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Is this Reaganite myth of the west an international tradition? I think not.
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In the first place because the major American medium by which the invented west was propagated has died out. The western novel, as I have suggested, is no longer an international phenomenon. The private eye has killed the Virginian. Larry McMurtry and his like, whatever their place in American literature, are virtually unknown outside their native country. As for the western movie, it was killed by TV; and the western TV series, which was probably the last genuinely international mass triumph of the invented west, became a mere adjunct to children's hour, and in turn it has faded away.
The real western movie became deliberately highbrow, a carrier of social, moral and political significance in the s, until it in turn collapsed under their weight as well as the advancing age of the makers and stars — of Ford and Wayne and Cooper. I'm not criticising them.
On the contrary, practically all the westerns that any of us would wish to see again date from after Stagecoach which was released in But what carried the west into the hearts and homes of five continents was not movies that aimed at winning Oscars or critical applause. What is more, once the late western movie had itself become infected by Reaganism — or by John Wayne as an ideologist — it became so American that most of the rest of the world didn't get the point, or, if it did, didn't like it.
In Britain, at least, the word "cowboy" today has a secondary meaning, which is much more familiar than the primary meaning of a fellow in the Marlboro ads : a fellow who comes in from nowhere offering a service, such as to repair your roof, but who doesn't know what he's doing or doesn't care except about ripping you off: a "cowboy plumber" or a "cowboy bricklayer".
I leave you to speculate a how this secondary meaning derives from the Shane or John Wayne stereotype and b how much it reflects the reality of the Reaganite wearers of dude Stetsons in the sunbelt. I don't know when the term first appears in British usage, but certainly it was not before the mids.
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In this version, what a man's got to do is to fleece us and disappear into the sunset. There is, in fact, a European backlash against the John Wayne image of the west, and that is the revived genre of the western movie.
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