“Born on a mountain top in Tennessee
Greenest state in the Land of the Free
Raised in the woods so’s he knew every tree
Kilt him a b’ar when he was only three.
Davy, Davy Crockett, King of the wild frontier!”
— The Ballad of Davey Crockett
The Davey Crockett TV show — which was launched in 1954, by Walt Disney — spawned a huge fad. Indeed, it was as powerful as the arrival of Elvis. Forty million people watched every week, which was an enormous number, in those days.
Fess Parker played the part of the legendary American frontiersman, congressman, champion of Indian rights, and hero of the Alamo. He did so both on the weekly TV show and in a number of Disney films. He was great as Davey Crockett. (He also played Daniel Boone, but let’s not get sidetracked.) Mr. Parker died the other day, at the age of 85.
Thanks to Mr. Parker’s portrayal, millions of boys came to idolize the frontiersman, sporting all sorts of Davey Crockett paraphernalia, especially coonskin caps. And I, growing up in Brooklyn New York, was one of them. Through a kind of mythic childhood identification, I imagined myself to be the heroic American frontiersman. I even insisted on my mother calling me Davey.
Davey Crockett and the Mystery of the BearsAccording to the TV show’s theme song, Davey Crockett, killed him a b’ar (bear) when he was only three. As to whether he actually did may be dubious, but mythically understood the legend makes sense. This is because the bear is a mother symbol. We might recall, in this context, that the bear is the symbol for “Mother Russia.”
Freud might have thought that the song is about a conflict with one’s actual mother. But Jung might, more perceptively, contend that the bear symbolizes not one’s actual mother, but the mother archetype. More specifically, the bear symbolizes what Jung’s student, Eric Neumann called “The Great Mother.”
But the bear symbolizes the mother, not as kindly and beneficent, but as dangerous and maleficent. The real danger of the mother, to the young man, is her lure. He is seeking to become independent, but he is still lured to dependence. It’s not the fault of actual mothers, but of the inner archetype. So, killing the bear symbolizes overcoming the lure to be taken care of, when the time comes to become independent.
Interestingly enough, I was three years old when I heard the song, the very age when Davey Crockett, as the song alleges, killed a bear. I distinctly remember being very much afraid of bears. My parents sought to comfort me by explaining that there aren’t any bears in Brooklyn, New York (well, actually there were some residing at the Prospect Park Zoo, not that far away from our apartment house in Coney Island.)
But my parent’s assurances did not serve to comfort me, for it was not really bears, but what they symbolized, that I feared. So, I set out to protect myself by sharpening sticks, of all sorts, into weapons and kept them next to my bedside, for it was when the sun set that the bears came out. And there were nights when I could have sworn to have seen them. I’ll get back to the bears in a moment, for the fear, strangely enough, turned out to be justified.
The Mystery of a Fur Cap
By the time I was seven or eight, I’d all but forgotten about Davey Crocket. Fast forward, over half a century, to March 21, 2010. That’s when I came across an obituary photo of Fess Parker, dressed in a coonskin cap. As I gazed upon the photo, I was jolted by a kind of epiphany. On some deep unconscious level — I was still seeking to be Davey Crockett!
To be more specific, several years ago, I had purchased a winter hat made of coyote fur. “Why am I spending $135. on hat?,” I asked myself. I answered my question by replying, “Well, if I’m going to be living in chilly Binghamton, New York, I may as well dress right. And being that I’m balding, I all the more need to protect my skull on cold days.”
We often seek a practical excuse to rationalize a symbolic activity. This is not to deny that the hat is really warm and comfortable on frigid winter days, but I could have purchased a wool cap for a good deal less. Obviously, there was something symbolic about the coyote hat that appealed to me.
And so, when I gazed upon Fess Parker’s photo, it dawned on me that my interest in wearing a coyote hat was my unconscious channeling Davey Crockett, my childhood hero. I was not, essentially, interested in Davey Crockett himself, but rather in the values that he embodied, including rugged independence, bravery, and patriotism. And I admired him for being a killer of bears.
Every Man and Woman a Davey Crockett
For the past several winters, I would wear the hat everywhere. Probably, the most crowded store, in the Binghamton area, is Wegmans Supermarket. When I would wear it there, people would invariably compliment it. They would often will ask me questions about the fur hat, for there was something about it that intrigued them.
I doubt that they think of Davey Crockett. After all, his hat was made of coon fur and mine of coyote. And besides, the hat in conjunction with my beard probably makes me look more like a Russian fur trader than an American frontiersman. [See photo.] But I have an intuitive sense of what I look like to them, or at least to some of them: a visitor from an earlier age, from a time when America was younger, tougher, nobler, and more confident about itself.
This is not to say that I embody that ideal. I don’t live in the woods, hunting my next meal. Rather, I live in a warm apartment and get my food from Wegmans Supermarket. But the ideals that the frontier symbolizes — on a deeper level — have always been my guiding star. And whenever I have lost my way in the darkness, those ideals have reoriented me again.
Davey Crocket in the Age of Obamacare and What it Has to Do with Bears
There exist, in many of us, an ambivalence. We have a childish longing for security, but we also have an adult longing to be independent.
In regard to the former longing, we wish to be taken care of by the government. The emergence of the “nanny state” — derives from that puerile longing. The original function of government was to have it protect us from each other, and from foreign nations. But over the years the function of government has changed. Now it is there to protect us from ourselves. Now, if we are improvident, government supplies us with funds for our old age. It makes us wear a seat belt and may soon penalize us if we don’t eat the approved of diet. Since the founding of America, we have been slowly but surely drifting in that direction.
We have been moving, in other words, towards statism, towards socialism. Obama’s universal health care constitutes a giant step in that direction. It entails a fundamental shift in our relation to government, from being citizens to being subjects. As subject, we have rulers telling them how to live. Actually, under Obamacare, we become wards of the state.
That is why Obamacare constitutes a shift from liberty to tyranny. It is destructive to our values and ideals and to the American sense of self, of the grit, the moxie and the daring, which expresses itself in a life of rugged independence. It is one hell of a psychological regression, spawned by a narcissistic villain, by a ruthless tinpot tyrant, by a well-dressed thug from the gutters of Chicago, and his repulsive minions. And so it has come to pass, that the fear of the bear, who consumes everything in its sight — American prosperity, independence, hardihood, and liberty — is not groundless at all, for the mother bear, for the regressive longing for dependency, now takes the form of socialism.
But here is where we are ambivalent beings, for just as we have a longing to be protected by “Leviathan,” by the state, so it is that we long to be rugged individualists. That longing is never lost, despite our nation’s current drift to puerility and weakness. The frontier is still part of every American’s collective unconscious, even if — as the historian Frederick Jackson Turner pointed out — the ending of the end of the frontier was a decisive event in American history and perhaps in the American character.
Thus does the site of a fur trapper’s hat evokes memories of a lost age and its values. May those dormant values reawaken. There will always be inner frontiers to conquer, and there will always be bears to engage in battle. They are no less dangerous than actual ones. Indeed, America is now in mortal danger, for it is being strangled by a deadly bear hug. Let us, then, remember the heroes of Alamo, our spiritual ancestors and derive faith and courage from them. We shall need it for the battles that lie ahead. Viva Davey Crockett!