All you sodbusters gather ’round and listen up! I’m a getting’ up on my high horse and shootin’ off a few rounds straight from the hip. Seems there’s been a lot of talk around these parts about the virtues, or lack, of the Great American Western. Well now that’s all fine and dandy. Y’all got your points of view. I agree with some and disagree with others. But let’s not go runnin’ off all half-cocked here lookin’ to string up the wrong bunch of outlaws! Let’s put these things into proper perspective.
They’re all just a bunch of cowboy movies! That’s it, the bottom line. You know, good guys verses bad guys, white hats and black hats, settlers and injuns, the cavalry and of course our beloved gunslingers all shootin’ each other up. It’s all pretty much just good old-fashioned story tellin’. Hell, you could dress them all up as Samurai and get pretty much the same story! In fact, there’s been one or two Westerns where they simply took a Japanese Samurai flick and dressed them up as cowboys. Ever seen The Magnificent Seven? It’s a rip off of The Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa. But then y’all knew that anyway didn’t ‘cha? Of course Westerns have that appeal of being set in a historically significant era when the American West was between wilderness and civilization. It was sort of okee dokee to plug some varmint who was trying to steal your waterin’ hole or rustle your cattle. There really wasn’t a much better way. But you don’t really want to take these movies all too seriously today.
I oughta know. I didn’t spend twelve years of my life in an institution of higher book learnin’ to earn some high faluttin’ degree in movie watchin’ for nothin’. Okay, okay, I know, that little tidbit ain’t in my byline. Would you put it in yours? Didn’t think so. Anywho, I love a good Western. So I’m pro-Western. Yup pardners, I’m with Gary North on this one. I’d rather watch Clint Eastwood or The Duke shoot up a bunch of lawless scum than watch say… Oscar winning film Ordinary People about a family breaking apart. Oh yeah! That’s a whole lotta fun! In a pig’s eye! But, I don’t live my life by the Code of the West and that’s the point. It just don’t work no more.
Oh sure, they always have a moral. Heckers, all good tales worth tellin’ have a moral. Well… maybe Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, don’t but let’s not go there right now. Westerns always do. It’s part of the formula. And yup, law and order is settled with a gun, something not exactly acceptable in modern society. Just go out and try it if you don’t believe me. On second thought… please don’t! Trust me on this one. They’ll string you up faster than a polecat in August. In fact if you look closely, in some of the best Westerns like Shane, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance or High Noon, it’s clear the days of settling things with a gun are comin’ to an end and it’s for the better. Of course, they’re not quite there yet or they’d have one boring story, wouldn’t they? You betcha!
But now let’s get to the real meat of the debate, do Westerns wear a white or a black hat? It’s time to quit throwin’ these cow pies around, confusin’ the issue. I’m talking about the big hooey argued over by film scholars and students ever since I was knee high to a grasshopper. Do movies shape the thinking of people or do they simply reflect their thinking? Everyone always wants a yes or no answer to this one. Sorry folks, it’s not so black and white. Movies do both and they do neither. Yeah, I know, that’s convoluted and confusin’. Probably makes you all want to lynch me right now. In fact I’ll betcha real cowboys wore hats colored mostly brown and grey. They wouldn’t bother to argue on this subject either.
The fact is, all those dime novels and shoot ‘em up flicks are entertainment. That’s all. Hollywood ain’t, and never has been, in the business of preaching the gospel. They’re out to make a buck or million. And they do it very well. It just goes to show that when you live a boring, mundane and, excuse me, bourgeois life full of all it’s tedious complications, one just might want to escape into another time and place where things are simpler and a teenatchee bit more exciting. Hell I know I do! But I ain’t packin’ iron and I don’t settle my scores by being a faster draw. Most of us don’t. If we did, we’d be dead.
You know it’s a romantic idea that America is a pack of power hungry killers from watching too much John Wayne, but it just ain’t true. I mean look at your grammar schoolin’ U.S. history! We’re not exactly made out of Europe’s Upper Crust now are we? Heck no! We’re made up of a bunch of misfits, downtrodden, losers and rabble-rousers. And I might add, dang proud of it too. And then we had one whale of a wild and woolly country to settle. What did y’all expect tea and crumpets being served in Kitty’s Saloon in Dodge City? No way! We’re not killers because of the Duke! That’s ridiculous. We’re a bunch of killers because… well, we’re a bunch of killers.
Sorry there Bub, I’m not sure Paladin killed the bourgeois in America. We’ve got plenty of bourgeoisie as it is but there just ain’t no way we were ever gonna have as much as France. It just ain’t in us.
Nope. I ain’t gonna blame the Western for shaping anything and influencing anybody. The honest man is going to be honest because his parents were honest. The crook likewise will be a crook because of rotten parents, missing parents and poverty or some such thing.
Now of course, we still get the occasional crooked sheriff and his band of cronies. It’s kind of an American tradition. I’ll even bet ‘cha they’ve watched their share of Westerns and been mighty envious. And sometimes these varmints will go stormin’ into some God-forsaken desert town like say… Baghdad, and try to "clean it up," when really all they want is to kick ass on the evil sheriff already there and steal his cattle… or oil as the case may be. I have even heard such people praised for being like John Wayne! I’m serious too! Well, that’s just a bunch of turd blossoms.
Now we can all like or dislike the American Western as we see fit. But we can’t go runnin’ around acting like Quick Draw McGraw and we know it. Those days are over. It’s just plain stupid to idolize some yeahoo who thinks he’s Wyatt Earp, who by the way, ifn you didn’t know, was a corrupt "lawman" with a tin star.
That all said, it’s time to get out the ropes and do some lynchin’! We gotta clean up Dodge City! Now you all know The Duke or The Man With No Name would do it in a heartbeat.
Oh yeah… the best Western of all times? Blazing Saddles!
Tom Chartier [send him mail] played lead guitar in legendary Los Angeles punk band The Rotters for 26 years until their final appearance in January of 2004. He has lived in Tokyo, Japan as well as Los Angeles working in the entertainment industry. He is the primary caregiver of his ten-year-old son and currently resides on Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean.