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Cowboy Politics: Myths and Discourses in Popular Westerns from The Virginian to Unforgiven and Deadwood

Cowboy Politics: Myths And Discourses In Popular Westerns From The Virginian To Unforgiven And Deadwood

As a popular genre, the western makes myths for politics in America and beyond. These symbolic stories of characters and communities help shape and explain our government, our society, and ourselves. They tell who and where we are, as individuals and as peoples. They also show what time it is for responding to our situations, and why. Thus western icons such as Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane Canary, and Buffalo Bill Cody have educated us in devices of celebrity and spectacle. Similarly western stars such as Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood have tutored us in rhythms of plain speech and direct action. Likewise western endeavors such as wagon trains, cavalries, and cattle drives have taught us practices of community with indi­viduality. Westerns are political through and through.

Since the nineteenth century, dramas of western individuals and institu­tions surge then retreat, but never fully leave us. The media for westerns have been many: books, films, songs, clothes, comics, radio, television, toys, and more. Across these, westerns cohere in recurrent, connected kinds of settings, characters, and scenes. These stock figures are the conventions of the west­ern as a cultural form of meaning, entertainment, and politics. Consequently westerns are a network of political myths. Their topics reach from the struc­tures and relations of modern government to the styles and interactions of everyday life.

Here the project is to explore how popular westerns are making a political mythos for our times. The focus is on politics in tales of the Old West, the Wild West, and the New West. (Throughout we do well to capitalize mythic figures as well as proper names.) This West is the restlessly moving frontier of American life and the larger civilization of which it’s become an important part. So let’s call our subject “cowboy politics,” naming it after the mythic character who is the most strongly and distinctively associated worldwide with the western frontier.

To analyze cowboy politics is to engage the symbolism of the genre’s conventions and their uses in specific westerns that range from ordinary to outstanding. This includes political implications of the comedic, reflective, or subversive twists for genre conventions within “late,” “satirical,” and “transfor­mative” westerns. What emerge are sketches toward a political theory of west­erns. These take the form of discourses on hosts of western preoccupations: beginnings, character, community, environments, gender, honor, interests, judgment, justice, laws, order, rationality, representation, responsibility, self-reliance, speech, tracking, trust, truth, vengeance, virtues, and more. Inspired by Hannah Arendt, the argument is that cowboy politics feature fresh starts at speech-in-action-in-public. Accordingly the mythic deeds, words, and images in westerns surface in what we see, say, and do—not only in the official politics of governing and campaigning but especially in the interactions of daily life.

Westerns Make Many Political Myths

To detail the mythic discourses of the West, this analysis draws from liter­ary, cinematic, and television westerns. Westerns on film and television in the middle of the twentieth century have attracted the most critical atten­tion to date. Their excellence and popularity induce many commentators to celebrate mid-century movies and shows as “the golden age” of westerns. The same considerations make these influential as templates for the overall genre. Political themes of golden-age westerns featured by commentaries so far include civilization versus savagery, taming the wilderness, rugged indi­vidualism, and manly virtues. The present effort is to build on this sense of western myth by taking into account a greater range of works. This has the effect of inflecting many prior understandings and correcting a few. Hence we concentrate on literary westerns then turn to recent movies plus a classic of “premium television.”

The literary westerns featured in these pages start with the first cowboy western—The Virginian by Owen Wister—published in 1902. Detailed attention goes also to Zane Grey’s westerns of the 1920s and 1930s as well as Louis L’Amour’s westerns from the 1950s through the 1980s. From the 1960s into the second decade of the twenty-first century, Larry McMurtry has supplied classical westerns of the Old West and the Wild West plus modern westerns set in the New West. The analysis includes westerns by many other authors as well: Ernest Haycox, Edward Abbey, Elmore Leonard, Stephen King, and Cormac McCarthy among them. All these literary westerns are still prosperously in print, fortifying our mythic sense of western politics.

In addition to The Virginian, the first half of this book emphasizes The Tall Stranger, a representative western by Louis L’Amour. In brief glances, the analysis augments details from these two texts with evidence from many other westerns in literature, cinema, and television. The book’s second half explores westerns in moving pictures of the last three decades. These turn out to develop political discourses prominent in literary westerns. Again there is attention to a wide array of westerns, with center stage claimed initially by Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992) then by David Milch’s Deadwood (2004–2006). Throughout, the analysis of political myth is informed by tools of rhetoric that trace to the Roman republicans, Aristotle, even the Sophists.

