Published on Wednesday, July 7, 2010
The Western Will Never Die
By Matthew Pizzolato
Contrary to the prevailing popular opinion that is making its way around the internet in the last few weeks, the classic Western will never die. It is too deeply ingrained in American culture. Granted, the heyday of the Western is long past and there have been declines in its popularity. However, there has been a slight resurgence in recent times.
There are a lot of fine writers working in the Western genre today, Loren D. Estleman, Ed Gorman, and Matt Braun, just to name a few, not to mention the many fine writers featured here at The Western Online.
A great many Western sub-genres that have popped up lately, from the Space Western to the Zombie Western, such as the new book by Eric S. Brown, How the West Went to Hell.
The epic movie series Star Wars by George Lucas is essentially a Western plot line that is set in another universe, as are the many Sci-Fi television series from Star Trek to Battlestar Galactica. These shows take the spirit of westward expansion and exploration and carry it into space.
The Western lends itself very well to blending with other genres. Any genre can be told as a Western. Mysteries, Romances, Horror stories, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Crime, and Detective fiction stories can all be blended into a Western. Even the Steampunk genre relies heavily on Westerns as a back drop.
All of the plots in the book 20 Master Plots (And How to Build Them) by Ronald B. Tobias can be told as Western stories, so there is absolutely no limit to the Western's story telling potential.
One drawback about writing in the Western genre today is that there is not nearly the market that there once was and it's becoming increasingly difficult to find publications that publish Western stories. This is one of the reasons I felt inspired to open The Western Online and its doing quite well, far beyond what I expected.
The recently released movie Jonah Hex starring Josh Brolin and Megan Fox is a Western that features fantasy and science fiction elements. There is even a line of Western video games by Rockstar Games, Red Dead Revolver and more recently, Red Dead Redemption. This reemergence of the genre in popular culture can only serve to bring new readers and writers into the field.
The problem that many people in today's culture have with the Western is that it is not "politically correct" and some find themselves trying to fix it, or apologizing for the mistakes of the past. There is nothing wrong with the genre as it is today and nothing that needs to be fixed. However, there is always room for improvement and new ideas.
The majority of Western stories feature white male protagonists and there is nothing wrong with that at all. Perhaps the reason for this is because the majority of the writers working in the Western genre are white males and most of the female writers chose to use a pen name and write stories featuring male protagonists. Most writers prefer to write what they know, and writing about other cultures can be difficult.
There were a lot of different cultures during the time period and those cultures should be included more in today's fiction. I have written a Western horror story featuring a Native American protagonist that is due for release this October in an anthology by Bandersnatch books.
In the early Hollywood movies, Native American's were portrayed as ignorant savages, and nothing is further from the truth. The 1976 release The Outlaw Josey Wales staring Clint Eastwood does a very good job of reversing these stereotypes.
I would like to see more stories featuring female protagonists because there were a lot of strong women during the time period, without whom the West wouldn't have been settled. I believe this is an area of untapped potential.
Since it is historical fact that as many as one-third of the cowboys who followed the cattle trails north from Texas were African American, there should be more stories featuring this culture.
There is no need to convert the Western into something its not, just to make it politically correct. One of the main attractions that the genre has is the ideals that it represents; that of Good versus Evil and that in the end Good always triumphs. People of the time period stood for something and weren't afraid to show it. As writers portraying these gallant men and women of all cultures, we shouldn't be either.