National Myths

Dear J-

Censorship in America is a funny thing; I remember the spate of horror movies in the 80s where violence wasn’t necessarily condoned but each butcher-like splatter of gore was dissected and celebrated in magazines like Fangoria while mentions of sex were fairly taboo: Angel Heart nearly earned the kiss-of-death X rating just from the notoriety of a Cosby Kid in a sex scene. As a nation we’re fixated on Puritan notions of sex (keep the dirty bits under covers) and romantic vigilante notions of violence (who else could have come up with Batman, a character who uses his wealth to exact revenge on criminals?).

So it’s perhaps not surprising to keep hearing about the mythological silent stoic cowboy, refugee from tall tales and romanticized views of the West, Spartan in his lifestyle, ascetic ini his celibacy, and of course deadly with a gun at thousands of yards. That’s the myth we keep telling ourselves is true. Whole legions of men grow up steeped in cowboy culture, calling out flinty self-reliance and an implacable acceptance of no assistance. My way. No help. My wits against nature/the government/cattle rustlers/Indians/buffalo/the elements.

Thing is that we take all kinds of help from everywhere. There are whole mega-retail palaces devoted to the art of catching and killing animals for sport, not sustenance and serious survival; despite the paranoia that seems to infect the Boy Scout-trained always-be-prepared — zombie holocaust, thermonuclear war, apocalyptic governmental collapse, chaos and anarchy — I wonder how much of it is fueled by our national mythologies and reinforcement of those mores through media.



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