People in the mythic West are known by their deeds and words—as kept alive in stories told by others. These myths shape a western arena for politi­cal action and personal identity. For the twentieth century, Hannah Arendt showed how individuals who strive for distinction in storied publics are the marks of republican politics.1 By the twenty-first century, westerns are dra­matizing how these can go with liberalism, perfectionism, environmentalism, feminism, and other brands of politics in the new lands of the West.

Westerns usually agree with Thomas Hobbes and John Locke that an entrenched feudal culture of honor and anger cannot resolve its own troubles. Personal honor is not enough, nor is sovereignty; westerners need individual rationality as well. Yet westerns doubt that interest calculation and represen­tation can suffice, even when coupled with sovereign enforcement of law and order. Instead westerns work to integrate individual rationality with the cultivation of honorable characters and shared senses of responsibility. So westerns supplement the politics of modern ideologies with the politics of postmodern or even postwestern movements. These spring from projects of Western Civilization but surpass or sideline them in some ways. In fact, the West in westerns is not only the American frontier but the Western Civiliza­tion as well.

Westerns insistently pursue fresh starts.2 Ironically, though, the passing of the West is the genre’s chronic lament as well as opportunity. The West Moves On, and westerners ride relentlessly toward western horizons. There the Apollonian sun of Western enlightenment goes down into shadow, disas­ter, atrocity, and terror. As Eastwood’s great western puts it, the West is the land of the Unforgiven. Westerns worry about this, and many works in the genre join Arendt in arguing that honorable promises and enforced contracts are not enough for bringing order, let alone community, to fresh starts in new parts.

Westerns have long been appreciated for their modern problematics of politics. In the everyday talk of Americans, modern means new and up-to-date. Yet this fits westerns so well that it takes them at times beyond what political theories specify as “the modern age” of Western Civilization. That begins roughly with the Renaissance and the Reformation and runs toward our present. Perhaps overlapping with modernity, ending it, or exceeding it, “the postmodern period” is a condition of electrification and globalization underway by the nineteenth century, when westerns make their appearance in America.3 And of course, postmodernity raises the possibility of “postwest­ern” times. Then West and East might merge or might yield to other modes of culture and civilization. For some decades now, westerns turn an eye to that too.

Westerns interrogate modern politics of ambition, order, feuding, rational­ity, contract, sovereignty, and representation. Westerns also continue to use modern tropes of Machiavellian realism, Hobbesian authority, and Lockean individualism. But lately, the genre’s conventions test such modern devices against conditions and alternatives of postmodern unto postwestern politics. From recuperated republicanism, westerns take codes of honor, cultivations of virtue, speech-in-action, propriety in persuasion, and character in style. Sometimes westerns even turn these politics into springboards for explor­ing phenomenology, hermeneutics, deconstruction, and other postmodern devices. Hence westerns feature postmodern figures like bodies, faces, media, myth, spectacle, traces, terrors, and especially forgiveness. Some westerns suggest that modern politics of individual rationality and governmental sov­ereignty work in our emerging situations only when supplemented by politics of forgiveness that Western Civilization has trouble performing. Perhaps surprisingly, cowboy politics are investigating how and why.

Westerns can be Enormously Surprising

In reading and viewing westerns, I’ve been ambushed by the sheer creativity of the genre’s conventional politics. Reading academic works on westerns and thinking through the form’s popular reputation left me astonished by the politics in many of the westerns I’ve been encountering. Might you enjoy sharing the surprises? Here’s a partial preview.

Westerns laud Civilization over Savagery less than they compare civiliza­tions of American settlers, Native Americans, Mexicans, Asian immigrants, et alia. More than distinctive issues of North American settlement, westerns speak to the general questions of Western Civilization that political theorists address. With existentialists, westerns see the West as the sunset land; so that the West always already grows old; and westerners move on, riding into the sunset.

As a wild zone, the West is less about escaping civilization than making fresh starts that explore character and community alternatives to eastern templates. As a State of Nature initially without government, the West is a culture of honor and anger that suffers the deteriorating politics of feudal revenge. Westerns follow Thomas Hobbes and especially John Locke in trying to end this feudalism with individuality, rationality, contract, and sovereignty. Yet westerns often see these modern devices as devolving into exploitation, oppression, spectacle, or terror; so westerns try to augment modern politics.

