The American West

The American West

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The story of the American West is still being told today even though most of historic events of the Wild West happened over more than a century ago. In movies, novels, television, and more ways stories of the old west are still being retold, reenacted, and replayed to relive the events of the once so wild and untamed land of the west that so many now fantasize about. After reading about the old west and watching early westerns it is amazing how much Hollywood still glorifies the history and myth of the old west. It may not be directly obvious to every one, but if you look closely there is always a hint of the Western mentality such as honor, justice, romance, drama, and violence. The most interesting thing about the Old West is the fact that history and myth have a very close relationship together in telling the story of the West.
The relationship between history and myth in the story of the West go hand and hand with each other for the most part. Why? The myth of the West came around just as the history of the West was happening. So a lot of history was often though of as myth and a lot myths were often thought of as actual history. For example, Buffalo Bill was extremely important to the West because he was mythical and historical figure at the same time. There were myths about him that were actually true and there were also myths about him that were made up he made them true. Author Lee Clark Mitchell states in his book, that some writers who wrote westerns such as Stephen Crane confronted "the intersection of history and fiction, fact and legend, without in the end appealing to either at the expense of the other." Also, "refusing to acknowledge that legends are more interesting than history (art, that is, surpassing life); Crane's stories at the same time resist any simple equation of the legendary with the fact itself (art matching life)" (Mitchell).
The cowboys of the frontier have long captured the imagination of the American public. Americans, faced with the reality of an increasingly industrialized society, love the image of a man living out in the wilderness fending for himself against the dangers of the unknown. By the end of the 19th century there were few renegade Indians left in the country and the vast expanse of open land to the west of the Mississippi was rapidly filling with settlers.

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Cowboys represented a major part of the frontier spirit and Americans were eager to keep the romanticism of the west alive. Throughout the 20th century, western-themed movies and books have been extremely popular. The cowboys of the west, while realistically a minor part of United States history, have developed into an integral part of American culture. Their popularity is a result of the independent nature they represent and the disappearing wilderness they inhabited.
The Cowboy lifestyle was first presented as entertainment by "Buffalo" Bill Cody. His Wild West Show was remarkably successful across the country in the late 1800's. Cody's affinity for drama and the limelight spurred him to conceive the fantastic world of the Wild West Show. The immensity of the show and the exaggerated dramas of life on the frontier entrenched the images of the Wild West in the minds of Americans and the rest of the world during the shows existence. Perpetual stereotypes and images of the west such as the cowboys and Indians battle, the circular stagecoach camp, and the buffalo hunt originated under Cody's staging and direction (Warren). Cody himself was born in a log cabin in Iowa and played important roles in every major moment in westward expansion, including the Pony Express, the Gold Rush, the building of the railroads, and cattle herding on the plains. Cody's sensationalistic portrayal of the West spread the allure of the frontier "from California to New York, and from London to Rome" (Warren). "Buffalo" Bill Cody's Wild West Show set the stage for thousands of western-themed books and movies.
Why does myth often triumph over history in popular culture? The illusion of myth is some times more desirable than actual history or fact. One of thing about movies, novels, television and theater, is that is does not have to be accurate or true in order to be real. It may be based off of fact or historic settings, but it does not have to follow every little detail to the point. For example, in the movie My Dear Clementine, it does have some truth to what actually happened in life such as Doc Holiday being sick with Tuberculosis. Although the movie does have some fiction to it also, the age of Wyatt's little brother James is changed from what it actually is to make him appear younger and have more of sympathy for Wyatt because his brother was so young when he was murdered.
Why might some Americans feel threatened by history? The history of the world has shown that not everything is always just nice and simple about history. Violence, wars, battles, gunfights, robberies, savage killings, thieves, and more were part of actually history of the west. People might feel threaten by the true facts of history because it makes them face the reality of the world. Where as the imagination can run free with myths and fiction of the old west to escape reality. As the author Limerick states in her book, "In the popular imagination, the reality of conquest dissolved into stereotypes of noble savages and noble pioneers struggling quaintly in the wilderness. These adventures seemed to have no bearing on the complex realities of the twentieth-century America. In western paintings, novels, movies, and television shows, those stereotypes were valued precisely because they offered an escape from modern troubles."
In conclusion, the legend of the Old West is still alive today. Hollywood still makes movies, television shows, and novels about the Old West. Even other movies, television shows, and novels may not be about the West, but hold the same principles as most cowboy movies do. I did not notice it before, but know I can see the connection between Western and Sci-Fi films, such as Star Wars. Now I can see that Luke Skywalker is just a cowboy in outer space. I also have noticed how many other movies have made connection to old western films, such as Shane and the movie The Negotiator. In the movie Kevin Spacey's character Lt. Chris Sabian, talks to Samuel L Jackson's character Lt. Danny Roman about the movie Shane and how Shane is leaving the town at the end of the movie. They argue about if Shane dies in the end or if he rides off to live another day because he looks like he is slumped over on his horse. Which after watching the movie I myself could not figure out whether or not he is dying or if he just rides off to live the rest of his life as a gunfighter some where else.
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