A look at Scottish figures in popular culture on the eve of the Highland Games
As Americans go, we’re a pretty arrogant people.
Let’s face it — there’s a certain smug satisfaction we get from our distinctive heritage. Aside from a few of our more recent conflicts we won’t mention here, we’ve been victorious in foreign wars, both hot and cold. We’ve been trendsetters for the past half-century in all manner of art, music, film and popular culture, and the rest of the world has a love-hate relationship with America.
Those that don’t want to destroy us simply detest us, while the other half wants to be us (or at least live here). We, on the other hand, proudly proclaim that for all of our nation’s faults, there’s no place else in the world we’d rather be, and no other nationality with which we’d want to be affiliated. The exception, perhaps, is Scotland.
Take “Braveheart,” for example. Has there ever been a more testosterone-fueled film of brutal savagery, of a common man fighting for freedom against tyranny? It’s an American story, told years before America was ever conceived. And it’s archetypal of everything we as Americans admire about Scotland — bloodshed, swordplay, brute strength and sacrifice. We like to imagine that we’re tough, but deep down inside, every American looks at a Scotsman and thinks, “That guy could probably beat me up.”
Is it any wonder, then, that popular culture is rife with towering figures of Scottish origin? That so many of our fictional heroes are portrayed as rugged, gruff and hot-tempered kilt-wearing brutes with a brogue designed to make a woman melt? Is it any surprise that we hold a special place in our hearts for many real life Scotsmen?
I think not. And as a tribute to our Highland brethren, I’d like to take this opportunity to pay homage to the Top 10 figures of Scottish origin for whom we should all be thankful. Keep them in mind this weekend when you wander the grounds of the Smoky Mountain Highland Games on the Maryville College campus. Just don’t try out your poor imitation of these revered figures on a real Scotsman ... you might get your skull cleaved with a battle axe.
In descending order:
10) Rob Roy MacGregor: Best known to contemporary audiences from the 1995 film “Rob Roy” starring Liam Neeson, this Scottish folk hero was known as the “Scottish Robin Hood.” Regardless of its historical accuracy, you’ve got to admit it was pretty cool when Liam Neeson split Tim Roth down the middle at the climax of the film.
9) Connor MacLeod: Best known as “The Highlander,” this fictional Scotsman is, literally, immortal. Portrayed by Christopher Lambert in a number of films, he has to battle other immortals to the death. And he carries a sword.
8) Desmond Hume: If you’re a fan of “Lost,” then the drunken Scotsman who became a regular in the second season quickly became a favorite. Not only did he blow up the Swan Station and survive the explosion, he gained the ability to foresee the future, not to mention he’s one of the few residents of the island who doesn’t die at the end of the series — further evidence of how ornery those Scots can be.
7) Sean Connery: Here’s a real Scotsman who entered the Mr. Universe pageant ... played one of the most suave secret agents in popular culture ... and became such a debonair star in his later years that he’s parodied as a loutish contestant who consistently torments a fictional version of Alex Trebek on “Jeopardy” skits on “Saturday Night Live.” Say what you will, but that’s a legacy.
6) The Loch Ness Monster: Granted, this one’s a crytozoological creature rather than a person, but still ... when you have enough staying power to keep the public interest for almost 80 years (it was first brought to the world’s attention in 1933), you have American respect.
5) Robert Burns: For the common American, poetry is a fancy art form best left to the academics. Unless, of course, it happens to be written by this guy. After all, anybody who writes a song that’s screamed in unison the world over every New Year’s Eve (yes, he wrote “Auld Lang Syne”) by revelers who hoist up flagons of alcohol has to be a man of the people.
4) Groundskeeper Willie: Anyone familiar with “The Simpsons” knows that when danger arises, this flame-haired, muscle-bound Scotsman is the go-to guy. According to a 2007 story in the Edinburgh Evening News, Willie is the character that a majority of Americans “most believe personifies the Scottish temperament.”
3) Montgomery Scott: The Enterprise is broken down like an old Buick, locked upon by Klingon warships and drifting toward an imploding star. Who does Capt. Kirk call upon to save the day? A Scotsman, of course. “I’m givin’ her all she’s got, Captain!”
2) William Wallace: Fictional or the real deal? Let’s go with pre-crazy Mel Gibson. Is there anybody out there who watches this movie and does not want to run out onto the front lawn and scream “FREEDOM!” loud enough to wake the entire block?
1) Stuart Rankin: You may not know the name, but you certainly know the character — he’s the proprietor of the shop “All Things Scottish” on the old “Saturday Night Live” skits, portrayed by Mike Myers. He’s hot-headed, quick to verbally abuse glib customers who disrespect the gravity of Scottish culture and loudly proclaims, “If it’s not Scottish, it’s crap!”
We couldn’t agree more, Mr. Rankin — especially this weekend.
Steve Wildsmith is the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (email@example.com) or at 981-1144.