Westerns offer less on liberal individualism, law and order, or representa­tion alone than on supplementing such politics with postmodern repub­licanism or populism and postwestern environmentalism, feminism, or perfectionism. Rather than mostly foreign to westerns, these further politics turn westerns toward reckoning, forgiveness, or cultivating character and response-ability, Hence as popular mythmaking, westerns in novels, movies, and television do accessible kinds of political theory that help shape our cultures and politics.

For the contents and styles of popular genres to shift over decades, in some sense keeping up with the times, shouldn’t be the least surprising. Westerns are no exception, with feminist and horror motifs especially prominent in westerns of the last quarter century. But the eye-opener with westerns is how these political themes, and others just as unexpected, are literary staples of the genre by the mid-twentieth century, while surfacing in movies and TV too. Such insights emerge from rhetorical analysis of the political myths in popular westerns. This is especially true when we see how specific west­erns—classics and otherwise—use the genre’s defining networks of conven­tional settings, characters, and occurrences. For a more developed but still introductory sense of these surprises, let’s articulate just a few of these points.

Given the continuing association of the American West with green pri­orities, it’s easy to anticipate that westerns would promote environmental politics; and so they do. Western vistas of nature, frontier, and wilderness virtually guarantee this. But I didn’t expect conventions of westerns to move beyond appreciating and preserving wilderness to rejecting “the West” as a kind of civilization in deeper ecological terms. For environmentalist and other reasons, it turns out that westerns often envision postwestern alterna­tives to the very Western Civilization that political theorists conserve canoni­cally and address critically in university classrooms.

As political narratives, in fact, westerns offer intentional and sustained reconsideration of the values and trajectories of Western Civilization. (As you’ll soon discern, I write here in lower-case letters about westerns as a genre and west as a direction; but I capitalize the West as a region, a mythic place, and a civilization.) The generic concern of westerns is not merely or even mainly with civilizing the frontier or deconstructing smug contrasts between civilization and barbarism. Instead the western genre explores the kind of civilization that the West has practiced from Europe outward—and how to transcend the defining, even disabling troubles of the West. Thus westerns treat “the Old West,” “the Wild West,” even “the New West” not just as times or regions in American life but as metonyms for Western Civi­lization as a whole.

Liberal individualism in westerns is ample and evident on their face. Hence scholars write often about “individualism” in westerns, treating it as “liberal,” as “capitalist,” or as “conservative” according to the perspectives of the analysts.4 (Here the ideological labels that appear without scare-quotation marks are European in origin, since political theorists usually work from the grammar of Western Civilization in general—rather than American versions in particular.) Whatever the label, most analysts so far have seen in westerns the kind of Lockean liberalism familiar to political theorists. This left me unprepared for the striking republicanism, realism, postmodernism, popu­lism, and perfectionism in westerns, especially recent ones. Most westerns begin with cultures of honor, anger, and character that enrich but eventually depart from rugged and liberal individualisms. The writers and producers of westerns show strong interests in reworking the Lockean-liberal, possessive individualism of the American West into something that can serve a more honorable, cooperative, sustainable civilization.

Scholarly articles, popular stereotypes, and western satires had led me to expect loads of masculinism and misogyny in westerns, at least until recently. And the genre’s conventions do include such politics. Yet at the same time, I’ve been intrigued to see that many westerns have long been effectively feminist in at least a few important ways. These aspects affect the genre’s conventions. The topics and tropes of westerns promote feminist sensibili­ties almost as much as masculinist adventures. Yes, such western-inflected “feminisms” seem especially prominent in twenty-first-century westerns. But in general, sorting through western politics of sexuality, gender, and identity can prove fascinating.

A culminating twist is how insistently these surprising politics of westerns surface in their priorities and patterns of speech. Americans often think of the mythic “West” as a land of strong, silent types who are at best sparing and blunt with their words. Deeds, not words, are what matter. So westerners are to save their breath for hard work and moments of heroism. Actually, how­ever, this rugged ethic of action finds its western complement in persuasive, sometimes poetic language. Westerns both preach and practice appreciation of the power of words. Moreover, they conventionally portray clever speech as crucial for good politics. In rhetorical analysis, a “discourse” can identify politics that lurk in people’s words; and it can clarify politics in how such language may be said to act through its speakers. To move toward a political theory of westerns, therefore, it makes sense to analyze their main political discourses.

