Westerns and social commentary

Essay by Anonymous UserCollege, UndergraduateA, September 1996

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Throughout history Americans have had a fascination with unexplored, uncharted, and

untamed territory. Never has this been so pronounced as with the American west.

Stories of bravery, new peoples, cultures, and strange new lands have enchanted

Americans for nearly two centuries. This attraction is strikingly prominent in the film

history of the west. Yet, despite it's early and lasting popularity, the Western has not

until recent years attracted the attention of interpretive critics. Many critics viewed

Westerns as an escapist, immature medium. "Discussions of Westerns characterized the

genre as endlessly repetitive, utterly simple in form, and naive in its attitudes (Cook 64) ."

However, since the late 1960's Westerns have been recognized, "similar to other forms of

popular culture, as a useful barometer of shifting currents in American society and

culture (Etulain 3)." The development of the western film genre in American film culture

has progressed in manner, style, and ideology, and can be tracked in association with the

political, societal, and cultural trends of the last 90 years.

The first westerns were the same as many other first films, merely scientific

recordings of actual events such as wild west shows and rodeos. The first Western with

any content was The Great Train Robbery (1903). While still very primitive it gave much of

the stock form to westerns that exists today.

"It established the essential formula of crime, pursuit, showdown, and justice,

and within its ten minute running span it included, in addition to the train

robbery itself, elements of fisticuffs, horseback pursuit and gunplay, along with

suggestions of small child appeal, and probably the first introduction of that cliché

to be, the saloon bullies forcing a dude into a dance (Everson 15)."

As train robberies and similar crimes were not uncommon in the early nineteen hundreds

The Great...