On one of the many snowy nights this spring break, I decided to sit down with a friend and watch one of my all-time favorite movies from my childhood, Blazing Saddles. At first, the opening theme and credits took me on a blissful trip down memory lane, but soon, I couldn’t help but notice all of the similarities the film shared with the philosophies of Rousseau as outlined in his Social Contract. The two most apparent similarities were that of the Foreign Founder, and the general will.
First, here’s a quick synopsis for those who have not seen the film. A small town, Rock Ridge, happens to be in the way of a railroad line being constructed and backed by a corrupt governor, attorney general, and railroad boss. The three decide they will do whatever is necessary to convince the people of Rock Ridge to forfeit their town so that construction of the railroad can proceed. Soon, Hedley Lamarr, the attorney general, devises an evil plan to rout the people out of the town by sending in a mob of his less-than-desireable cronies. Soon, Rock Ridge’s sheriff is shot and killed, and the town seems on the verge of defeat. They hold a town meeting and decide that rather than admitting defeat to this mob, they will kindly ask the Governor for a new sheriff. The Governor decides to send a convicted black man as the new Sheriff in hopes of discouraging the townspeople, and he sends in our foreign founder, Bart.
Bart is a quintessential foreign founder as described by Rousseau. The townspeople actually despise him at first (mainly because he is black and this is a very racist time). But little do they realize, Bart can see what the people of Rock Ridge need better than the people themselves can see. Bart helps the people realize that in order for them to be able to defeat their common enemy, the evil gang of railroad cronies, they must outwit as opposed to outmuscle the gang. This is an example of Bart helping the townspeople find their general will. In the end, the townspeople prevail, and oust the gang. Bart then does what any good Rousseauean foreign founder would do, and packs up and heads out of town to let the people rule themselves once again.
It was rather shocking for me to recognize the differences in how I viewed Blazing Saddles after studying Rousseau. A film that I have seen countless times, seemed like I was watching it for the first time all over again. But this all brings me to a final question, are most writers, weather it be for film, novels, theater etc… well-read on Rousseau, or are we just so accustomed to Rousseau’s philosophies through other media we have absorbed, that it becomes second nature to us all to include different elements of Rousseau’s thinking?