Accordingly I’ve been surprised by the politics of westerns, and perhaps you will be as well. Westerns prove more republican than liberal, leaving them less modern than classical and postmodern in their politics. Westerns are more about the West as a world civilization than the West as an American frontier. They are more about peoples cooperating in ecology than men dominating nature. In some ways, recent westerns seem more feminist than masculinist. And the republicanism, realism, and other politics in westerns respect far more power in words than liberal individualism or macho natural­ism typically do.

On the whole, westerns seem modern and more in their political chal­lenges, while they appear postmodern or sometimes postwestern in many of their political responses. Nearly all the expectations about westerns I had—from a casual acquaintance with the popular genre and an initial sense of its scholarship—have been borne out in some ways. Yet every expectation has experienced an important twist or two—usually toward politics too little acknowledged to date. So I’ve been learning that the politics of westerns differ significantly from what we often suppose. The exercise at hand is to explore these differences and some of their implications.

Western Politics Come in Many Varieties

In these pages, I evoke the generic politics of westerns in ways informed by practices and theories of politics early in the twenty-first century. Scholars of literature, cinema, and television make few systematic attempts to use resources from political theory. Nor do popular commentators often tap the likes of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, or Hannah Arendt to make political sense of westerns. Here such resources help me augment and adjust previous takes on political myths in westerns. Explaining one of the strangest ways of early settlers to a Native American curious to comprehend them, L’Amour has a scion of his Sacketts say, “I suppose a scholar is one who studies the origins of things, the laws of society and how men came to be what they are and where they are.”5 That’ll serve especially well to evoke political theory as a field of inquiry with a strong affinity for the topics of westerns.

Political theory can clarify the popular mythmaking of westerns, and westerns can clarify the arguments of political theorists. The Sackett explains further that “The signs in this book spoke to him.” He adds, “Like you remember old trails, I remember books. Often I think of what the books have said to me.”6 Surely this holds for scholars in general and political theorists in particular. But beyond clarifying what others have to say, the main adventure here is to do political theory by using dramas in westerns and other popular forms plus arguments in several classics of inquiry to make good sense of our emerging politics. Westerns offer plenty of ancient, medieval, and modern politics, yet they also can improve our senses of postmodern and postwestern politics. For these are our emerging politics of everyday life in increasingly electronic times.

We’d do well to refine further some key terms. For political theory, the usual spans (and meanings) of ancient, medieval, and modern times differ from fields of study that concentrate on agriculture, architecture, and such— or for that matter, from fields that focus on literature, cinema, and television. Here the account is Eurocentric, taking politics to begin with the run up to the appearance of the polis as the Greek “city-state” of two-and-a-half millennia ago. As political theory usually spins the tale, Western Civilization originates in classical antiquity, which reaches from the sixth and fifth centuries bce to the lapse of the Roman Empire some thousand years later.

A few centuries of transition eventually shape medieval times, which extend from roughly the ninth to the thirteenth centuries ce. Then modern times start with the European Renaissance and the Reformation in the fifteenth and sixteenth cen­turies. There’s some consensus that postmodernity overlaps modernity, with both probably running through the twentieth century. I link postmodern times to electricity, globalization, and popular genres, meaning that postmodernity is well under way by the start of the nineteenth century. And by postwestern times, I mean to acknowledge that East and West have lately more than “met” and might even be mingling into formations beyond Western Civilization.

So far, westerns promote various modern politics, and they make remark­able room for several beyond. Impressed by the occasional individualism of westerns, many previous takes on the genre suggest its politics to be perva­sively liberal. Liberals (like John Locke and many American founders) agree with the modern ideology of authoritarianism (argued by Thomas Hobbes) that peace and prosperity require order. To secure order, modern government must monopolize legitimate violence. But the modern ideology of liberal­ism holds that communal and personal freedom is even more important, so government must stay limited. To avoid tyranny, liberalism requires political representation and respect for natural rights of human individuals become citizens. Liberalism also prizes rationality, interests, contracts, tolerance, trust, and institutions. For liberals, government is a coercive evil necessary for reliable order and freedom. Authoritarians and liberals dread an absence of hierarchical order as anarchy, which they revile for becoming chaos. Few westerns are authoritarian; lots are fully liberal.

