Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Slow Death of the Western Genre (in honor of BigBlackHatMan)

Hello, I'm KalKratos. And I'm doing another anniversary blog. This time it is for BigBlackHatMan. He does Western film blog reviews for Today, I'm going to talk about how the Western genre is slowing dying as its own entity.

We all know the Western genre. From cowboys and indians, to lawmen and outlaws. The Western genre was very prevalent during the entirety of the twentieth century. Fantastical stories of romanticizing the Old West captivated children throughout the years. In fact, one of the first films ever was a Western: The Great Train Robbery in 1903. But by the 90's, the genre was slowly becoming less pronounced as its own genre. So what happened? Well like in Toy Story, the Space Race changed everything. The 50's and 60's were very focused on space. And kids became more fascinated by the possibilities out there, than romanticized history. Sure, some kids stayed with the Western genre during those times; but by the time that those kids who loved the Western genre were grown up, the kids of the current generation at the time were more focused on space and other science related fiction.

But that's not the end of the Western genre. The Western genre still lives on strong through genre hybridization. The first true Western hybrid was in 1990. Back to the Future: Part III. It was primarily a science-fiction story with a Western setting. But there are other Western hybrids that date back prior to Back to the Future. Star Trek is an example of a Western hybrid, not in setting, but in themes and content. Gene Roddenberry, before Star Trek, did Westerns primarily. Then he decided to cash in on the growing trend at the time of sci-fi shows. He sold it to Desilu Studios as Wagon Train to the stars. Wagon Train was a Western TV series that ran from 1957-1965. Even as Star Trek had movies, TV show sequels, their subsequent spinoffs, and one TV prequel, Star Trek kept its Western themed origins.

During the 90's, Contemporary Westerns became more common. Westerns that didn't have an Old West setting, they had a modern setting; but kept the themes and content.

So what about more traditional Westerns set in the Old West? Well, the more prevalent ones are the hybrids. Jonah Hex, Cowboys and Aliens, and Serenity.

Speaking of Serenity, Firefly is the most popular Western hybrid. In fact, it is more Western than sci-fi. The only thing that makes it sci-fi is the spaceship and other planets. If those weren't there, it would be considered a traditional western. The Independence War is a reference to the Civil War. A lot of Westerns took place not long after the Civil War, so it was still fresh in their minds during particular works of Western fiction. Now, you may be reading this and thinking, the Firefly crew were not like the Confederates. Those guys were racists. Wrong. Slavery was a secondary issue during the Civil War. The main reason the Civil War was fought was because of state's rights. Sound familiar? Cause it is the same cause that Malcolm Reynolds and his unit of Browncoats were fighting for. They didn't want to be apart of some gigantic government. And the outer planets represent the Old West, not just in setting, but in metaphor. And of course the Alliance represents the Union. Although I doubt that the government during time was as evil as the Alliance.

So again, what about more traditional Westerns? Where are they? Well, they are usually under-the-radar, foreign, or direct-to-video. The last Western that was on everybody's radar was the remake of True Grit. That was a year ago. Last century, Westerns were the most prominent genre at the box office each year. Now, it is comic book movies, action movies, and sci-fi movies. Quite a lot of times, those three genres are all in the same movie.

It seems that the genre is finding more strength in the video game industry. Gun.Smoke, GUN, Mad Dog McCree, the Call of Juarez series, the Wild Arms series, Sunset Riders, Borderlands, Red Dead Redemption, Outlaws (1997), and The Oregon Trail. I think the reason for this is because a lot of the more modern ones that I listed, take a more mature approach to the Western genre and harkens back to the spaghetti westerns (which are my favorite kind of western).

Another place that the Western genre is finding strength is in the Far East, ironically. The Good, the Bad, the Weird; Sukiyaki Western: Django; and The Warrior Way are some live-action examples. Cowboy Bebop and Trigun are some popular anime examples.

So it seems that the genre isn't as popular as it once was. And most likely when it is shown, the hybridize it with another genre. So, I hope you enjoyed my blog. Comment below.

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