Monday, October 17, 2016

I don't like westerns and I think it's because there's something I don't get about them.

I think I've given up on Westworld, but not because it wasn't high quality. It is exactly that. It's a high quality series that's well-written and showcases some of the best talent in Hollywood today. And it has an important message, not only about how we view the Turing test but about the dark depths of humanity's inner cravings. But every time it's on, I almost fall asleep on the couch. I just don't like Westerns. Living out here in Utah, I'm a standout. Out here, lots of people love Clint Eastwood's "The Outlaw Josey Wales" and "Unforgiven." They love TV series like "Lonesome Dove" and they decorate their homes with antlers and guns. I think I'd just rather watch something that didn't have guns and horses in it. I like cowboy boots, but it's not enough to want to watch a Western just like it's not enough to listen to country music.

Westerns...I don't like the look of them. They're not colorful movies, are usually poorly lit, and are filmed on grimy sets. There always seems to be a holiness and heroism aspect to westerns with one guy standing out that has far superior skills to everyone else. And "the guy" is the epitome of western white ideals of masculinity that seek to walk a fine line between being unemotional and restrained with the ever present threat of gun violence. Of course, every western has to have some kind of storm. It wouldn't be complete without one (with the horses running scared, everyone getting wet, and ominous flashes of lightning). And there's the inevitable bromance that develops, and when it's interrupted when "the guy's" bro gets killed, it becomes a story of vengeance and justice (maybe with a woman crying her eyes out thrown somewhere in the mix). In a sentence, maybe it's because it glorifies redneck culture.

When I start watching Western movies, inevitably I look at the clock. It blows my mind that westerns used to be so popular. It says volumes about Michael Crichton that he wrote Westworld when I couldn't even contemplate positioning any kind of story in the Old West. Maybe they were so popular because in the early days of Hollywood, endless dull retellings of the great American frontier were easy to shoot.

Anyway, there's clearly something that I don't get about westerns.


  1. Hollywood stopped making westerns during the Great Depression because people stopped watching them. John Ford reinvigorated the genre in 1939 with Stagecoach (great movie) but I've always wondered if the clouds of WW2 had something to do with the western's resurgence. American society wanted something to remind them they were once great and westerns continued to thrive through most of the Cold War.

    They never were very accurate. African Americans made up a quarter of all cowboys and with Native Americans and Mexicans a large percentage as well. Two oF the ten US cavalry regiments serving in the West were made entirely of African-American enlisted men but you never saw a black man riding to the rescue.

    Westerns were an unspoken "Let's make America Great Again" of the 1950s and I can understand why you don't like them. Then again, I'm not sure if Westworld can be considered a Western. I see it as sci-fi/horror with the American West as a backdrop. I like the premise but the story hasn't grabbed me at all which is why I've fallen asleep watching the last two episodes. I hope it gets better.

  2. It's not really a western, though, is it.

  3. I never saw the original movie but I've tried to get into the new TV Westworld but just can't get into it.

  4. This perception with a few changes could be used for a reason why some people hate superhero movies. I enjoy both (Westerns and Superheroes) but can see why interest has waned. I don't watch many westerns these days but my mother was watching one recently and I had a lot of fun checking in and listening to the banter.

  5. Kevin made some good points in his comment, especially about how white westerns were for so very long. As for me: I agree and disagree with you, Mike. First off, I love horses--but it's Game of Thrones that really has gorgeous horses. On the other hand, I don't like western decor or art, even though I'm a Colorado native, and I've never cared for the desert landscape, sagebrush, or treeless plains. But while I've never been drawn to westerns, I've enjoyed really well-told ones, and that includes Lonesome Dove (the book won the Pulitzer), Stagecoach (fantastic cinematography), Silverado, etc. The best ones tell complicated stories with complicated people, and yes, you're right about the heroism role in so many, but isn't that also the case (and even moreso) with superhero flicks? Or for that matter with most of our movies? It's the hero cop, the hero Dad, the hero pilot, the hero whistleblower...

    A few people have pointed out that westerns are America's retelling of the Camelot legends, and that's fairly true. The ideal cowboy or sheriff or whatever is the noble knight who has to fight evil. Westerns simply added another dimension to the archtype.

    Anyway, if you don't care for westerns, that's just fine. When it comes to storytelling, we all have our preferences. Westerns aren't my first choice either, but once in a while one comes along that I find myself enjoying.

  6. I understand. I feel similarly about anything where the protagonist must survive in the wilderness. Although, I wonder if maybe you might try writing one. Keep all the things you love about stories, but set it in a western-type setting. It might be instructive.

    Then again, we don't have to like all genres. You're allowed to give this one a pass.