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Archive for January 22nd, 2017

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by Sam Juliano

The cowboy is probably the most masculine symbol of Americana, and as a result is the most unfairly vilified in the culture.  There are numerous stereotypes that are mainly perpetuated by western films, John Wayne’s uncompromising persona and a host of characters like Henry Fonda’s ruthless, back-stabbing cold-blooded Frank in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West that are veritable incarnations of evil.  In Anthony Mann’s masterpiece The Man from Laramie, which echoes Shakespeare’s King Lear, depicting a house torn asunder by murderous machinations, one of the most fallacious of all western myths -one that posed that guns were rampant when in fact gun laws back in the hey day of the push westward were more stringent than they are today- played out on an epic scale.  Just as spurious is the idea that cowboys constantly clashed with Indians and that bank-robbing outlaws in cowboy garb ruled the west.  Speaking of apparel, even the ten-gallon hat represents a case where sparse usage came to accepted as the norm, because of the distinctive intimidating aura and it took over as the most emblematic of the cowboy, much as the headdress for the Indians.  Finally, the cowboy didn’t originate in the United States, but were originally Mexican cattlemen, but the perception is no worse than one that has persisted even longer, that which contends that the earliest American settlers were “native Americans.”  With all these misconceptions it is no wonder that cowboys were for the longest time pigeon-holed as ill educated, ignorant, racist, bullying, homophobic and likely to act first and ask questions later.  More recently the accepted stereotypes have taken some hits, none as groundbreaking as in 2005 when Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, a film about two young men – Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, who carried an an elicit affair –  based on a novella by Anne Proulx, helping to lasso old stereotypes and set back the prevailing image of the cowboy on the heels of his boots perhaps for good.  The final irony of course is the labeling of these two men living in Wyoming circa 1963 as cowboys, leading some to refer to it as “that gay cowboy movie.” (more…)

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