Monday, June 26, 2006

Because It's Ours

I tend to get the bulk of my news from the Internet these days, with the exception of CBS News Sunday Morning - which I TiVo since it's on ridiculously early out here on the west coast. I like this program for a couple of reasons. 1) They cover a lot of human interest stuff that just appeals to me and 2) my parents watched it while I was growing up so I tend to equate it with "comfort food."

This past Sunday they did a profile on the actor Robert Duvall, who much like Sam Elliott, screams "cowboy" to me. The reporter asked Duvall why he thought the western held appeal and he simply replied, "Because it's ours." I'd never thought about it in that simple of terms. The English can lay claim to Shakespeare - Americans lay claim to the western. At it's core it is the one truly authentic American ideal. Nobody else can claim it. Nobody else truly understands it. For Americans the Wild West is ingrained into our consciousness, our sense of history, and the very principles that Americans hold dear.

I've always said the western appeals to me because it signifies starting over and second chances. These are both very American concepts - the whole Horatio Alger thing that a man (or woman) can pull themselves up by their boot straps. Wealth and power are not only the domain of old money and the elite. A common man can also make his fortune. It's this idea that led to America being the country that it is - and it also makes this country very unique. Think about it. Think of the sheer volume of ethnicities and races that call themselves Americans. Sure it happens elsewhere in the World - but not on the level that it happens in America. It's what makes our country great - even if there are factions that don't want to admit it.

Now I'm not foolish enough to paint the western as wholly romantic. First, we have the Native Americans - whose way of life was decimated. You also have Chinese - who were singled out because they "looked different," spoke in a "strange tongue," and whose customs were completely and totally foreign to the largely European melting pot of America. Yet the Chinese played a huge part in building our railroads - hence ushering in an age of extreme growth and industrialization.

And then we have African Americans. The West most certainly held appeal for them. Sure slavery was abolished, but mostly in name only in the South where Jim Crow took root and thrived until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Also with slavery over, these people were left with even less than they had before. Think about it. No home, no money, no food, no education. Absolutely nothing. What option does that leave? Extreme options and dreaming big. The West most certainly would have signified a "second chance" and freedom for these men and women.

Which brings us to Beverly Jenkins - an author known for her westerns featuring black characters and black history. I've never read Jenkins. This is inexcusable on my part. Why?
  • She writes westerns! Yippee!
  • She's a Michigan girl
  • She's still with Avon
That's right. Beverly Jenkins is still somehow with Avon - the house that has chased off all their other western writers or converted them to writing English historicals. Someone correct me if I'm wrong here - but I think she's the only western writer left over there. Seriously, you go girl! I worry for her though. I mean you have to wonder if she's hanging on by her finger nails. Either way, she has published a book with them in 2006 - and she's written a couple of romantic suspense titles for Avon's parent company, HarperCollins.

After a couple of routine mysteries and a the Secrets Anthology Volume 1 (yawn) - I've decided it's time to read another western. So I've pulled out Something Like Love from my TBR. I got me a signed copy at RWA in Reno last summer, and being the good little monkey that I am, donated the unsigned copy already in my TBR to the library (which has since been stolen - so there you go). I've only read the prologue, but so far it's very promising. I hope to put a large dent in it on my lunch break today.


Tara Marie said...

Nobody else truly understands it. For Americans the Wild West is ingrained into our consciousness, our sense of history, and the very principles that Americans hold dear.

Wow, that's so perfect, it almost made me cry.

I love cowboys and the men who play them... Robert Duvall, Sam Elliot, Keith Carradine, Tom Selleck.

Susan K said...

The problem with westerns for me is that I grew up in Arizona, so westerns for me mean housing developments, bermuda grass, irrigation, Rodeo Day (didn't get President's Day off school but did get off the day of the Rodeo parade), Barry Goldwater, and stuff like that. Since I picture strip malls in place of ranches and stucco homesteads, it kind of drives all the romance right out. For example, my high school was next door to the Indian school, where they took Native American kids from all over the state and put them in this boarding school to "Americanize" them. The school closed years ago, but it stood there as a symbol every day I was in high school and whenever I drove by (one of the main streets in Phoenix is still called Indian School Road). Last time I was in Phoenix they had an exhibit at the Heard Museum (an excellent museum BTW and if you're ever in Phoenix you really have to go) about this, and some of the stories are heartbreaking. So I have a hard time with westerns, but I know it's just me.

Wendy said...

::dreamy sigh:: Tom Selleck. Oh how I love that man.

Susan: I can totally understand where you're coming from. I moved from the Midwest to Southern California - the land of homogeny. Everything looks the bloddy same out here. Strip malls, spanish tile, housing tracts. I suspect because it's all so "new" and Americans lack imagination.

I read a western once where the heroine was travelling west to teach at an Indian school. I gotta say it bothered me A LOT! And I suspect the author wasn't entirely right with it either since the vast majority of the story took place "on the road" and maybe 2 chapters featured the heroine teaching.

I think really good westerns don't forget the ugliness, although admittedly some authors will whitewash over it. Just like authors who write in the Regency England setting whitewash over some of that history too. It's the nature of the wallpaper historical beast.

Wendy said...

Bloddy? I of course meant bloody. Geez.