Lost Westerns

Essay by EssaySwap ContributorUniversity, Bachelor's February 2008

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I glanced down at my shoes, dusty from their cross-campus travels, and my thoughts suddenly wandered towards images of dusty boots with jangling spurs on the tips. The boots I saw in my mind's eye were worn by a cowboy from an old black and white film. After a few more minutes of thought on this subject, I came to a conclusion: the traditional Hollywood western-style film has been going the way of the dinosaur since the mid-70s in America. The mainstream movie-going audience no longer favors dueling gunslingers and cowboys versus Indians and hookers with hearts of gold. In my experience talking to others my age about westerns, the majority of them have said that they don't like westerns because they feel out of date. I think that old and worn-out feeling comes from two primary fronts in the movie business: the advance of special effects and technology, and the trend towards more historically accurate movies.

It isn't enough to simply have a man get shot in a movie; now filmmakers have to show the path of the bullet in slow motion or have two pints of blood ejected from the wound in order to keep mainstream audiences' attention. The tension that once might have filled a duel between a hero and a villain in a quick-draw gunfight is lost on the epic battles and ratcheted violence levels of today's modern films. Even in some western style films that are currently being released, none that I have seen incorporate elements of older Hollywood westerns.

In addition to newer special effects and technologies, historical accuracy is now a major part of serious filmmaking. When Indians were portrayed as crazed, scalping savages in westerns from the 40s and 50s, nobody gave it a second thought except for Native Americans, who would have been deeply offended at their misrepresentation onscreen. But since Native Americans were not the majority of moviegoers, makers of western films were unconcerned. In many modern-day western style films, I have noticed that special attention is paid to the accurate portrayal of the relationship between Native Americans and cowboys or the old American Army. Because of the emphasis on historical accuracy as well as the need for political correctness, traditional westerns simply cannot be made and be profitable as well. They would come under fire for being insensitive, which may serve to boost their popularity for a short while, but ultimately cause the film to fail.

I know that many people my age do not like traditional western films, but generally prefer films that are more intelligent, violent, and special-effects filled. From that perspective, and taking into account that young adults my age (18-24) are in the key money-making demographic for mainstream films, I have come to the conclusion that it is my generation who has put the final nail in the coffin of traditional westerns. We as a whole have no movie icons like Wayne or Eastwood to idolize in western films. Now most film icons are action stars, and westerns have been lumped in with action films as a niche of that particular market segment. With nobody to carry on the traditional western style in filmmaking, it has evolved into a mere background element for movies and television, with the greater emphasis being put on the action or drama of the characters and not as much on the wild west atmosphere. Since it is my generation who controls what the market creates, it is safe to say that we have dictated that traditional westerns should die an obscure death.