Western action figures (Walle 2000, 50).19 Subsequently in the 1970s and 1980s, the
cowboy achieved a reputation, largely unsavory, which he has never quite lived down
(Frantz and Choate rev. ed. 1968, 8).20 A new trend began in packaging the Western
movie; the modern cowboy created a recognizable Western sub-genre (Walle 2000, 169).
For my paper, however, I will use the classic (i.e. pre-1960s) version of the
cowboy (i.e. the mythic cowboy) to shed light on a modern phenomenon. I borrow from
the romantic ideals of the early 20th century cowboy in my construal of cowboy ethics,
not only because is it the one Bush refers to in justifying his foreign policy decisions, but
also because he is the figure most Americans visualize when they imagine the cowboy
(Savage 1979, 4).
19 Terms like “fatalistic” and “antiheroic” to describe these new Westerns were taken from John Cawelti’s Six-Gun Mystique (rev. ed. 1984). In the fatalistic films the heroes are incapable of effectively dealing with modern society, even though they are superior to it. By refusing to compromise, the hero has no choice but to die. Opposite the fatalistic subgenre of the Western, is the antiheroic version, where survival of the cowboy is won at the price of sacrificing personal integrity. In the antiheroic Westerns, the cowboy commits atrocities for reasons that are disturbingly understandable, and he is presented as both the victim of social pressures and the perpetrator of injustice. Other cowboy scholars use different terminology. For instance, Slotkin’s Gunfighter Nation described the traditional Westerns as “town-tamer” and “outlaw” films, and the later variations as the “psychological” and the “gunfighter” Westerns. Regardless of these descriptive titles, however, the later Westerns in both cases depict the same sort of cowboy persona.
20 Anthony Lejeune called the “essence” of the classic Westerns like Shane – “youth recalled, hope undimmed, the land beginning again, morning in America; everything we loved in real Westerns and find totally missing in spaghetti Westerns” (Lejeune 1989, 23-26). These Italian- made spaghetti films increased the storyline’s level of violence, and lost the morality of the classic cowboy.