The Wild West:
Perhaps the only cultural myth that was purely generated in America.
And the ideals from the Wild West are still legit today. They don’t have to be big and bold, like the blatant “Cowboys” in Cowboys & Aliens. In fact, the cultural myth is EVERYWHERE if you look for them through a inspective eye. So put on your 10-gallon hats, we’re goin’ WEST.
_/T\_ <(it’s a hat. Yeah I know. I try.)
Alright, let’s start off with a really recent example. I’m pretty sure that everyone has heard this song, because if you haven’t you need to giddyup and get to the nearest… uh… radio…. did they have radios back then? I’m pretty sure they had telegrams, but those don’t play songs.
Pumped Up Kicks gives the impression of a dangerous West, where everyone’s got a gun to shoot. Of course, I do know that the song is actually talking about school shootings, but if you look at it from the perspective of a Western idea, the thought that danger is all around and old “six shooter gun” is enough to make you “outrun [the] gun”. The image in the first verse especially reflects the portrayal of an old western gunner – quick hand, rolled cigarette hanging from the mouth, six shooter gun. And the second verse continues playing on this image with the “quick pull trigger” that almost reflects the stereotypical quick draw showdown.
And now let’s move to an example that is also kind of recent, but not as well-known. So if you don’t know him, let me introduce you to the new stranger in town, Wade Wilson, AKA Deadpool. He’s a mutant superhero (think X-Men) who is psychotic and trigger-happy. Of course, the Wild West was only partially trigger-happy. Deadpool is more of the lone traveling misunderstood hero, with a quick wit and a quick gun. Like the idealized hero of the West, who is mysterious traveler appears in town and kills the bad guys, Deadpool traverses the world alone, hidden behind a mask, and takes out villains left and right. But then again, seeing how psycho he is, you could also view him as the stereotypical evildoer of the West. He can be cruel, murderous, and crude, snapping crass, yet hilarious insults at his enemies before shooting them up like Swiss cheese. So I suppose Deadpool can represent both the “good guys” and the “bad guys” of the West, being a lone traveling gunslinger hero and a crazy rude murderer at the same time.
I think he has a movie coming out in 2014, so THERE – YOU CAN LIKE HIM BEFORE EVERYONE THINKS HE’S COOL.
And of course, lastly, ANIME. You knew this was coming didn’t you? Where Deadpool may have been the new stranger in town, this next example will probably be the dude who came to the U.S. all the way from Mexico.
Cowboy Bebop, an anime that was completed in Japan in 1999, is like the heir of the heir of Wild West ideas. The whole series is a reference back to American films and music based on the Wild West and at the same time incorporates it into a superb blend that fits in with excellent characters and an amazing plotline. When it finally returned to its roots by being aired in the U.S. on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, it was quickly “the greatest series [they] have ever aired”, and it has been ranked as one of the top anime in multiple polls.
I guess it goes to show that the impact of the idea of the Wild West isn’t simply limited to the U.S.
Anyway, Cowboy Bebop makes many references to old Western films and American music such as Desperado, Django, and Honky Tonk Women.
The link below is for the trailer for the movie that was released in 2003. As shown in the trailer, Cowboy Bebop plays on the ideas of quick-handed sharpshooters, Southern belle’s in distress, the individualistic traveling hero, and of course the gun showdown. The old American ideas of an adventurous and dangerous West are clearly played out in the movie: the guns, the saloons, the rough and rugged American Hero figure. Even though the idea for this series was born half-way around of the world, it still pays legitimate homage to the American ideals of the Old West.
ESSAY THING TIME:
In his Frontier Thesis, Frederick Jackson Turner claimed that a new and rough American identity was formed during the confrontation with the West, creating a unique character that was purely American – that of the Western frontiersman or cowboy. Although the statement by Turner is exaggerated, the ideas of this new “American” character still impact the media of today, through music, pop culture, and even foreign shows.
In the recent song Pumped Up Kicks by Foster The People, the lyrics reflect the idea of a rough and violent gunman of the West. The song’s lyrics as a whole portray the image of a dangerous area where everyone has a gun and “you better run”. This could be interpreted as an analogy to the Wild West, another treacherous and gun-filled area. The verses also repeat the phrases of “quick hand” and “quick trigger”, which further reflects the theme of the Wild West by referencing stereotypical quick draw showdowns. The reference to the Wild West and the “cowboy kid” show that even in modern music, the ideas of violent gunslingers are still being carried on. Although the song’s overall theme is about school shootings, the allusion to the cowboy as a source of violence and wildness still remains and was influenced by the idea of a wild American frontiersman.
Another modern reference back to the Western ideal is the Marvel superhero Deadpool, who portrays both the characteristics of a stereotypical cowboy hero and Wild West villain. Much like the idealized heroic cowboy, Deadpool is a mysterious, solitary traveler who is quick with both his wits and his guns. However, his psychotic and murderous nature also gives Deadpool connections to the evil villain of the Wild West. Nonetheless, in both cases, his rough and rugged physique and independent nature define him as a man of the frontier. Deadpool’s brawny, yet crude character create a reflection of the “American” that Turner described. As a comic book hero, Deadpool’s similarities with an old Western cowboy reveal that even in the modern day, Americans still look up to the heroes of the Wild West to model new superheroes after. Thus, even if the old horse-riding cowboy may have become less interesting, his characteristics will still be played out through new heroes who reflect the same ideals.
The impact of the idea of this “American” identity has not only become prominent in modern American society, but has spread to other cultures as well, as shown through the anime series Cowboy Bebop. Although the series juxtaposes science fiction themes as well, Cowboy Bebop makes multiple references to older Western films such as Desperado and Django. The series also blends in themes from the idealized Western frontier, including gun showdowns, women who need to be protected, and the tough individual. Spike, the aforementioned individual is a strong and determined gunslinger; these characteristics pay homage to the ideas of the cowboys of the Wild West, particularly the “sheriff” figure, since he desires to bring the criminals to justice. Originally a Japanese film, the fact that it portrays so many ideals that call back to the “American” character is quite shocking, and shows that the cultural impact of this “American” is so prominent in the modern world that it has spread to places halfway around the world.
Turner’s idea of a unique “American” character still remains legitimate today, as it still is referenced in music, used as a model for comic book heroes, and even influences the media of other cultures.
a final hat.
and a gun.
And we are done here now.
I bid you all ciao~