The American Western

The American Western

The American Western

The American Western

Synopsis

This wide-ranging book illuminates the importance of the Western in American history. It explores the interconnections between the Western in both literature and film and the United States in the 20th century.Structured chronologically, the book traces the evolution of the Western as auniquely American form. The author argues that America's frontier past was quickly transformed into a set of symbols and myths, an American meta-narrative that came to underpin much of the 'American century'. He details how and why this process occurred, the form and function of Western myths and symbols, the evolution of this mythology, and its subversions and reconstructions throughout 20th-century American history.The book engages with the full range of historical, literary and cinematic perspectivesand texts, from the founding Western histories of Theodore Roosevelt and Frederick Jackson Turner to the New Western history of Patricia Nelson Limerick and Richard White.

Excerpt

The American Western

On 17 September 2001, less than a week after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush was responding to questions from the press about America’s mobilization for the so-called War on Terrorism. One reporter asked, “Do you want bin Laden dead?” Bush replied, “I want justice. There’s an old poster out West, as I recall, that said, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.’”

Q: Are you saying you want him dead or alive, sir? Can I interpret …

BUSH: I just remember, all I’m doing is remembering when I was a kid I remember
that they used to put out there in the old West, a wanted poster. It said: “Wanted,
Dead or Alive.” All I want and America wants him brought to justice. That’s what
we want
.

That the president and former governor of Texas should articulate himself in this way was surprising only to the extent that, as one of the world’s most senior statesmen, such language and allusion seemed to convey a lack of seriousness. However, if his turn of phrase was not a surprise, America’s reaction to it was. A vast number of Americans at the beginning of the twenty-first century (and Bush’s approval ratings in the months immediately following 9/11 bear this out) willingly accepted his rhetorical style and Western imagery. In this way, the Western was evoked as a means of, firstly, understanding what had happened, and, secondly, shaping the American response. Whether or not this use of imagery was deliberate, Bush linked past and present in a very sophisticated manner. The repeated use of the word “remember,” the reference to childhood and the explicit naming of the “old West” in the same space suggests nostalgia, innocence, tradition, progress, and the previous American triumph of civilization over savagery. In the same press conference, Bush offers a portrait of an enemy who “likes to hide and burrow in,” who have “no rules,” who are “barbaric,” who “slit throats,” and who “like to hit, and then they like . . .

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