Friday, February 06, 2009

The Myth of Cowboys

With your peers, write down as many characteristics as you can of the American "cowboy" as he is portrayed in American popular culture. See what our class generated below (thanks to the typing talents of Christy!):


After reading E. Martin Pedersen's "The Dreary Life of the Cowboy: Memoir and Myth in Cowboy Ballads", use it as a source and please post comments that you believe contradict the myth of the cowboy. What most surprised you about the "reality" of cowboy life?

17 comments:

CPatt said...

First ever.

Kimber said...

I think it is really interesting how cowboys are portrayed as being white. All of the western movies I have seen that involved cowboys show their race as being white. In reality this may be true, but a large number of cowboys were African Americans (p. 131 Dreary Life of the Cowboy). I have never once seen an African American cowboy in a movie. This may relate back to the discussion of TV Tokenisms, but I think that the film business in general is attempting to the mythology of the “American cowboy” to its viewers. Similarly, the producers never portray the cowboy as a “sensitive performing artist (p. 131).” They are only seen as tough guys.

maddie hilbrant said...

I completely agree with Kimber. I think that producers never see cowboys as anything other than the "white tough guy" because that is how people see cowboys, we stereotype them and thinking of them as an african-american cowboy or a sensitive cowboy would almost ruin our depiction of them. It's almost like believing in Santa. We all know that he's not real but we go along with it because its always been that way and its naturally what we follow. Does that make sense?

maddie hilbrant said...

I completely agree with Kimber. I think that producers never see cowboys as anything other than the "white tough guy" because that is how people see cowboys, we stereotype them and thinking of them as an african-american cowboy or a sensitive cowboy would almost ruin our depiction of them. It's almost like believing in Santa. We all know that he's not real but we go along with it because its always been that way and its naturally what we follow. Does that make sense?

Julia said...

I agree with Kimber also because we were reading the Dreary Life of the Cowboy together at school and on of the first things that the article said was that there are some African American cowboys and i think that the myth for cowboys is that they are white and they are never black. When i think about this, i think of all the little kids who watch movies with cowboys in them and they are never black. Do movies only put white cowboys in to show the kids that white cowboys are better?

Julia said...

I agree with Kimber also because we were reading the Dreary Life of the Cowboy together at school and on of the first things that the article said was that there are some African American cowboys and i think that the myth for cowboys is that they are white and they are never black. When i think about this, i think of all the little kids who watch movies with cowboys in them and they are never black. Do movies only put white cowboys in to show the kids that white cowboys are better?

Kelly said...

There are probably so many hidden facts about actual cowboy’s that are never portrayed. The only time I have ever seen cowboys is on TV and in movies. There are major stereo types made through the media of everything and cowboys as a whole are a stereo type. When we made the list of what we thought of when we heard “cowboys” I was thinking in the back of my head that legitimate cowboys probably are not half of these things. We had to go off of our knowledge from movies and TV. I may be wrong and the way that they are portrayed through movies and TV may be exactly how cowboys really are. I guess we will never know until we meet many different cowboys.

Max Rice said...

I have to agree with my boy Ronald Reagan and say who cares. The myth of the Cowboy symbolizes everything a man ought to be, and what America strives to be. So just like Ronald Reagan, I think America should embrace the myth and teach the myth to its children, just like greek mythology is taught to us.

Kimber said...

An entire section of this article discusses how cowboys “sang themselves.” Personally, I cannot picture a cowboy singing about their everyday lives. I picture the cowboy as being one who would say less vs. more. I imagine that their tactic would be, “less talking, let’s battle it out.” Going along with my earlier post, people see the cowboy portrayed as the “white, tough guy.” But, the real cowboys sang folksongs that brought together many cultures. It is stated that “The West was the meeting ground of cultures (135).” “… with roots in southern, eastern, African American, Mexican, Scandinavian, Irish, and British traditions (134).”

Miles said...

After looking at our wordle and the descriptions of actual cowboys in, The Dreary Life of the Cowboy: Memoir and Myth in Cowboy Ballads, the differences are startling. For instance, when it reads on the first page, "Mexican vaqueros first taught American cowboys the difficult skills of taming wild horses, rounding up wild longhorns, breeding, roping, branding, and driving the herds", this is a rather disappointing revelation to the cowboy myth. That's hardly "independent." Also the idea of cowboys being shoot 'em up, gun slinging hero's is ridiculous. For example in the text it says "In the worst year in Tombstone, home of the shoot-out at the OK Corral, only five people were killed." That isn't the huge shoot outs in the small town with the tumbleweeds that we think of. In reality, the mythological cowboy life is an extreme glorification of the actual, and it's a huge disappointment.

Kimber said...

Our myth of the cowboy seems to be correct with the word drunk... "cowboys went to town to drink, fight, gamble, dance and carouse with prostitutes, wasting all thier pay in just a few days (131)."

Carrie F. said...

Although I understand what Max is saying about how we should embrace the cowboy and take his/her personality unto ourselves, there are some verbs in this wordle that, to me, should not describe a person, nor do some of these words describe cowboys as stated in Perdersen's article. Sure, it would be ideal for a person to be courageous, skilled, and independent, but must we set a bar for all of mankind to be intimidating, tough, drunk, unemotional, and heterosexual? I really don't like the connotation of the words above because they counter friendly, civil behavior to one-another. Emotions are what make us human, and I don't believe that the ideal American has to be heterosexual. If these are words that we think of when we hear "cowboy", and our presidents and public figures make references to them daily, I don't know what our nation will come to.

Adam said...

I too was suprised to read that many cowboys were asian or African American. Though what I also noticed were some interesting posts. Max Rice claims that the myth of the Cowboy symbolizes everything a man ought to be, and what America strives to be. I am not quite sure if I believe this. In addition, I'm not even sure if Max believes this. Do you honestly think that everyone in American strives to be a cowboy. Should all men be un-tamed, drunk, scruffy, smokers, who waddle alone. I agree that there are some good qualities that Cowboy's posses, though are all of them positive? What's more, do you even strive to be like the qualities in the word cloud? Are you heroic, tough, stubborn, drunk, violent, or un-civilized?

Jack Terrier said...

The one thing that shocked me the most was how the article said that cowboys really weren't such violent people, compared to people like lawmen, outlaws, hunters and gunfighters. It seems to make a good amount of sense, I just never really thought able it. I just watched The G,B,U and decided that that's a true cowboy. I think that the image of cowboys being violent is one trait that really stuck in other countries more than anything. Maybe that's were the stereotype about americans being violent came from, who knows?

Jillian F said...

It really suprised me that all of our observations were tough and rough and like cowboys are like in the movies. Like George W. Bush is not rugged, he is a modern cowbiy, which is different from the cowboy myth that most of us thought about when we were making this word cloud.

andrea said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
andrea said...

What surprised me the most was the fact that cowboys were in fact very polite! I always thought they were just drunk tough guys who started bar fights and were quick to draw their guns. I was very surprised to find out that they are in fact polite, well-mannered gentlemen.