The Philosophy of the Western

The Philosophy of the Western

The Philosophy of the Western

The Philosophy of the Western

Synopsis

The western is arguably the most iconic and influential genre in American cinema. The solitude of the lone rider, the loyalty of his horse, and the unspoken code of the West render the genre popular yet lead it to offer a view of America's history that is sometimes inaccurate. For many, the western embodies America and its values. In recent years, scholars had declared the western genre dead, but a steady resurgence of western themes in literature, film, and television has reestablished the genre as one of the most important.In The Philosophy of the Western, editors Jennifer L. McMahon and B. Steve Csaki examine philosophical themes in the western genre. Investigating subjects of nature, ethics, identity, gender, environmentalism, and animal rights, the essays draw from a wide range of westerns including the recent popular and critical successes Unforgiven (1992), All the Pretty Horses (2000), 3:10 to Yuma (2007), and No Country for Old Men (2007), as well as literature and television serials such as Deadwood. The Philosophy of the Western reveals the influence of the western on the American psyche, filling a void in the current scholarship of the genre.

Excerpt

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What is it that compels people’s fascination with the American West? What motivated (and still motivates) individuals to pull up stakes and head west? Why do the travails of the cowboy remain so captivating when cowboy culture is virtually extinct? Arguably, the perennial appeal of the American West is anchored in myth, a myth whose power persists in large part because it finds expression, among other places, in the literary and cinematic genre known as the western.

The myth that westerns convey is both anchored in the history of the West and itself helped shape the historical settlement of the American frontier. It emerged from the stories of westward expansion: stories of those who moved west made their way back east as quickly as their subjects moved in the opposite direction. They came in the written forms of letters, chronicles, newspaper articles, serials, comics, and dime novels, as well as in performances such as Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Whatever form they took, stories of life on the American frontier settled in the minds of all who heard, saw, or read them. Thus, as new Americans laid claim to native lands of the West, stories of the western territories staked their own claim on the popular imagination. These stories motivated a cultural fascination with western figures, famous and infamous, and catalyzed interest in the prospect of a western life. Not only were stories of the American West anchored in westward expansion; insofar as they captivated the popular imagination, they encouraged it. However, to the extent that they typically refashioned the reality upon which they were based, these stories blurred the line between fact and fiction. As a consequence, most who migrated to the West had little idea what truly awaited them. They were drawn west by the myth, by the vague yet inexorable allure of a wild, untouched land, of terrain laden with . . .

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