a thousand words

Friday, June 21, 2013


The American cowboy is back with a vengeance, just as manliness is taking a beating.

My father loved a show called Gunsmoke, which was for a long time, the longest-running show on TV.  My cowboys were violent and ruthless. They didn't wait to shoot a bad guy and damned sure wasn't interested in taking him to prison like  Sergio Leon's Man With No Name Django and Trinity.

The cowboy disappeared for a long time until Clint Eastwood (who played the Man With No Name) brought them back with the oscar winner, Unforgiven. Then slowly, the cowboy returned to  films like Tombstone, Wyatt Earp and The Cowboy Way.

In the meantime, the moral ambivalence in our TV heroes had changed into full-out villainy. The TV show The Shield was a game-changer for TV cops. It's hero was a dirty cop whose morality was as fragile as the tin star he wore. Don't get me wrong, The Shield is a great show because it contained good men and women who were cops but it brilliantly focused on a man whose morality was a reflection of a society whole values had changed. At the same time, the cops and hoods in The Wire raised this theme to cinematic poetry.

But now there are some new sheriffs in town.

Justified's Raylan Givens, Hell on Wheels', Cullen Bohannon, Django and Longmire's Walt Longmire all have the best of the old and the new.  The are strong, kind, moral and take no shit.  But they also understand society's river of darkness and how their job navigates it. And whenever they need to, they will dip into those waters and then--look out.

In stark contrast to the many anti-heroes on TV, you know, the vampires, werewolves, serial killers, drug dealers and dirty cops, the millennial cowboys echo John Wayne, Gary Cooper as well as Vic Mackey and The Man With No Name.

And judging from the previews of the new Lone Ranger movie, the man behind the mask is out for revenge and bringing hell with him.

And the cowboy has come back just in time to slow the decline of masculinity we are now seeing in American culture.

In the western-themed movie, No Country For Old Men, Tommie Lee Jones as Sheriff Ed Bell gives this long speech about dreams he had of his father, telling us that his kind, the hero, is going to pass on, leaving us with the psychopath Anton Chighur are our new alpha male.

I think the new cowboys in that picture above would disagree with that.

And so would I.