Goodbye, James Best

James Best passed away today. Many of Redstate’s younger readers probably haven’t heard of him. He wasn’t a politician, a professional athlete, or a musician. I don’t know anything about his political views or his religious beliefs. The only thing I know about him is that he played Sherriff Roscoe P. Coltraine on a silly 80s action show called The Dukes of Hazard. The show was geared primarily toward fourteen-year-old boys. As the theme song went:

Just two good ole’ boys

Never meanin’ no harm

Beat all you ever saw

Been in trouble with the law

Since the day they was born

I suppose for most people, his passing won’t make much of a difference, but it makes me sad. From the accounts that I have read, he lived a full, interesting life. He served in World War II before becoming an actor, but didn’t achieve fame until 1979, when The Dukes of Hazard became an immediate hit. Perhaps it isn’t the loss of the man himself, though judging from the sentiments of his fellow cast members, he was probably someone I would have liked. I think what saddens me is that Roscoe P. Coltraine was a part of the America I remember as a kid, and now Roscoe’s gone. Another small piece of the American quilt was worn away, and there’s nothing around to patch the hole. Even if there was, the material around it is too old and frail to be repaired.

Makin’ their way

The only way they know how

That’s just a little bit more

Than the law will allow

The Dukes of Hazard was a dumb show. I hold no illusions on that score. It had a formulaic plot, silly, uncomplicated characters, and probably consumed the vast majority of all the 76 Chargers produced in the United States. Yet despite the dubious physics and the ridiculous dialogue, it was great fun to watch. It was a Robin Hood Ballad filtered through the minds of Bill Monroe and Waylon Jennings. Bo and Luke Duke were, as the theme song suggests, two kind-hearted heroes fighting in their own way against a corrupt and overbearing government. Roscoe was the bumbling, foolish enforcement arm of that government, and every week the Duke boys would get the best of him. He’d end up in creeks, in ponds, in bales of hay, and in mud puddles, embarrassed but never seriously injured. His squad cars were submerged, blown up, flipped over, covered in rocks, and subjected to just about every form of destruction the writers could dream up. Hazard County must have had an automotive budget the size of the current Federal Deficit. But try as he might, Roscoe could never come up with a plan devious enough to catch the Duke boys. Not only would they foil his plan, but their solution would almost invariably help out someone else in need.

Just two good old boys,

Never change if they could

Fightin the system like two

Modern day Robin Hoods
The show was dumb, right down to the car chase that would appear like clockwork in the last ten minutes of every episode. But the themes that ran though the show weren’t. The importance of family, the willingness to help others and right wrongs, the virtue of self-reliance always made their way into the story, far-fetched as the story might have been. I miss the America that had those values so deeply ingrained in the culture that they made their way effortlessly into ridiculous television shows intended for adolescent boys. And that’s really what makes me sad about Roscoe’s passing. His passing just reminds me about the passing of the America he was a part of, hovering in slow motion like one of his squad cars before it met some disaster or other.  The difference was that Roscoe had a never-ending supply of squad cars. I’m not sure there are many left in the motor pools for us.

Goodbye, James Best. Thanks for chasing the Dukes around Hazard County. Thanks for being a part of the America I remember.



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