Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Then Along Came the Bad Batch

There is perhaps no modern mythology more compelling than the western, and no modern mythological figure more captivating than the cowboy. The term "western" itself is so ingrained in our cultural lexicon that nobody batted an eye when in reviews of the movie Logan, people started referring to it as a western or neo-western. The rest of us nodded along knowingly at this obviously deep insight into the cross-pollination of movie genres without giving a whole lot of thought as to what this analysis actually meant. On the one hand, iconography from the western genre and the archetype of the cowboy himself have become so ingrained in our understanding of storytelling. But on the other hand, I'm willing to bet a fistful of dollars that the majority of Logan's audience had never heard of - let alone seen - Shane, the 1953 classic western that's explicitly referenced in the movie itself and that many critics then compared Logan to in a series of seemingly endless online analyses (exactly the kind of cheap, short-lived dialectical trend I would never embrace).

The thing is, though, we toss around terms like "western" simultaneously knowing exactly what they mean, but not knowing at all what they mean. And I don't think it's enough to set the bar as low as United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart and simply resort to the dismissive and unhelpful ambiguity of "I know it when I see it." This is especially important when we talk about reimagining, deconstructing, or subverting genre tropes; before we can reasonably say that something has been deconstructed or reimagined, first we have to know how that thing is constructed or imagined in the first place.