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How Justified Made Westerns Cool Again

My parents loved Westerns.  I don’t blame them.

I’m not sure of the actual numbers, but I’m willing to bet if someone did a statistical analysis of the subject matter of all films produced between 1950-1980, “Western” would dominate its way straight to the top.

Gene Autry, Chuck Connors, James Arness, John Wayne – the baby boomers loved their cowboys.

Justified – Flashbacks – The Beginning – FX

When my parents grew up, became adults, and had me, they often had reruns of shows like Gunsmoke and The Rifleman on.  Or they’d watch one of their favorite cowboy movies over and over.

In recent years, the Bravo Western channel made it possible for them to watch all of these movies and shows on a permanent loop.  I’d visit and there’d they be – glued to the same Western movie they’d seen a hundred times before.

And literally, even if it was a different movie, the plot of most Westerns were the same.  Bad guys did bad things.  The townsfolk were too oppressed and downtrodden to care.  They just took it and accepted it as a part of life.  A righteous lawman blows into town and gives the bad guys a run for their money.  The bad guys get angry and fight back.  They get violent and make life even worse for the townsfolk. The people turn their wrath toward the lawman, blaming him for stirring up trouble.  Can’t he just leave well enough alone and let the bad guys have their way?  In the end, it all culminates in a final showdown where the lawman and a bad guy draw, and the lawman is inevitably faster with the iron.

I can’t count the number of times I made fun of my parents over this.  “Do you guys realize you’re watching the same plot over and over again?”

They didn’t care.  And today as an adult, I get it.  The American West was literally society’s last chance for adventure, at least in this part of the world.  “Go West, Young man” they’d say.

People would head out West to prospect for gold, claim land and farm or become ranchers.  Some would start businesses.  Of course, there was a hearty supply of ne’er-do-wells who took advantage of the lack of an established criminal justice system to cheat, steal, and rob everyone blind, thus providing the fodder for the cornucopia of cowboy flicks that my baby boomer parents held near and dear to their hearts.

All that Western stuff?  It was still going on as of the early 1900’s.  People from the 1950s, like my parents, probably knew an old timer or two who could recount stories they’d heard or read about.  By the middle of the last century, the West was won, but the stories?  They were finally being told thanks to the invention of movies and television and the kids of yesteryear couldn’t get enough.  The West was a limitless supply of adventure.

Somewhere around 1980, that all became lame.  Once in awhile, they still make the occasional good cowboy movie.  Young Guns with Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen (before he went bonkers) was a favorite of mine.

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