Friday, December 31, 2010

Pardon Fever Stops with Billy the Kid

I'm not a big fan of efforts to "save the past" through pardoning of celebrity malefactors and criminals. I can see giving a symbolic justice to people like Susan B. Anthony and Medgar Evers. David Walker, the extremely brave black activist who wrote "Walker's Appeal" needs to be rescured from the historical scrap heap as well. However, the efforts to pardon people like Jim Morrison and Billy the Kid function mostly to flatten out the rough edges of a rough past.

As a result, they all have a fundamental falseness about them.

It was dumb of outgoing Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to pardon Jim Morrison for obscenity. Ok, so maybe Morrison didn't pull out his dick during a Miami concert and maybe the cops were persecuting him.

Who knows?

But it wasn't like Morrison was Pat Boone either. From what I remember and have read about the Doors, everything Morrison accomplished had an underpinning of sex, drugs, drinking, and general outrageousness that can be legitimately summarized in the word "obscenity." I bought 45's of "Hello, I Love You" and "Touch Me," grooved to "Riders on the Storm" and "LA Woman" and remember where I was on the Potsdam State campus when I heard Morrison died.

I've played them for my daughters as well.

But to me, Morrison's obscenity conviction is a useful reminder that he was drinking something like two quarts of Scotch when he died.

Bill Richardson was right not to pardon Billy the Kid but shouldn't have considered it in the first place. Whether he killed nine guys or twenty-nine guys, Billy was a professional killer who shouldn't have been considered for pardon any more than Al Capone's hit guys.

Actually, it might have been better to take the New Mexico case the other way. Instead of a posthumous pardon for Billy the Kid, it might have been better to do posthumous murder convictions for Pat Garrett and everybody involved in the Lincoln County War that gave birth to Billy the Kid's career as a gunslinger.

If we ever want to have a less violent country, one thing we need to reduce the symbolic weight of murder in our popular culture. Finding ways to express our revulsion at past murders would be a good step in that direction.

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