I want to tell you about one of my heroes. He was a man who fought oppression in all forms. He was somebody who I knew would fight for the little person at all cost. He was somebody I could believe in. I am definitely not talking about Peter O’Toole, although I thought he was an incredible actor. His work in Becket with Richard Burton was amazing. Also, although I am a huge admirer of Nelson Mandela, I am not talking about him. I am talking about Tom Laughlin, the actor who played the character Billy Jack in four movies. The first movie was “The Born Losers,” where Billy Jack fought a motorcycle gang.
Billy Jack was a half-Indian Green Beret Vietnam War veteran who was a recluse near a small town in the California Central Coast mountains. Although he is reclusive, he needs supplies and visits a small town named Big Rock where a tragic event happens leading to a Hells Angel type group, led by Jeremy Slate in white sunglasses, to terrorize Big Rock. During this process Billy Jack gets arrested for trying to help, thus emphasizing the anti-authority sentiment throughout the movie. As a child of the 60’s I resonated with that belief.
In 1971 Billy Jack was back defending a “counter-culture Freedom-School,” from bigoted townspeople who “harass and discriminate against the Native American students.” What is amazing is there were four films in the Billy Jack series; all a result of the passion of Tom Laughlin. In this movie the plot is similar. Billy Jack is a “half-breed American Navajo, a Green Beret Vietnam War veteran, but is now a hapkido master.”
Both of these movies have the same theme involving an oppressed people and their oppressors. The oppressed want to operate outside of the system, but the corrupt oppressors won’t allow that to happen. This results in mayhem, where in the case of the 1971 movie the son of a corrupt county official kills an young Indian and rapes Billy Jack’s girl friend. Billy ends ups killing Bernard, the antagonist in this movie, while getting hurt during the process. Billy Jack gets arrested, thus leading to the third movie in the series the Trial of Billy Jack, which I never saw.
The 1971 movie had the same anti-authoritarian message as the first one, which is why I think I enjoyed them. I grew up in the 60’s had long hair and rebelled against the establishment. However, looking back at these movies now I see them as cute but silly. I am also a bit concerned about contradiction of message, peace but use violence to get it. How is that any different than the military-industrial complex of the time?
I was not aware enough at that point of time in my life to really care about that discrepancy. I enjoyed these movies because of the anti-establishment sentiment, which is where I nominally was at the time. I don’t think I even understood what that meant. Another favorite movie of mine at this time was “Easy Rider.” In fact, I wanted to be Dennis Hopper, and I wanted to purchase a chopper and travel across the United States. Never made it though.
I am glad I grew up. I have never watched the final two movies in the series. I got saved in 1973, and went on to bigger and better things. I developed new heroes and new battles. However, there is still some of that anti-establishment philosophy in me. I still like to root for the underdog. I still hate how those in power take advantage of those who are marginalized, but my reasons are much different, more eternal.
This season is about my new reason. This guy Jesus was born at a certain time in history. He began with very humble beginnings, which I can relate to, and he did not attach himself to those who were a part of the establishment, he was a renegade. He stood for right over wrong, and He fought for the little person, the marginalized. He also told us to do the same thing. However, He did not imply that violence was the answer. In fact, He told us to do the exact opposite. He told us to turn the other cheek. He told us non-violence was the answer. So Tom Laughlin, thank you for the character Billy Jack and the lessons he taught us, but I am happy I found Jesus, because His message is similar but different, and has a more eternal purpose.
Merry Christmas all!
And that is my thought for the day!