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Western-Challenged: Starting from Nothin’

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Because I have a need to reignite my creative self, I saddled up with the Western106 folk. Then I promptly blew off the first week because work was busy, my feline companion is having health issues, and mainly because when asked to comment on what Westerns mean to me, I came up firing nothing but blanks.

As a kid, I never really enjoyed watching an actual Western. I remember feeling bored. And I don’t have any memories of a plot I understood. I didn’t care for guns, shooting, clouds of dust or men with menace on their faces. I didn’t find a reason to stay tuned.

Probably the first piece of media of the Western genre that I connected with emotionally was the one-minute PSA “The Crying Indian,” part of the Ad Council’s Keep America Beautiful campaign.

Given that this ad came out when I was around 3 years old, it’s probably the first “Western” I remember seeing. I think it probably colored my reaction to actual westerns and their often shallow portrayals of Native Americans (and women). I remember feeling like I couldn’t be seeing the whole story. And because of that, I couldn’t lose myself and just enjoy the story. I mistrusted the Western. Even more so after learning that even the hero I had connected with, “Iron Eyes Cody,” wasn’t a Native American at all, but rather a son of Sicilian immigrants with a wig and a lapse of integrity.

Growing up in Phoenix, my childhood relationship to the Western was even more muddled because of  locally iconic The Wallace and Ladmo Show. Instead of watching real Westerns, I watched Bill Thompson’s Nasty Brothers short films, where the Western genre was parodied and mashed up with other things like comic book heroes and Marx brothers-style slapstick:

These shorts, shot before I was born and aired regularly on local TV, formed my main impression of the Western genre. And that’s totally messed up.

The first Western I really enjoyed as a kid was a Space Western/Space Opera you may have heard of:

Star Wars

Over time I’ve come to understand the whole good guys wear the white hat/bad guys wear the black hat thing is prominent in Westerns. And that many many iconic film scenes are recreated from Western forbears. But I don’t know the origins of those images – where they came from first. I know I could research and find out, and that people will probably think I’m being lazy for not already knowing such stuff. It’s just never been a priority to me to find out.

A few years back my husband orchestrated an experience for me and a few of our friends who, for one reason or another, had mostly grown up without the pervasive influence of movies and television, and especially of science fiction. He had us watch a series of classic scifi films in chronological order of when they were released. We did this over a period of weeks.

Then, at the end we watched Mars Attacks!, and we laughed and guffawed our way through probably as many movie references as you can pack into a single film without your head exploding.

And I’m guessing I’m going to have that sort of an experience delving into Western106. I’m looking forward to it.

marsattacks

Don’t know who made this GIF, found it here.

So yeah, this post is a week late. That’s the way it had to be. Not going to fake where I’m starting from.

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