Posts tagged ‘barack obama’

April 9, 2010

Finally, Obama's a Freaking Cowboy Already

by cowboylands

I read Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent words with a dizzying feeling of deja vu. Wait–wha?–we’re cowboys again?

“American materialist politicians, whenever they are beaten by logic, immediately resort to their weapons like cowboys,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech before a crowd of several thousand in northwestern Iran.

Interesting that our statesmanlike leader–intellectual to the point of at-times dismaying distance and wafflement–is being called a lowdown, dirty cowboy. Who knew that Ahmadinejad had such a grasp on Western frontier history? His use of the term “cowboy” is historically accurate. Before the days of John Wayne, cowboys were the ruffian types. They were the thugs that Wyatt Earp despised, none other than–hold on to your ten-gallon hat–the Democrats, a populist group at odds with the Republican bankers and railroad magnates.

We’re talking the kind of nineteenth-century American history that heavily mustachioed novelists and Americana experts adore. Iranian schooling must be incredibly cosmopolitan.

But that’s not all, folks.

Ahmadinejad then throws in an awesome shoutout to spaghetti westerns, referencing the trash talk the Spanish-speaking villains growled at Clint’s Man with No Name (you know, when the lips move but the dubbed-in voice doesn’t quite match up).

“Mr. Obama, you are a newcomer [to politics]. Wait until your sweat dries and get some experience…. [American officials] bigger than you, more bullying than you, couldn’t do a damn thing, let alone you.”

I am in awe. Ahmadinehjad must know for a fact that Americans of a certain age, suckled on the celluloid milk of Hollywood westerns, would look to strap on guns and, like Kurt Russell in Tombstone, tell him to “skin that smoke wagon” and then bitchslap the eff out of him.  (Check out minute 2 on of this fine piece of Americana.)


The problem is with the Iranian president’s ploy is twofold.

A.) Most rational politicians with foreign policy experience know that bitchslapping leads to missile crises.

B.) Most rational Americans understand that Hollywood takes the truth out of history to make exciting stories with lots of shooting and happy endings.

I hope we have a president who fits this profile.

And an aside on the historical Wyatt Earp:

Sure the skanky cardshark in the bar had it coming to him,  but Earp was looking to a.) take his place as a dealer, b.) ingratiate himself with the local Republican moneybags in town, and c.) make a living and a name for himself. What history shows is that Earp isn’t so different from most Americans–just wanting to get ahead, earn a nest egg, have a wife and kid and house, etc, etc. In the days before Social Security and Medicare, you were on your own; I can’t blame the guy for being ambitious and looking out for himself. But let’s not make him into a figure worthy of hero worship, shall we? Mr. Ahmadinejad, kudos to your knoweldge of Western history, but may I suggest some movies for further research into the American love/hate relationship with the macho cowboy image? The Searchers, is what I recommend.

Any others?

March 19, 2009

AIG High Noon Smackdown Hoedown Showdown

by cowboylands

Weren’t we supposed to be done with all these cowboy showdowns? Then along comes AIG, thinking business as usual, and they caught caught in populist crossfire. I’d feel sorry for them, but I’m not. I can hear a constant rustling in the bushes as one by one all of AIG’s friends and comrades abandon them to their fate. 

 ©2008 es

So who is the cowboy hero this time? Will Pres. Obama, manfully saying “I’ll take responsibility,” channel his inner James Stewart and prove that being a milquetoast can also mean you’re a hero? (check out the classic Destry Rides Again, or the post exploring its political ramifications here). 

Will Tres. Sec. Geithner, looking more and more beleaguered, stay the course and be so like Gary Cooper’s Marshal Kane in High Noon

Will the outraged, just outraged senators prove their manly mettle and finally 

a.) start exercising their vote-given duty to speak for their constituents instead of ignoring the business-as-usual tactics of the financial world, which frankly, seemed fine to many of us constituents two or three years ago so let’s not get too worked up unless we can actually see fit to shift our 401Ks to more sustainable and earth-friendly, people-friendly managed funds?

b.) just start exercising! Ride a cowboy!

