Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Western Vs. "Westworld"

December 11, 2016
   Okay, I just watched the last episode of HBO's first season of "Westworld," and I have one thing I need to get off my chest: I hated the hats.

   That said, it was kind of the point to the whole damn show. The conceit of the show strip mines the John Ford engineered version of the "settling of the West." it's no accident that one of the chief engineers of the futuristic theme park is named Ford.

   According to HBO's in-house numbers, over 11 million people have been watching the series on all platforms (cable, iPads and mobile devices, etc.).

   We can agree that the Western story, as created by Owen Wister, Zane Grey and John Ford (especially John Ford!) is a concocted story. It's mostly myth-making legitimized by Frederick Jackson Turner as our country's creation story. I'll have much more to say about the plot and the points made, and not so subtly made, but the bottom line is, this show got people's attention, and since it is a Western, or a half-assed-Western, or, a half-a-wannabe-Western, I believe True West has to step up and weigh in on it. Expect to see more in-depth analysis from our astute contributing editors.

   Anyway, back to the hats. They are awful, at least to a historical accuracy fanatic like myself. That the younger version of William wears a big, ol' Who-Shot-JR?-1970s-styled-bull-rider hat just looks silly, to me, but, as my friend Paul Andrew Hutton so aptly puts it, "That is exactly the point. It doesn't matter. Everything is a dream, within a dream."

   Here's C. Neil William's take on it: "It's a theme park catering to people's perceptions of the west, and therefore much more about the Western than any real, historical west...and the Western is a screwed-up, hodgepodge of ideas and imagination. So in its way, 'Westworld' is dead on accurate, JR hats included."

   Come to find out, according to Sigmund Freud, in his theory of dream analysis, a "hat" stands in for a, well, I'm slightly embarrassed to say this, but it stands in for a "penis." Perhaps this explains why I have always opted for big-brimmed shadetree hat styles.

   "Hey, Boze, nice penis compensation on your head, there." In my defense, I have never ducked the accusation of being "all hat, no cattle." Does any of this bother me?

   In your dreams.

   Bottom line: we want to know what you think of the show. So, weigh in and let 'er rip.

"The story that lasts is the best myth. Whoever comes up with the best fairy tail wins. It has nothing to do with what actually happened."
—Natalie Portman


  1. I liked WESTWORLD-a lot. But I never viewed it as a western, a half-assed western, a wanna be western or a half-assed wanna be western. Hats, boots, gun leather, weapons and settings do not a western make. WESTWORLD bore no more resemblance to a 'real' western than COWBOYS AND ALIENS, BONE TOMAHAWK, or THE HATEFUL EIGHT did. No, HBO's WESTWORLD was a hybrid animal that wrapped itself in a good many of the trappings of a western in an effort to get an audience. And it succeeded, I think, beyond HBO management's wildest imaginings. I doubt the show will work as well if, next season, they change the setting to a Japanese samurai world. ~ J.Lee Butts

  2. George Strait made that hat style epic for hat lovers, but I agree with you. Movies need to be far more accurate. Remember Sharon Stone in the Quick and the Dead? I told all my buddies her hat wasn't realistic and if she wore one like Billy the Kids she would have won an award for super woman. Mexican sombreros mixed with Billy style hats is what Strait and rodeo cowboys made famous. I would love to document cowboy and or Wild West hat history. Anybody ever done that? Stetson history might have something. Buffalo Bill might get credit for very similar. I don't know, I just complain about westerns even loving all of them. How come nobody in Star Wars wore a cowboy hat? Didn't they still eat steaks? There might even be some alien cattle on Mars these days. Somebody tell NASA.

  3. To be really honest....after watching the first season of HBO's "Westworld" I found very little of it to be a western movie....but a science fiction thing. I actually understood and accepted the terrible hats (but where were all the low slung Hollywood type holster rigs & model '92 Winchesters?)I also just watched the season finale of "The Walking Dead" and I find that to be way more related to the classic western tale. I never heard the Freud penis thing being said about hats.....but I did hear his quote "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." :-) Keep up the good work Mr Bell....and I will keep reading.

