Jack Crabb and Revisiting the Freelance Writing Great Divide

After reading Deb Ng’s “Freelance Writing:  The Great Divide” yesterday, I decided this would be a great opportunity to talk about a western.

Huh?

Here’s the deal…  I love westerns.  I’ve watched hundreds upon hundreds of them.  We’re talking about everything from the low-budget serialized B&W oaters to made-for-TV miniseries dreck to the latest big budget efforts to “reinvent” the genre.  I think Sergio Leone is an artist on par with Picasso or Van Gogh.  I hum the theme from The Magnificent Seven to myself almost every day.  I’m a fan of genre and a fairly serious student of it, too.

So, it isn’t all that surprising that I had a western in the DVD player the other day.   It’d been years since I last saw Little Big Man and thought it might be worth revisiting.

For those of you who don’t spend a great deal of time watching 40 year-old westerns, Little Big Man is the fictional story of Jack Crabb’s life.  Crabb is the oldest surviving white participant in the Battle of Little Bighorn at age.  He’s 121 years old and is recounting his life to a reporter.  Crabb also went by the name of Little Big Man.  He was adopted by the Sioux as a child and grew up as part of the tribe.  Later, he comically bounced back and forth between white and Native American life.

Arthur Penn, the same guy who did The Miracle Worker, Bonnie and Clyde, Alice’s Restaurant and The Missouri Breaks (an underrated Jack Nicholson/Marlon Brando western) turns Crabb’s story into an enjoyable attempt at humanizing the Native American “other” after years of portrayals that reduced “Injuns” to menacing savages.  While it wasn’t the first western to reflect a growing willingness to confront issues of genocide and its lingering impact on film, it is a good example of that growing sensibility of the late 60s and early 70s.  It’s also a not-always-subtle critique of the Viet Nam War, a theme Penn visited in multiple films.

Oh, and it stars Dustin Hoffman–before he became unbearably annoying.

Anyway, Little Big Man works because Crabb’s unique individual history allows him to move between cultures fairly easily.  The movie is appreciative of the “human beings” (Sioux) while still poking fun at individual members of Little Big Man’s tribe.  It’s a little less kindhearted to the white folk, but it seems more like an exercise in mirror holding than a vitriolic indict of the whole culture.

Crabb is the perfect person to tell the story of the American west because he really understands both sides–their strengths and their weaknesses.

I watched Little Big Man and then I read Deb’s post.

Most of us live somewhere between the vanity of General Custer and the wisdom of Old Lodge Skins.   Few of us are pure saints, just trying to help and (hopefully) few of us are blogging about freelance writing purely for the sake of self-aggrandizement.

Many of us tend to live exclusively in one group, too.  We’re either cowboys or Indians.  We like the mills.  We hate the mills.  We like DS.  We hate DS.  Those people are disgusting.  Those folks are stupid.  Cowboys and Indians.

Well, it’s almost too easy to say that we should know better.  The actual Battle of Little Big Horn didn’t turn out so well for Custer and the whole of history really didn’t work out for the Native Americans.

The real story of this whole “great divide,” however, may be that of Jack Crabb.

Remember, he was the last man standing.  He was giving interviews at age 121 from a nursing home all about his life and adventures.

Jack Crabb, Little Big Man, was a survivor and he managed it because he could be a churchgoer, a snake oil salesman, a gunfighter, a store owner or a member of the “human beings.”

He narrates the movie because he walked back and forth across the great divide.

Before you dismiss those who hate whatever they label low-rent or a “content mill,” find out why and what they’re doing instead.

Before you jump on the person who’s writing for DS or the mills, dig a little deeper and look outside your frame of reference.

When you do, interesting things happen.  Just ask Jack Crabb.

Comments

  1. I think this is a great way to present this issue. People get so busy protecting their own ideas and opinions that they forget to understand the perspectives of others.

    I’m glad you’ve been talking about this. It’s an important topic. A community is about people caring about people, not everyone running around fending for him- or herself.