Or will the hero be the American populace, who shaking off the burden placed on them by western movies (the community are sheep; the community needs to be protected by those stronger, faster and better; the community are venal and weak–see any movie starring C. Eastwood)?

Historically, outrage rises and dies away like the wind coming down from the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend, Texas (like clockwork, every sunrise and sunset as the hot-tempered temps and the cool-tempered temps even each other out). 

What potentially makes this wave of outrage different?

It think it’s the Internet frontier, which allows every voice to link to another voice and to another and another, irrespective of who owns what media outlet. It heightens every conflict into a showdown (sometimes ignoring truth-telling and fairness). Yet it seems less manipulative than the so-called fair media outlets. While the stories in periodicals and news programs go through a vetting process, there is always that shadowy figure behind the stories, perhaps pulling strings or whatever metaphor you’d like to use. 

The Community in western movies can also be a force for good–calling in the rule of law; developing culture; weighing in on decisions that affect independence of the individual and the interdependence of the town. 

It would be good to draw the AIG mess (and the other companies who just didn’t get outed) away of the luridly lettered OMG journalism into more of an acceptance that we, the people, are truly saying WTF, and we, the people, who will create and foster engines of future financial development, are truly saying we can do better. 

November 2, 2008

Have Gun Will Travel; or, The Way We Were Before Campaign '08

by cowboylands

Life must have been easier in the 1950s. Within half an hour, it was possible for a good guy to vanquish a bad guy, be a role model for youngsters, and look good in a holster.

Have Gun Will Travel reads the card of a man.
A knight without armor in a savage land.
His fast gun for hire head’s the calling wind.*
A soldier of fortune is the man called Paladin.

Between 1957 and 1963, TV viewers (many of them women) turned on their TVs with gusto, anticipating the next installment of courtly gunslinger Paladin’s next deed of derring-do. Played by craggy-faced Richard Boone, a popular method actor and descendent of Daniel Boone (neat-o!), this character is first seen in a ritzy 1870s-era hotel in San Francisco, dressed to the nines, cigar in hand, and newspapers open on his knee. After scanning the headlines for evidence of venality, brutality, and greed (and the lobby for an attractive female**), Paladin invariably slips his calling card into an envelope for the trusty hotel’s servant, “Hey Boy,” (ick) to mail.

“Have Gun Will Travel” was Paladin’s motto (and the title of the TV show). He wore black blacker than Johnny Cash’s suits. Trim slacks and shirt, aced with a tight concho belt around his hips and the low silhouette of a back hat. His gun–prominently and über-phallically displayed in the series’ opening shots–is a lean, mean machine with a silver image of a paladin chess piece on the grip. The whole set-up is well worth fawning over (as I’ve been doing, breathlessly) for a host of reasons, from technical virtuosity to sublime subliminal messages.

Paladin, Paladin Where do you roam?
Paladin, Paladin, Far, far from home.

1. Top-notch production values. No fiberglass rocks here: Bend, Oregon, and Lone Pine, California, are the locations. Music by a famed composer who wrote music for Hitchcock, a popular theme song, and scriptwriters like Gene Roddenberry elevate this above the average oater; actors like Angie Dickenson, Jack Lord, and Charles Bronson join Boone’s gruff sharpshooter in intoning lines that are as eminently quotable as they are melodramatic.

2. Style. While John Ford originated the classic western look, TV shows bring it to a more stylized, almost modernist level. Think John Ford for a moment: Monument Valley. The claustrophobic interior of a bar. The swing of a gun and the piston-like legs of a horse. Ford created the symphony; leave it to TV producers to create a visual jingle that you can’t get out of your head. The directors of this series hone the stylistic glory of Ford to a few simple signature shots that  look as if they’ve tracked the eye movements of people watching westerns and discovered the essentials that people look at: crotch, lips, eyes, gun, crotch, breasts, horse, gun.

The opening shots themselves: The viewer is greeted by a close-up of Paladin’s hip, the camera centered on the silver chess knight on the gun’s grip. Accompanied by clipped voice-over by Boone, the gun is pulled from the holster, held for a moment in half-erect state, then aimed straight at the viewer (the barrel shakes a bit but is still effective), then roughly jammed back into the holster. What more do you need? Oh, right. Throw in a couple of women (there are some good girl parts, but not many) and a horse (Boone doesn’t deign to have a favorite mount–it’s a very unsentimental show).

