get the economy going again, more regulations and laws governing how corporations won’t do their jobs well. And Trump, no thank you. Of course the only reason to elect the Donald is that he has so much experience with bankruptcy and we will need that experience of a global level. The fact is, we really don’t have any candidates worthy of their hire. No, the era of the Big Country with visions to match has long since past our way. Our visions will be well suited to seeing survival of the fittest rather that imagining diversity for all. Destiny is no longer listed on our manifest.