I have always been a fan of the Western. Movies or novels and short stories no matter, the western told the tales that provided our heroes in my youth. The early heroes included Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy and Gene Autry along with Lash Larue and Johnny Mack Brown. They all road across the screen filling a young boy's heart with eagerness to uphold their code of the West. Upright, strong, honest men who exemplified the best of America. The big screen brought us the James gang along with the Daltons. They were the good bad guys who fought for the the forgotten following the Civil War. The Civil War was not a part of our young minds, just the idea of robbing the rich and helping the poor, an idea as old as legend itself. Our heroes stood for ideals we absorbed without thought. Then came the stars who interpreted other legends out of America's past. James Stewart, Kirk Douglas, Robert MItchum and Burt Lancaster. The hats were gradually fading from black and white to gray, yet we continued to root for our heroes without thought to the alteration from the simplicity of black and white. The television took up the parading of heroes with new stories on Rawhide, Wagon Train, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and Have Gun Will Travel being only a small number. We revelled in the stories of horse and gun. We were settling the West, wrangling steers, and righting wrongs. Indians stood in the way and we annihilated them. Rustlers keeping the beef from market? We shot 'em dead. Bad guys shootin' up towns? We Gunsmoked 'em to die in the street.
Our heroes upheld right whether or not the law upheld it. We fought righteous battles through our screen heroes.
With time the Western began to provide the anti hero. The time of the Western began to fade. Our heroes were fast disappearing into a miasma of right-wrong gray. There were no heroes we were told. Only men. With all there faults they were only men. Personally I wanted the old days and those guardians of the righteous path. Then the Western gave way to movies and books awash with dark choices made by "just" men.
Then in the 70's there came to the screen a movie that made the choice of good and evil simple again. It was the Western in dress up. STAR WARS crept across the big screen in a long interminable ship in deep space sliding quietly after a tiny ship hightailing it away. It was the wild west once again. Heroes were eagerly hailed once more. We could yell HOORAY for the good guys openly without the need to question the motive. This was black and white in color roaring with action.
Since a need of heroes is practially a necessity they had to be re-invented and, they were, with a huge bang. Yes, the big screen and the little screen are furnishing men and women who fight for right. This is all well and good, however, it has a hollow quality for me. Since Star Wars there have been so many more Western Dress-up dramas and all of them come from the confines of the comic book. Don't get me wrong comic books, or graphic novels as they are now called, are fine.
With the Westerns we had a basis in reality to hang the stories on. In the comic book, that basis of reality is gone. Super powers, flight, X-ray vision, morphing into animals remove me from the real life right and wrong. These days the hero must be manufactured through the creation of minds struggling to re-establish the idol for all of us. We need someone to look
up to and that person is not available in day to day life. Yes, America has heroes in those who work hard in their lives to keep our country from falling apart. Our soldiers who fight a war are, unfortunately, unsung heroes fighting an unpopular war. Every day heroes unsung by all of us. We would rather have the hollow hero on screen and on paper.
So where am I going with this? I don't know. I simply wanted to introduce another blog that I like which is called the Western Fictioneers. And it all begins with the fact that I like Westerns which are based on real times in our real past providing heroes that are more real than those of the present because the West was a foundation of our society. So, are we the Hollow Men T.S. Elliot wrote about? I wonder at times.