3. Meaning. Venal bankers, cowboy bullies, greedy, land-grabbing ranchers–they seem all the smaller, grubbier, and meaner in comparison to a Shakespeare-quoting, experienced soldier of fortune who treats women and children with chivalric respect, honors the working man, and is equally as at home in urbane San Francisco as he is in the roughest rural cabin. Paladin sells his talent with a gun to the highest bidder, but Justice is his real mistress,*** which means he’s liable to turn on a crooked client. At the end of thirty minutes’ time, the real winners are the decent hard-working Americans (who in this show are astonishingly varied: men, women, white, Mexican, Native American….)

Imagine! There was a time when both having an accurate shoot-from-the-hip response and being educated were deemed heroic. The Cold War hero Paladin was a global adventurer (knowledgeable about foreign policy) and he believed in fundamental individual, family, and community values. He was definitely an Other, above the common reach of mortals (and with seemingly godlike wealth), but all of him–talent, education, core values, devil-handsome grin, weapon, thirst for doing good–were at the service of all.

Who are the TV heroes now? I’ll get back to you on that one….

He travels on to wherever he must;
A chess knight of silver is his badge of trust.
There are campfire legends that the plainsmen spin
Of the man with the gun,
of the man called Pa-l-l-l-l-a-din

* Sounds great but meaning?

** They had to ensure that the viewer would see him as heterosexual, at all costs. Too bad.

***The real reason he doesn’t have a wife or girlfriend.

August 24, 2008

Wanted: Cowboy Presidents 2008

by cowboylands

I’ve been unwilling to saddle up the presidential cowboy analogies for some time–Dubya too easy of a target–but THANK ALL THAT IS COWPOKE for recent presidential candidate news. 

Barack Obama resists the cowboy hat–all I can see him as is the lawyer/Dude from a big city, or maybe as a laid-back (yet pistol-packing) James Stewart in Destry Rides Again, if the senator from Illinois is able to put away the bad guys with Stewart’s aplomb. Yet it becomes difficult to ignore the pungent smell of Western Mythos when pundits connect the dots of presidential, public, and popular appeal. 

It has come to pass that Obama’s “Yes We Can!” is not enough to draw the public into the new day, while McCain’s “Drill here and drill now” is.* While the Democratic candidate continues to stride along into the future in his lanky (yes, James Stewart-like) way, his messages are coming under fire for their subtlety, or their ambiguousness, or their vagueness, or their wiffle-waffleness–depending on your POV. 

Charles M. Blow of the New York Times opines thus in the August 28, 2008 Op-Ed section

Lately, you’ve demonstrated an unsettling penchant for overly nuanced statements that meander into the cerebral. Earth to Barack: to Main Street America, nuance equals confusion. You don’t have to dumb it down, but you do have to sum it up.**

I have to agree, even though I appreciate shades of gray, because when you’re a working Joe or Joette and you have little time between the 9 to 5, kids, and having to do things like negotiate with city and state and country to make sure your basic human right of shelter doesn’t get yanked away (…where was I? Oh yeah…), you don’t have the time or energy to pore over the voting history of the candidates, their platforms, and the ins and outs of issues facing your community. You tend to go to the summary, and if it’s a well-crafted bit of razzle-dazzle, then it sticks in your mind as much as Starship’s horrid “We Built This City” has been clogging up my synapses the past two days.***

Blow continues, and–saddle the horse–up rises the allure of the Cowboy in his glory.

For example, your [Obama’s] performance at Rick Warren’s faith forum came across as professorial and pensive, not presidential. McCain was direct and compelling. Your initial response to the crisis in Georgia was tepid and swishy. McCain was muscular and straightforward.

