Jim Rockford: Libertarian?

Maybe not, but the iconic character played by the recently deceased James Garner on The Rockford Files had an anti-authoritarian streak. As A.G. Gancarsk points out in The American Conservative, Rockford, a private detective who served time in jail for a crime he did not commit, had an antagonist relationship with the police and various other elites:

When “Rockford” came out in 1974, the prevailing national mood was cynicism. The Watergate Affair, the Vietnam Debacle, and other non-negotiable changes in the cultural firmament (everything from an uptick in nuclear family dissolution to a decrease in the buying power of the common currency) primed the American viewing public for a very specific sort of anti-hero. One who waded through the everyday detritus of day-to-day compromises, world-weary yet, despite it all, demonstrated a sense of honor, compassion, and goodness that evoked the best aspects of the mid-century American Everyman. That was Jim Rockford.

Concomitant with all of those positive traits one saw in Jim Rockford, the character, was a staunch anti-authoritarian streak. Not the anti-authoritarianism of a campus radical, obviously, but one much more recognizable and noble in Middle America at the time. A desire to “live and let live,” and a need to be left alone as much as possible in the pursuit of one’s own happiness. For many viewers at the time and today, Rockford’s revulsion at quotidian small-mindedness struck a chord. He was them, or at least, understood them.

Rockford came by his distrust of authority honestly: he served a stint in prison, allegedly for a crime he didn’t commit. Living on the ocean in tony Malibu in a mobile home, he was the scourge of his neighbors, who saw his domicile (and the shootouts and other shady happenings that happened on the premises) as detracting from quality of life.

And, predictably enough, he had a checkered relationship with the LAPD. While he frequently used Dennis Becker, a friend from his own pre-prison police days, to check license tags and files for closed cases for him, he nonetheless had an adversarial relationship with the police in Los Angeles and elsewhere, who didn’t care for private eyes and didn’t really care for him either.

I doubt the creators of The Rockford Files were intending to convey a pro-liberty message, but the sense of skepticism toward government officials that informed the show is  a welcome antidote to the pro-state propaganda that emits from much of Hollywood.

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