Monday, March 16, 2009

The (Current) Age-Old Question

Is the Western really dead?

I hear this more and more. The pundits and those who claim to know all say that the Western is indeed dead.

And yet I see evidence of it everywhere. In successful movies and TV miniseries. In books on the shelves. In advertising.

So the Western isn't dead to Madison Avenue, meaning it's not dead to the consumer. So why is it said that it's dead? Why is it so hard to get a book set in the Old West sold? Why are the Western TV shows and movies now so few and far between? (Aside from the fact that horses are costly beasts. :-D)

Now, there's the school of thought that says it isn't dead and gone -- it's just packaged in a spaceship (Star Wars or Serenity), or it's wearing a suit and carrying a badge and a gun as well as a squad car (pick almost any cop show), or it's been updated (No Country for Old Men or Deadwood). And I agree that this is so, and good as well. Nothing wrong with taking the feeling of an indelible time and using it elsewhere, or turning the conventions on their ears.

But the idea of the conventional Western -- where there may be bad guys, but a good guy or gal or group is gonna come along and save the day in the end, while riding horses and being true to their pards and wanting their freedom while, at the same time, having a yearning for 'something' -- that I keep hearing is dead and gone.

And I don't believe it.

Maybe because I don't want to (I write in this genre, after all), but maybe more because, to me, the heart of a Western is tied up in my nation's image and history, so much so that it's almost genetic. You're an American (or, so my Aussie friends tell me, an Australian) and the rough and tumble that helped forge your homeland is in the bone, whether or not you were born here or immigrated.

Maybe it's simply that I don't believe the Western is dead because I don't believe the spirit that built this country is dead. Or I'm a stubborn old fool. Or, as my spouse says, probably both.

A.E. Stanton

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most of the westerns being written and read today are by those of us who grew up with Roy Rogers and the Cisco Kid. Or by those older than us. I have read that Gene Roddenberry sold the original Star Trek to TV by calling it 'Wagon Train in space'. A pretty apt description, actually. I think it is more difficult today to get a 'western' published, and certainly a harder sell in the bookstores, but it is possible.

Keep the faith


March 18, 2009 at 10:38 AM  
Anonymous WKEverhart said...

I once submitted a Civil-War era thriller to a would-be movie maker. He classified it as a western, said Hollywood wasn't interested in westerns anymore. I, too, see evidence to the contrary; however, I think the problem is with the definition of what a western really is. It's those Hollywood guys who don't know the south and the Civil War from Arizona and the battle at the O.K. corral. Go figure!

March 23, 2009 at 7:54 PM  
Anonymous Bee said...

A.E., I think that you would like the movie Spirit. But then again, I'm wrong about almost everything, so please don't hold me to that.

April 28, 2009 at 10:14 AM  

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