The American Western

By Anderson, Kent | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), June 2008 | Go to article overview
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The American Western


Anderson, Kent, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


The American Western Stephen McVeigh. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007.

Stephen McVeigh's book is an efficient study of the myth of the frontier and the history of the West, established as an interrogation of the Western by way of its association with the evolving political culture of the United States. He understands "the myth of the West as a deliberate creation, one that was specifically constructed in response to political anxiety" (viii). Indeed, his work is timely, given the renewed interest in the Western in the wake of 9/11 and the political anxiety attendant on the events of that day (he begins the book with an anecdote about George Bush's desire to bring in Osama Bin Laden "dead or alive"). He emphasizes the relationship between the Western and political culture because: "the American Western will continue to shape, reflect and challenge the course of American development in the years to come" (220). It is noteworthy that he sees the Western as a site of contested meaning, a space in which to address social and political issues, instead of condemning the form outright or celebrating it without restraint.

To show how the myth of the West was constructed, and to establish its interrelationship with the political culture of the United States, McVeigh focuses on specific texts and establishes the social and political contexts in which they were shaped, tracing the production and development of Western narratives in politics and popular culture. The argument moves through the 189Os, into early examples of Western films and literature, to the Western narratives running through Cold War politics, the "New Frontier" of John F. Kennedy, and the Reagan and Clinton years, finishing with the Bush administration.

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