October 19, 2011Looking back on my trip to Ruidoso and the 22nd Annual Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium I had a profound realization: people who love the Old West really don't much care for the modern world. They hate the crassness of it, the ambiguity and the shallowness. Many are desperate to escape it. I know this is not anything new, but being in Ruidoso and meeting the people really brought it home for me.
For one thing, the majority of attendees, I would guess 95%, were dressed Western. Good hats and boots on the men, blinged out Navajo jewelry and fringe jackets for the ladies. At other festivals, say Festival of the West, West Fest or Santa Clarita I would guess the vast majority of attendees are civilians in shorts, jogging shoes, sweats, in other words, modern garb. But at Ruidoso it was really pronounced just how Western every one was.
So, I get the attraction to the Old West, but was the reality of that time any better than now?
I'm reading Empire of the Summer Moon, and I think it's safe to say that the past, as we celebrate it at festivals and in popular entertainment, is sugar coated with much of the nasty stuff taken out of it. The book brings back the horror of those times: dying alone, dying without the right medicine, dying because someone is carving out your intestines and feeding them into your mouth (a favorite Commanche past time). That stuff gets soft focus and the other attributes, courage, loyalty, horseback fun, take center stage. Call it selective memory, something I think we're all good at.
I was reading a fine piece in The New Yorker on the driving force behind the new John Carter movie (based on John Carter From Mars, the Edgar Rice Burroughs book) that we love and crave innocence: according to Andrew Stanton, the force behind Finding Nemo and Wall-E, puppies and children always work in movies for that very reason.
When I was about four or five and just becoming aware of my surroundings, images like this really impacted me:
True West Maniacs, Chuck and Lisa Gunn, came in our office yesterday and gifted me this sweet little record (yes, it's a record, with the B-side playing "Buster The Bronco Buster"). This style of imagery is from the late forties and early fifties and it really rings my chimes, if you know what I mean and I think you do.
So, if that imagery is so evocative why do we crave the truth in history, warts and all? Can both exist in the same mind? Perhaps, but not in the same movie, or book. Can they?
"Give me the truth, okay? Don't sugarcoat it. Don't give me a half truth."
—Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, in Esquire magazine