The guy from the Marlboro commercial.
The present re-invention of the tradition of the West as a mass phenomenon that captured American politics is the product of the Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Reagan eras. And of course, Reagan — the first president after Teddy Roosevelt, whose image of a cowboy in the saddle was consciously borrowed from a western — knew what he was doing. To what extent the Reagan cowboys reflected the shift of American wealth to the southwest, I will not undertake to judge.
Is the Reagan myth of the West an international phenomenon? I suppose not. And first of all, because the main American propagandist of this design has become extinct. Roman-Western, as I said, has ceased to be an international phenomenon, as it was in the days of Zein Gray. Detective prevailed over virginets. You can discuss the place that Larry McMurtry and his comrades occupy in American literature, but outside of their own country they are virtually unknown. As for the western in the movie, he was killed by television. Westerns, serials, which were probably the last global mass triumph of the fictional Wild West, in turn, became just an appendix to the children’s program, and then just faded away. Where are Hopalon Cassidy, Lone Rangers, Roy Rogers, the Laramies and Gunsmoke series, all of what the children of the 1950s grew up on? In the 1950s, real cinema-like signs quite intentionally turned into a “smart” product, a medium of social, moral and political meanings, until these meanings crushed the genre with their weight, and the creators and stars – Ford, Wayne and Cooper – with their age. I do not criticize them. On the contrary, almost all the westerns that we would begin to revise appear after the “Covered Wagon” (1939). But the houses and hearts of the five continents were not conquered by the Wild West with films aimed at an Oscar, or at least the approval of critics. Moreover, as soon as the later cinema became infected with Reaganism (or John Wayne as its ideologue), these films became so American that the rest of the world simply did not understand, and if they did, they did not appreciate it.
In Britain, in any case, the word “cowboy” got the second meaning, which is much more commonly used than the first – “the guy from the Marlboro commercial.” The British call a cowboy a man who has appeared from nowhere with the offer of his services – for example, to repair your roof – but he doesn’t understand anything or cares only about getting money from you: a cowboy plumber, a cowboy mason. I give to those who wish to reflect on the topic, (a) how this second meaning of the word is derived from the stereotypes of Shane or John Wayne, and (b) to what extent it reflects the essence of Reagan fans in cowboy hats from the southern states. I don’t know when the word first appeared in this sense in the British vocabulary, but definitely not earlier than the mid-1960s. In this context, the whole function of a cowboy is to tear you like a sticky and disappear in the rays of the setting sun.
I must say that Europe has responded to the Wayne image of the Wild West – the answer was the rebirth of the koviestern. Whatever spaghetti westerns mean, they were certainly extremely critical of the American Western myth, but at the same time, they showed in a paradoxical way how great the request for old “shooters” was still among adult Europeans and Americans. Western was revived thanks to Sergio Leone or, in this case, even Akira Kurosawa — that is, through non-American intellectuals, immersed in the subject and material, but very skeptical of this fictional tradition.