Wyatt Usurped

It is hard now for any director to have as foursquare a vision of civilization as John Ford did. Many contemporary directors have tried to revive the Western but they tend to get whipsawed by conflicting cultural vectors.

Issue: Fall 1994

One of the odd features of travel through Russia is that people who dress like Chicago gangsters are perpetually telling you they are actually like Wyoming cowboys. In Smolensk, an oblast official who sported a Homburg, a black shirt and gold teeth once looked at me significantly and uttered the refrain that is constant in the former Soviet Union: "It's just like the Wild West here." He went on to describe the lawlessness of the place, and what he saw as his own rough efforts to tame his oblast, and make it the sort of place in which decent people could live.

It's interesting that so many Russians should associate their condition with that of the American pioneers. It's a long way from the Slav hinterland to Arizona, from Tolstoy to Tombstone. But this is the era of bourgeois triumphalism, and it is the American myths, and the American Western myth in particular, that the aspiring bourgeoisie identifies with. While European myths celebrate aristocratic virtues (King Arthur, Roland), the lawman of Western myth is dedicated to the rule of law, civic order, and peaceful homesteads. He, like the official in Smolensk and like the conscientious officials in troubled places all around the globe, is trying to establish bourgeois tranquillity in the midst of a Hobbesian state of nature.

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