For antiquity, political Hell-on-Earth is tyranny, which deprives a com­munity of its liberty and identity. For modernity, political Hell-on-Earth is anarchy, which deprives a community of its order and prosperity. But for postmodernity, political Hell-on-Earth is totalitarianism, the complete and perfected tyranny which could deprive a community of its connection and humanity. Some postmodern politics accordingly reject the modern equation of anarchy with chaos as complete disorder. Thus anarchism denies any need for government, and it sees in idealized frontiers a fuller freedom and com­munity than modern states ever sustain. Anarchists celebrate horizontal and informal cooperation instead. As a genre, though, westerns respect political realism too much to envision individuals relying long and prosperously on private deals and mutual aid alone. So westerns seldom pursue anarchism.

As much or more than liberal politics, even so, westerns promote repub­lican politics. Such republicanism arises in antiquity as a distinctive form of community and style of action. It gets reworked repeatedly in modernity, then it resurges in postmodernity—sometimes as “communitarianism.” Thus lower-case republicanism in the United States links no more to the Republi­can Party than to the Democratic Party, both capitalized. In westerns, republi­can politics neither need nor favor modern government in the strict, sovereign sense. Instead they complement codes of personal and communal honor with some authoritative but not sovereign institutions for peace and justice. They promote participation rather than representation, they respect authorities and leaders (but want leaders to be reluctant), and they suspect charismatic men of demagoguery as they suspect sexy women of seduction. Especially repub­lican politics preach active prudence, local responsibility, citizen information, and eternal vigilance against abuses of power.

Along with liberal and republican politics, westerns feature environmen­talist, realist, and populist politics too. As you’d expect, environmentalism is the family of postmodern or postwestern movements often called “green politics.” These worry about industrialization, pollution, climate change, population explosion, resource exhaustion, and species extinction. They promote clean energy, conservation, bioregionalism, ecocentrism, and sus­tainability. By populism, I mean the postmodern movements to champion common people and punish their dispossessors—typically including bankers, bosses, elites, minorities, politicians, special interests, etc. And by realism, I include the styles of political action that emphasize results, calculate interests, face hard facts, and do what it takes to succeed while keeping violence to a minimum.

Of late, western conventions even accommodate a few aspects of perfec­tionist politics (from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Friedrich Nietzsche), even as they incorporate principles of feminist politics. The feminism in many west­erns, especially recent, is mainly about rights and respect for women in public action as well as business and family matters. So it’s seldom radical, but it’s still a contrast to the misogyny seen in a few westerns or the patriarchy seen in many. From perfectionism, westerns have long welcomed attacks on con­formism, mass society, and mediocrity. These shape a western celebration of self-reliance. Recent westerns also make plenty of room for charismatic leadership and impulsive leaps into action. Yet western figures of leaders, militias, natives, immigrants, and outlaws have been leaning pointedly away from the fascism, racism, and totalitarianism that the twentieth century sum­moned so disastrously from perfectionism. Evocations as scant as the ones just offered are merely for beginning. So the treatments of politics grow more ample and specific as the accounts of western conventions proceed. But we need such platforms for the analysis to come.

Political Myths can Inform Political Theory

There is one more aspect of this project to flag at the outset. I’ve worked for years with Hannah Arendt’s political theory. For me, she has been the most instructive political theorist of the twentieth century. I’ve learned from her style and perspectives as much as her positions, with which I often disagree. So I love to argue with her writings: both using them to support some claims and disputing them to explain others. These pages pay homage to Arendt— less by addressing directly what she wrote than by doing political theory of her kinds in tune with present times.

Beyond the reach of these pages is an eventual goal of such work to specify a theory of the politics in generic westerns. Thus Arendt drove toward a the­ory of dystopian politics when she analyzed The Origins of Totalitarianism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.7 But what is a theory of any genre’s politics? And how should we define a genre’s body of works—in principle or for westerns? Any genre theorist encounters such questions. Among them is how to address specific works scattered throughout more than a century: which westerns must be analyzed, which may be neglected, how, and why? For surely a theory of politics in westerns should present itself as arguments about the popular form, not principally as interpretations of a few specific works that use the conventions of westerns. Yet here I’m analyzing only some of what westerns do and how, even politically. The focus is on how westerns engage postmodern unto postwestern politics in the West.

The scope of literature at issue can provide a decent sense of how the genre changes over time. With cinema and television, I feature only recent westerns; but the coverage of novels is wider, if not so deep. Yes, lessons might differ somewhat from westerns by other writers and directors or in other periods. The analysis here relies mostly on Wister, Grey, L’Amour, and McMurtry, whereas the western genre has many other authors of note. Yet these are its biggest sellers, which helps qualify them as popular mythmakers.