  4. Stay with me on this. When he entered the theme park as a "dude " he picked this hat.A symbolic gesture .Later as he became "the real thing" he picked up a real hat off a dead guy .The same hat he wears as the older Ed Harris. another symbolic gesture.If you really want to bitch about hats bitch about those hats with the wire going thru the brims that you get at Tractor Supply.They're everywhere and I mean everywhere.I'm getting to the point where I'd like to see the job of hat wrangler in the credits.How can you spend all that money on making a film and use hats like that .It baffles me.

  5. Anonymous9:11 AM

    It wasn't a Western, it was a great story about a theme park for those who wish to live a dream.

  6. Freud had lots of really strange ideas. He was a very, very sick man...

  7. This is like complaints of a hairpiece worn by the different pigs playing the title character in the movie "Babe". Couldn't suspend disbelief on that factor while accepting that the pig talked...

    It's about ROBOTS wearing the wrong hats?

  8. i love the show, the only one that bothered me is that I can't seem to find a reasonably priced converted Lemat...

  9. Howdy Mr. Bell
    I agree that on one level, Westworld is a story about story-telling (e.g., the plots about 'narratives').
    The traditional American Western is influenced by our mythology of the frontier, in turn Westworld is a story influenced by the American Western; a layer of abstraction away from 'history'.

    In this way, I feel Westworld is similar to Spaghetti Westerns, which were influenced by the American Western film, not 'history'.

    Also interesting is Robert Ford's drinking buddy (and one of the original hosts) Buffalo Bill Cody. I like to think that "Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World" was a precursor to Westworld; the original live action representation of American frontier mythology.


  10. Anonymous1:35 PM

    There's nothing wrong with the size of my hat. Believe me. It's wonderful. Yuge.

  11. Anonymous1:36 PM

    A tremendous show about what is a human, what is consciences. It's aTHEME park the West as how we wanted it to be, what movies made us believe it was.

  12. Anonymous11:02 PM

    It's HBO, so it's got sex and violence but other than that I am enjoying this mix of sci-fi with the western flare. I am looking forward to seeing what happens in next season as the whole William story took me for a loop. I am usually really good about predicting a story line but I didn't see that one coming at all. I love Ed Harris in this show. -- Historically, there isn't much to be said, it's a theme park catered to be in the style of the west but not really attempting to recreate historical events in the show so I don't mind it so much. Now if they were trying to put a spin on real history then I might be the first to complain about it. I am a stickler about facts in our U.S. History.

  13. My hat is off to you Mr. Bell... and it's a nice, wide brimmed number with the outlaw drop in front and flat on the sides and back... send a link and I'll send a pic...

  14. As a former member of actor/Western historian, Peter Sherako's "Hollywood Buckeroos" I participated as a background actor (extra) in a episode of TV's "Sliders". The episode was a take-off of the original "West World" feature but instead of cowboys it was the Blue versus the Gray (American Civil War). My point is that the 'look' of the episode was pretty spot-on simply because the fictional owners of the theme park made it that way for the fictional customers. "Good value" for their money so to speak! So the question is, why did these producers, both real and fictionalized, rip-off the story/look/value/authenticity with lame props? Not smart.

  15. John Mullarkey8:14 AM

    My fantasy western is a historically accurate drama of the Pleasant valley war. Hollywood doesn't need to embellish anything to make it exciting & entertaining.

  16. It was boring and predictable. I gave up after 3 episodes.

  17. Anonymous9:27 AM

    I think one of the attractions of Westworld is the potential to draw new viewers/fans toward the Western genre as a whole (as the video game Red Dead Redemption did). I teach a Western genre course at the community college level and incorporate Westworld into my lecture content as an example of a Sci-Fi/Western genre hybrid. It also works as a platform by which to recognize & analyze components of the Western as convention.

    If the show is asking larger universal questions (e.g. what is consciousness), then it's actually following in the tradition of the great Westerns, which have always posed questions larger than the genre itself.

    Chad Beharriell


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