Friday, July 21, 2017

Friday Information in late July of 2017

The myth of the West is pernicious and influential today. The myth of the West involves the romanticization of the frontier West. It involves many things. It involve the myths that cowboys and gold miners had a quaint experience, that the frontier was filled with little violence, that most of the Western heroes were white males, that cowboys were totally independent without any assistance, that tons of people of the West were filled with happiness plus joy, and the racist myth that the Native Americans were the enemies of frontiers people. Another myth was that the land of the frontier was unlimited and that anyone could just go over there and conquer it without restraint. The mythical image of the American West has been promoted not only by movies. It has been shown by books, magazines, and other forms of media from the 19th century to this very day during the early 21st century. Many people criticized Frederick Jackson Turner’s interpretation of the American West. Turner published the “The Significance of the Frontier in American History" in 1893. The literature was promoted before the American Historical Association in Chicago during the World’s Columbian Exhibition (Chicago World's Fair). His Frontier thesis was that expansion into the West caused more American democracy, a lack of interest in high culture, and violence. These characteristics in his mind was unique and American. Scholars of the New Western History, including Limerick and Richard White argue that Turner ignored gender, race and class in his work, focusing wholly on facets of American exceptionalism. The one-dimensional aspects of his work can be seen in the stereotypically male frontier myth that endures. The major myth of the West is that the West mostly was a great time of exploration and drama was kept to a minimum.

The truth about the frontier West is the opposite. Often, the West was very violent. There was racism against Mexican-Americans and African Americans. There was the massive exploitation of natural resources which cause boom and bust towns. Many Native Americans experienced discrimination, murder, and terror. Many settlers were massacred by many factions. People fought against each other massively. Also, many people in the West were progressive, opposed bigotry, and fought for justice too. So, the frontier West was complex. I am more in line with the New Western History ethos. You have to take into account of race, class, gender, the environment, and other aspects of history in order to gauge a clear, excellent picture of frontier Western existence. Scholars of the New Western History movement criticized Turner’s Frontier Thesis. These new scholars (from the 1970’s and beyond) include Patricia Nelson Limerick, Michael Allen, Richard Slotkin and Richard White. They have disputed the value of Turner's thesis. They also focused on an examination of the problems of expansion; destruction of the environment, indigenous massacres, and the realities of settler lives. In essence, people want truth not myths. Journalist Samuel Lubell saw similarities between the frontier's Americanization of immigrants that Turner described and the social climbing by later immigrants in large cities as they moved to wealthier neighborhoods. He compared the effects of the railroad opening up Western lands to urban transportation systems and the automobile, and Western settlers' "land hunger" to poor city residents seeking social status. Just as the Republican party benefited from support from "old" immigrant groups that settled on frontier farms, "new" urban immigrants formed an important part of the Democratic New Deal coalition that began with Franklin Delano Roosevelt's victory in the 1932 presidential election. The real West must be shown, so this generation and future generations can understand the diverse, complex historical legacy of the frontier West.

The American frontier West has been influenced by popular culture for a long time. Art, music, novels, dance, magazines, stories, movies, television, etc. show information about the West. There are many composers that showed their voices on this issue from Aaron Copland to Arthur Farwell. The concept of the wilderness to some related to environmental issues. The mythologizing of the West has been shown by minstrel shows and music since the 1940’s. P.T. Barnum shown Native American chiefs, dances, and other exhibits in his museums. Many novels exaggerated what was really going on in the West like the 1859 book of Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter.” It simplified reality and exaggerated the truth. The novel gathered the attention of many people. It showed the stereotypical images of heroes and villains. It showed cowboys as courageous while Native Americans were portrayed as “savage.” It showed the lawmen as heroes and the cattlemen as predators. The most successful of all dime novels was Edward S. Ellis' Seth Jones (1860). Ned Buntline's stories glamorized Buffalo Bill Cody and Edward L. Wheeler created "Deadwood Dick", "Hurricane Nell", and "Calamity Jane.” Buffalo Bill Cody popularized the Old West in the U.S. and in Europe. By the 20th century, many tourists can into the West to research the land and its history. One of the most famous filmmakers of the 20th century who showed his depictions of the West was John Ford. John Ford loved scenery. Many early movies talked about the transcontinental railroad, cowboys, Native Americans, etc. Movies especially romanticized the cowboy. The cowboy is an American archetype. Many American revere the cowboy from President Theodore Roosevelt to others. Roosevelt conceptualized the herder (cowboy) as a stage of civilization distinct from the sedentary farmer—a theme well expressed in the 1944 Hollywood hit Oklahoma! that highlights the enduring conflict between cowboys and farmers. Roosevelt argued that the manhood typified by the cowboy—and outdoor activity and sports generally—was essential if American men were to avoid the softness and rot produced by an easy life in the city. The reality is that manhood is diverse and sensitivity is not antithetical to true manhood or womanhood.

Will Rogers was famous for his depictions of the West. He was the son of a Cherokee judge in Oklahoma. Many fictional stories came about to describe life about cowboys, Native Americans, etc. There were cowboy autobiographical stories too. Western films were existence by the early 1900’s too. John Ford directed the film called Stagecoach in 1939. It was the movie that showed John Wayne in a breakthrough role. John Wayne is famous for being in Western films. He was once more liberal and became one of the most conservative movie actors in history. He not only supported the Vietnam War and voted for Nixon instead of JFK in 1960. He also supported white supremacy in a 1971 interview. He was notorious for his racism and far right politics. The film Stagecoach was about a group of settlers and them going into Apache territory. Stagecoach was the first of many Westerns that Ford shot using Monument Valley, in the American Southwest on the Arizona–Utah border, as a location. Stagecoach was a very popular film. It is not a secret that many Western films used negative stereotypes against Native Americans. Many films back then showed Native Americans in a more negative light while white settlers were portrayed as virtuous. Back then, it was so bad that many white actors acted as Native Americans with feathers and makeup. The 1913 film of The Battle of Elderbusch Gulch portrayed Native Americans as criminals trying to raid a white establishment. The director was D. W. Griffith who directed the notoriously racist film Birth of a Nation. Nicolas Rosenthal wrote a book entitled, “Reimagning Indian County.” He wrote that many high paying roles of Native American chiefs came to non-Native American actors while many Native Americans were used in the background. Those Native Americans were paid a lower rate.

Many Native Americans who were actors fought for fair wages in the War Paint Club and the Indian Actor’s Association with people like Luther Standing Bear, William Eagleshirt, and Richard Thunderbird. The Native American Movement for justice in the 1960’s and the 1970’s caused people to fight against racist stereotypes in film. The 1962 film Geronimo has Geronimo fighting for his family and tribe while 1939’s Stagecoach has Geronimo being blood thirsty. After the 1970’s, more diverse depictions of Native Americans existed. There was Dances with Wolves in 1990 and the Last of the Mohicans in 1992. Native Americans also directed, produced, and acted in their own films and productions. The Falling Arrow was directed in 1909 by the Native American James Young Deer (of the Nanticoke tribe). In 1966, several Navajos near Pine Springs, Arizona, participated in an anthropological study that produced several short films known collectively as Navajos Film Themselves. Victor Masayesva, Jr. directed Weaving in 1981. Native Americans like Jeff Barnaby and others directed their own films. Native American films continue to exist. Many Westerns, even today, have shown stereotypes. Yet, more people are learning the truth and taking their time to promote fair, accurate depictions of Western life and of Native American human beings.

By Timothy

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