MESSAGES AND MEANINGS
Analyzing a performance of Buffalo Bill's Wild West is a difficult task. The first problem, the fact that the Wild West no longer exists and cannot be observed in production, means that the analysis must be more general and problematic than analyses of contemporary popular culture events. However, film fragments, pictures, and descriptions of the show do exist and some useful conclusions can be reached by careful study of these materials.
The second problem in analyzing a Wild West performance is the absence of a written text. But each individual act, and the performance as a whole, had a semiotic text that can be reconstructed at least partially from the information that still survives about the performances. Such a reconstruction is useful in helping to understand the types of messages that the show sent forth and the impact of these messages on the audience.
The third major problem in undertaking an analysis of this type is choosing which "performance" to analyze, as the show changed considerably over the 30 years it was presented. Many of the acts had a similar structure, however, and the most useful approach seems to be an analysis of each of the types of acts and then an analysis of the overall pattern of these events when they were combined into a program.
The basic physical element of the Wild West was a central, isolated oval space surrounded by seating for the audience on three sides, and a canvas wall with scenery painted on it on the fourth side. This space was neutral and was given meaning by the objects and performers it contained at any given time. The performance, and indeed each segment of the performance, was confined to a definite space and a definite length of time.