Cowboy – “hero of magic dreams” or everyday drama?
Among other things, foreigners simply do not recognize the associations that are present in the Western myth for the American right, and for any American. Everyone wears jeans, but no one, except for young Americans, experiences this, albeit weak, reflex to lean in them against an imaginary concord and look, squinting, at the sun. Foreign nouveau riche is not tempted to fasten a Texas hat. They watch the Schlesinger “Midnight Cowboy” and do not feel any profanity. In general, the country of Marlborough is inhabited by some Americans. Gary Cooper was serious, and JR and the other platinum characters of the Dallas series are no longer there. In this sense, the cowboy myth has ceased to be international.
But he was once like that. And at the end of this brief reflection, I return to the question – why? What was so special about cowboys? First, they arose in a country visible from everywhere, central to the world of the XIX century, for which – at least until 1917 – it represented a utopian dimension regardless of the content of utopia: it was a living dream. Everything that happened in America seemed more dramatic, overwhelming and had no limits, even if in fact it was not so, but often it was, although not in the case of cowboys. Secondly, the absolutely local fashion on the Western myth was inflated and acquired a global reach thanks to the global impact of American pop culture, the most original and creative in the industrial and urban world, thanks to the mass media that broadcast this culture and in which the United States dominated. We also note that this culture made its way into the world not only directly, but also indirectly, through European intellectuals who were attracted by it to the United States or affected by distance.
This, of course, explains why cowboys are more known than vaqueros or gauchos, but does not explain the scale of the world vibration that they caused (or caused). My guess is that the reason for this is anarchism rooted in American capitalism. I mean not only the elements of the market, but also the very ideal of an individual who is not bound by any restrictions of state power. In many ways, the United States of America in the 19th century was a stateless society. It is enough to compare the myths of the American West and the Canadian. The first is the myth of the Hobbes natural state, held back only by personal or collective autonomy: legally or illegally armed people, militia units and occasional equestrian attacks. The second is the myth about the introduction of state and public order, which symbolizes the uniform of the Canadian version of the hero-rider – the Canadian Mounted Police.
Individualistic anarchism has two sides. For the rich and powerful, it means the supremacy of profit over law and the state. Not only because the law and the state can be bought, but even in the case when they are not bought, they have no moral legitimacy compared to selfishness and profit. For those who have neither wealth nor power, such anarchism means independence, the right of a little person to earn respect and show that he can. I think that it is no coincidence that the ideally-typical cowboy of the classic invented West was a loner and did not obey anyone, and was not too interested in money. As Tom Mix said: “I come with only one horse, saddle and bridle. This is not my war, but I get into trouble, doing good for someone else. When everything is settled, I never get any payment. ” I will not discuss the very recent Westerns, who praise not single people, but whole macho gangs. Whatever they mean – the homosexual theme cannot be excluded here, – they mark the change of the genre itself.
In a certain sense, a loner was a convenient object of imaginary self-identification precisely because of his loneliness. To become Gary Cooper midday or Sam Spade, you only need to imagine yourself as a man, while becoming Don Corleone or Rico, not to mention Hitler, can only be imagining a lot of people following you and obeying you, which is less believable. I believe that the cowboy, precisely because he was a myth of an ultra-individualistic society, the only society of the bourgeois era that did not have real pre-bourgeois roots, has become an uncommonly effective form of dream – which for most of us replaces limitless possibilities. Riding alone on horseback is less fantasy than waiting for the marshal’s baton in your knapsack to be real.