Here the goal is just to learn from westerns about their kinds of politics in order to see how westerns construct a political mythos, especially with respect to political conditions from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries onward. The aim is not to analyze westerns adequately in their own, fuller terms. Writers, directors, and audiences for westerns agree on the genre’s conventions; and uses of these conventions are the focus of a generic theory of western politics. Therefore the project is to theorize the politics implicit in these conventions as they function in prominent and standard westerns. No one can come close to reading and viewing everything that can count as a western—while also making needed comparisons to other genres. So what I’ve tried to do is to check with other reflective readers and viewers of west­erns, to test whether the targets and arguments seem fair.

A further check is the comparison of diverse genres. What I do with politics in westerns is informed by a sense of how several genres cohere politically as families of conventions. The idea is to learn from comparing politics of westerns to politics of epic, gangster, noir, superhero, war movies or stories, and more. An important part of this method is to analyze the sub­genres of other forms, especially when there is sharing with westerns. Politi­cal insights abound in seeing how the horse opera as a subgenre of westerns informs the space opera as a subgenre of science fiction. The same goes for seeing how range wars and Indian wars in westerns share or differ in conven­tions in comparison with war movies. And as I explain later, telling politics arise from the penchant of recent westerns to borrow tropes from the popular cinema of horror.

It’s crucial that I’m analyzing popular genres, defined every day by ordi­nary people, completely apart from any analysis of mine. These are not just abstracted types or artifacts of analysis.8 Westerns are not collections of sto­ries and dramas that I assemble, even as I make arguments about their shared features. Instead westerns are constructed individually and as an overarching form by their authors, directors, costumers, performers, composers, and the like—especially their audiences. How westerns use genre conventions makes them work (or not) as westerns. This enables us to learn politics from western conventions and from their uses. It also enables us to learn politics from how westerns are marketed as popular literature in many bookstores and popular movies or television series sold on air or online.

Thus the analysis at hand doesn’t define westerns in order to articulate some theory of politics. Instead it takes the myths in westerns to be popular politics. As a kind of inquiry, political theory can address (issues in) these mythic politics, and they can address (issues in) political theory. The political interests that I bring to appreciating westerns and other popular genres are mine, admittedly, although I get some of these interests from popular genres that include westerns. I can hope that you share many of these interests. Still the popular genres can be anybody’s and everybody’s, making their politics especially significant in democracies.

All this can speak to a topic that spans westerns and the rest of our ver­nacular cultures: popular mythmaking in current politics. The arguments here about westerns are contributions to larger claims about present politics and theories. Popular genres make sense of politics by making the political myths that we live every day. Thus popular genres are modes of practical thought and action. So these political theories in mythic forms often comple­ment theories in argumentative forms. Often these popular accounts of poli­tics are more imaginative in evoking present phenomena, past sources, and future prospects. At times, these mythic takes on politics even attain greater accuracy, insight, and effectiveness—especially for politics in the everyday situations where most people live most of their lives, political and otherwise.



1. See Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958).

2. For a modern western on fresh starts, see Running Wild (2017); and for a con­trasting, noirish take on fresh starts in the west, see Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men (New York: Modern Library, 1946), 327–30.

3. Works on postmodern politics are far too ample to record here, but for start­ers see Jean–François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984); Umberto Eco, Postscript to the Name of the Rose, trans. William Weaver (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984); and Charles Jencks, What Is Post–Modernism? (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986).

4. See Will Wright, The Wild West (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2001); Stanley Corkin, Cowboys as Cold Warriors (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004).

5. Louis L’Amour, Jubal Sackett (New York: Bantam Books, 1985), 152.

6. L’Amour, Jubal Sackett, 96–97.

7. See Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973).

8. See Barry Keith Grant, ed., Film Genre Reader (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986); Rick Altman, Film/Genre (London: British Film Institute, 1999).


This excerpt is from Cowboy Politics: Myths and Discourses in Popular Westerns from The Virginian to Unforgiven and Deadwood (Lexington Books, 2017) with our book review here.

John S. NelsonJohn S. Nelson

John S. Nelson

John S. Nelson is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Iowa. He is author and editor of several books, including Popular Cinema as Political Theory (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013); Politics in Popular Movies (Paradigm, 2015); and Cowboy Politics: Myths and Discourses in Popular Westerns from The Virginian to Unforgiven and Deadwood (Lexington Books, 2017).

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