I’d prefer a muscular, straightforward cowboy! But then I recall that similar epithets were thrown at Stewart’s Thomas Jefferson Destry, Jr., when he arrived in town of Bottleneck to bring back law and order. Looking more like a shopkeeper than the dead-eye shot he is, he is ridiculed and ribbed and compared incessantly to the example of his father, a famous tough-guy lawman. But the perception of being a milquetoast has been carefully crafted by Destry a.) to trick the black-hat wearing bad guys and b.) because he really doesn’t believe that violence is the right path to law and order. 

I’m going to assume that Obama isn’t a trickster, and so what is left is his desire to find a world order founded on mutual respect and communication, as well as his embodiment of this: on good days nuance and on bad days wishy-washyness. Is that appealing to Americans? We’ll see on Election Day, but signs are pointing to “no.” Why?

Blogger CNULAN describes the American public’s cowboy-wish in  the blog Subrealism, in a summary (I do love an undumb sum-up)  of an article in the American Spectator. Apparently, for reasons of security–and I’m talking about deep-down “reptilian” limbic brain kind of security–Americans vote for a world leader who will respond to situations with his (or her) gut. Countless westerns glorify this shoot-from-the-hip approach, and as a consequence or as a reason, to an American, having presidents who are called “cowboy” (from TR, to RR, to GWB) is a positive thing. Defining the allure of the Cowboy thus, it looks as if McCain is the next Decider. 

But will Obama’s choice of sidekick, Biden, bring the requisite straight-shooter-ness to the Dems? Biden’s words tend to get him into trouble, which might be a sign that he calls a spade a spade****, a well-known attribute of of the Cowboy. Or that he is brash and impetuous, ditto. I can’t say whether Biden looks good on an ATV rounding up cattle, but this pithy running mate could lead to a line of White House-themed Barack Obama cowboy boots, western yoke shirts, and fancy ten-gallons. 

In absence of personal knowledge, I’ll follow the lead of the rest of America and use the Cult of the Cowboy to divine the future. I’ll turn to Destry Rides Again, because once you start on a trail, you have to follow it to its end. 

In Destry Rides Again, Stewart’s lawman stays his pacifistic course until he is pressed into taking up the gun by a dastardly deed-doer who threatens to upset the order of Bottleneck. Marlene Dietrich dies in his arms after taking the bullet meant for him, but still the ending is upbeat–Destry has righted the world (after seizing the power that was always his own–see discussions about this moment in Sixguns & Society: A Structural History of the Western and in a Cowboylands post*****). Yes, he “drill[s] [the bad guy] here, drill[s] [him] now.”

Take heart, fans of subtlety.

Despite the typical oater showdown, if this 1939 classic is on a best-of-westerns movie list, it is accompanied by other “nuanced” westerns, such as High Noon, Ride the High Country, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. These films are notable because their writers, directors, cinematographers, and actors have not only produced great entertainment but have also artistically shown the high price of cowboy-like actions, layering messages that both praise and condemn what is an integral part of the American psyche. These films are more powerful than their simpler, less complex comrades. They have won more accolades, provoked more questioning. They are better movies. 

If Americans want the Cowboy (and they do in the silver screen/pulp sort of way, not in the job’s gritty reality), they still have a choice.  

Tom Destry Jr.: Well, you will fool ’em, Wash. We’ll fool ’em together. 
Washington Dimsdale: The only way to do that is fill ’em full of lead. 
Tom Destry Jr.: No, no, no, what for? You shoot it out with ’em and for some reason or other, I don’t know why, they get to look like heroes. But you put ’em behind bars and they look little and cheap, the way they oughta look. —Destry Rides Again, directed by George Marshall, 1939


* accompanied by the roar of cheers and whistles and rumbling hogs at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. His speech was probably squeezed between Kid Rock’s concert and the infamous beauty pageant. Hard to believe those chopper-riding tough guys would be agog over a khaki-and-loafer wearing rich guy, but times change. Click here to watch this priceless video. 

** Note the awesome use of catchy internal rhyme: dumb/sum. Even I will be able to remember it. 

*** The horror. I’ve been waking up  with it in my ears. My only consolation is that it’s been rated as the worst song ever by Blender

**** That’s the last metaphor. I promise. 

*****Always wanted to be in the same sentence as this seminal book. Does it matter if I’m the one writing the sentence?