Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"Why I Love Westerns (Which I May Have Written Already But Am Doing Again In A Refreshingly Different Context)"


Consequent to symptoms which are hopefully manageable, my doctor, whom I fight with but ultimately obey due to his less than subtle insinuation that if I don’t, I will foolishly contribute to an earlier demise than is otherwise necessary, advised me to purchase a monitor by which I can check my blood pressure on a regular basis.

My early efforts drove me to put it back in the box.  Aside from the disturbing numbers, the apparatus was equipped with a voice-activated function, where a woman, in a tone that seemed seriously concerned, informed me I was in trouble. 

Three weeks before my doctor’s appointment – and five months after I had purchased the apparatus – I extracted it from the box and, after a family member deactivated the "Scary Lady" I tried again.  After a rocky start, my numbers generally descended to the normal range.  I have no idea why.

Well, I have one idea why.  Noticing positive consequences, it has now become habitual that, whenever I am ready to monitor my blood pressure, I turn on the Westerns Channel and watch reruns of Lawman.  Apparently, the mere sight of cowpokes on horseback has an ameliorating effect on my numbers.  (I get the same reaction at the sight of expansive lawns on British mysteries.  One glimpse of the verdant landscape fronting the magnificent Manor House, and all is right with the world.) 

In truth, however, it is more than the rolling gait and bobbing heads of cowboy horses that relaxes whatever it is that relaxes my blood pressure.  It is the comforting nature of the cowboy movies (and TV shows) themselves.

Off the top of your head, you may find the calmative effect of western entertainment to be headscratchingly counterintuitive.  What about the bone-crunching fistfights, the cattle stampedes, the ferocious battles between the cavalry and the Indians, the excruciating tension of the gunfights, the marshal and the bad man face-to-face in a deserted street, the townspeople cowering in safety, though not beyond peering through windows to find out who bit the dust?

These are violent and disturbing images.  And every western has them.  There is no

“Draw, marshal!”

“I don’t think so.” 

in any of them.

I know – there’s mayhem aplenty.  Still, for me, watching westerns is like rocking lazily in a Guatemalan hammock. 

I once observed during a welcome moment of clarity that I have an adult’s love of language and a child’s love of adventure.  The former, I hope, is on view occasionally in these ramblings.  The latter finds expression in my passion for westerns. 

Note:  I am talking specifically about the type westerns they stopped making by the sixties, the kind where, if the moviemakers had any understanding of the West as it actually was, they kept it to themselves, sticking only to the clich├ęs and distortions we had come to adore.

The wide-open spaces.  The archetypal characters.  The life-or-death jeopardies.  The character-testing “Moments of Truth.”  The last minute rescues.  

“Here’s Adventure! Here’s Romance!  Here’s O’Henry’s famous Robin Hood of the Old West…the Cisco Kid!”

That introduction said it all.  If you were me, you were hooked on westerns for life.  And, in the repetition of their traditional rhythms, comforted.               

But there is an even deeper element than that, having to do with what the westerns themselves represented.

One of entertainment’s numerous functions is wish fulfillment.   Onscreen love stories kindle the dream that somewhere, there is love out there for you.  Movies about “Somebody wants something and they get it” nourish the possibility that the moviegoer can get it too.  And then, there’s my Dream of Choice, the dream of

Justice triumphing gloriously over Evil.   

As a kid with bad eyes and spindly arms, I needed that reassurance, the belief that the Good Guy could prevail in actual life.  At least, sometimes.  And I got it in every western I ever saw. 

Everlasting love is dandy.   Success?  Who wouldn’t want that?   But my dream was equally fundamental:

“The Good Guy, against all odds, Carrying The Day!”

What a comforting fantasy.  And there it is, infusing every episode of Lawman.  

Beginning with the theme song:

The Lawman came with the sun
There was a job to be done
And so they sent for the badge and the gun
Of the Lawman.

And as he silently rode
Where evil violently flowed
They knew he’d live or he’d die by the Code
Of the Lawman.

A man who rides all alone
And all that he’ll ever own
Is just a badge and a gun and he’s known
As the Lawman.

My blood pressure numbers?

That sounds mighty good to them.

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