Fascination of A Nation: Old to New West

I will admit that, at first reading, I was not a fan of the play, True West. I sat through the first few video clips of the play, annoyed by Lee’s voice and frustrated at Austin’s rude treatment of his brother. Lee’s rolling inflections grated on my nerves while Austin snapped short replies that made me want to slap him away from his typewriter.

Yet as I went back over the actual text, looking for support for a blog idea, a few memories of my own crept into my mind. The sounds of Red Sovine and Johnny Cash on vinyl, my grandfather’s cowboy boots, and my lasso for Christmas hazily blurred around the lines of the play. I could not help but connect these memories to the Old West. Saloons, cowboys and “Injuns”, pistol duels and the hectic days of the gold rush surfaced from the depths of my mind. As Lee discussed his days in the desert, wandering wild across the heavy sands, trekking through the wilderness alone, I thought of the old western movies with Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, and Roy Rogers (Famous Cowboys, Western Movie Stars). Gunslingers, buffalo, and the railroad stampeded their way across the American Frontier from around the end of the Civil War to about 1890 (American Frontier). Within the play, the script written by Lee is a western full of these sorts of images, with a modern twist. The mention of cars running out of gas in what was seemingly an old Western made me think of what has become of the “Wild West”.

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I know that people are fascinated with the West; those untamed lives were something to tear apart and analyze, to admire and aspire to. Kids play with guns and hats, adults watch movies and read novels. Yet as the dusky twilight of the outlaws faded into the glittering lights of Hollywood, the obsession never dwindled. Far gone are the rough men who sauntered about dusty roads strewn with tumbleweeds, spurs ringing clearly at the noon hour for a shootout. Long ago, the beautiful girls with poor reputations sang and danced on stage for hundreds of tobacco-chewing, grit-encrusted cattle drivers and corrupt lawmen. Instead, a New West has emerged, one just as savage, just as jaded. The public still pursued the tales of the Wild West. The saloon girls evolved to troubled starlets. Paris Hilton was arrested for cocaine possession (People) while Lindsay Lohan was convicted of DUI and theft (Examiner). The hardened men softened their looks, but kept their edge in all sorts of crime from assault by Chris Brown (Fox News), alleged murder by O.J. Simpson (USA Today), and drug possession by Robert Downey, Jr. (NY Daily News). Hollywood has eclipsed the crazy days of the late nineteenth century. Extravagant spending, failures in “the industry”, and high crime rate plague Tinseltown. From TMZ to E! News, every single speck of gossip is swept into the minds of America’s public.

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From then to now, the out of control lives of the people “out west” are sensationalized in news, stories, films and songs. The books “True Grit” and “Old Yeller” as well as films like “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid” portray life from the Old West. But exemplifying the change to the New West is country singer, Jewel, in the song, “The New Wild West”.

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