It’s funny how nationalism and the Western genre have become intermingled. I blame John Wayne. After all, most of the best characters in the classic Westerns are outlaws, taking our American notions of justice and liberty into their own hands, following a civil war which had divided the the United States’ national identity down the middle. Sure, at some point we started rooting for the sheriffs and their deputies, but in this day-and-age, I think those times have passed.
We’re once again rooting for the outlaw. Take the 2016 contemporary western, Hell or High Water, for example. The protagonists are two brothers, who’ve been forced to rob banks in order to secure a future for their families. The police officers charged with stopping them aren’t even presented as the antagonists, but rather the film points the moral finger at the banks which have been “legally” robbing people for years.
That’s kind of the cultural shift we’re seeing right now. It’s a time of re-examining the laws that put civil rights and environmental activists under arrest, while “rulemakers” like police, banks, and big business continue to mold those laws to whatever form best fits their interests.
Considering the state of things in this country, the figure of the outlaw probably holds more relevance today than it did when westerns first began to glow from the silver screen. So, it’s good to see some love for the ol’ western from some of our own here in Des Moines. The video for William Locker and Nella Thomas‘ “1871” (from Stefan Egeberg Hansen) does it right, starting with a death, and ending with a shootout, all while weaving a fiery tale of personal justice disguised as revenge and shrouded in gunsmoke.
Give it a draw, crackshot, and show thanks to the outlaws that keep the lawmakers honest.