  2. Why am I not surprised you’re a fan of Westerns? Thank goodness it’s not romantic comedies or your argument probably wouldn’t work as well. While I do understand why those who are against certain types of writing are crying out in anger, your discussion serves as a good reminder to everyone to understand the motives of all involved before deciding on your own what those motives might be. I also don’t feel we need to be for or against any type of writing. The middle of the road suits me just fine.

  3. Thanks for the suggestion that people “jump outside their frame of reference.” I find that folks are typically seeing things from their own POV when they offer a critical opinion as to why I’d engage in a particular activity or associate myself with this or that organization. We are the sum of our personal experience, which makes for a vastly different context in each of us.

    At 35 I’d walk into a place with resume in hand and get hired. It was easy. At 50, it’s not so much. I know it’s not just an age thing and that other factors come into it, but after being laid-off over a year ago I’ve found that I’m suddenly not quite as much in demand as I once was.

    My wife and I are living in a weekly hotel in San Francisco and eeking out a living as we rely on unemployment checks. I bring this up is because I recently posted something on my blog about the hotel and a commenter asked if we were staying there because our house was being renovated. I guess he couldn’t understand a guy my age not having his own home.

    Maybe he’s been in one successful career for years, has great credit and a beautiful home, I don’t know because I don’t know him. But we’ve obviously had different life paths that have brought us to where we are – some of it being our own choices and some being the way fate has played out – and our diversity shapes not only our ability to accomplish the task of daily living, but our perception of life itself.

    A longtime friend emailed me a couple of years ago to say, “You’re not where you should be in life.” He then went on to detail how he, at the same age as I, has accomplished this and that, and owns property and has established a magnificent income. He wasn’t trying to help in any way, but just to criticize. We no longer speak.

    It doesn’t matter how I got here, because I can’t go back. Perhaps someone has a handful of clients who pay well and constantly use their services, but I don’t. I’ve signed on with some content mills because that lady ten feet away from me, who I’ve been married to for 20 years, needs to eat. So do I. Then we might pay our rent. If anyone has a problem with that, then it’s their problem and not mine – I have too many of my own to give them the time of day.
    .-= RhodesTer´s last blog ..An Interview With Area Cow, Mooble Hoofer =-.

    • Nicely said. Its so easy for some people to judge others without having ever stepped out of their own shoes. I really hate that. People really should empathize a little before they open their mouths to critisize. Anyway, Really liked what you wrote and your whole writing style in general. I’d elaboorate if I wasn’t already late for class. The class is “Race and culture in the Americas”. It’s a required diversity class. I love it because it makes us look at the effects of colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism from the perspective of the ones subjugated by it. We take deeper look at
      some of the things we have learned in history classes growing up that have sugar coated or glossed over etc.

      Anyway, I’m doing a portfolio package on racial conflict/Manifest Destiny/historial fiction as depicted in film. Each student makes their package focus based on their major field of study; mine is film.

  4. That was some fine good reading!!!!

  5. Great post. Something that’s all too easy to forget in every facet of life but makes us better writers when we remember.

  6. Excellent points, as always. Carson, I’m glad you (and Deb also) provide another view about content work since so much of what’s out there is overwhelmingly negative. Adaptability is essential, and content work isn’t going away for a while. And you’ve used one of my all-time favorite Westerns to illustrate your points!
    .-= Terrisa´s last blog ..Running Away & Other Writing Prompts =-.

  7. WoW! My all time favorite movie. Jack eventually came down on the side of the Human Beings. After living in both cultures he decided the Indians were most “human.” The ending of the film is one of the best.
    .-= Buck Weber´s last blog ..Spring Break =-.

  8. Great read, Carson. I was probably 7 or 8 in the ’70s the first time I saw Little Big Man on television and I remember absolutely loving it. Now that I’ve returned to college, I’m currently doing a project based on the movie and am looking at the film in a much different way. You mention at the beginning of your article that Crabb was adopted and raised by the Souix… wasn’t it actually the Cheyenne? Regardless, I enjoyed reading your article. Thanks again.

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