Go back almost fifty years, forty-nine to be exact, walk into any cinema and you would have been greeted with posters plastered everywhere for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly perhaps one of the most iconic films of the Western genre. Go back maybe another fifteen years and you would have been presented with posters for Calamity Jane or Annie Get Your Gun. The point is that for at least fifteen years Westerns were huge, its generally agreed that the Western genre was prevalent between the 1950’s and the 1970’s. Yet, nowadays several directors and writers have commented upon how Westerns simply don’t sell, including Martin Scorsese and Quinten Tarantino. Tarantino is even in the process of trying to reinvent the genre in his current movie ‘The Hateful Eight’. Recently it seems that the world of superheroes has taken over from the Westerns with Marvel and DC planning over twenty movies in the next four years. Comic books have taken over from pulp novels set in the wild west as source material and the public is going crazy for it. But the real question is why? Why were Westerns once the top of the food chain and now its Comic books?
Stetsons and Cowls
There are a few obvious answers to this question. Computer technology has completely evolved in the last fifty years so it’s only logical that we want stories and concepts that push the boundaries of what is possible with modern technology. Also, ever since the nineties comic book boom (which I will talk about in a future article) it makes sense that we would want to see stories that a lot of the western world are interested in recreated in a more accessible format. However, neither of these answers really consider why the Westerns were once so popular as well. My theory; We like to break the rules. Or at least, we like to see someone else breaking the rules. This goes back to my article on escapism in a way, we like to imagine what it would be like to be able to break the rules of society. When you think of how characters in both the Westerns and the Superhero movies react to the laws of their country it’s often that they respect them but are given some sort of license to break them.
Guns and Batarangs
There is very little difference between Batman and Robin when compared to Butch Kassidy and The Sundance Kid, throw Sherlock and Watson in there as well for good measure, as all these pop culture duos protect law and order by living outside it. This still leaves the question of the transition from Westerns to Super heroes, in truth there where a lot of smaller steps that led to the industry shift. However, the main reason is that we don’t believe that an old west could exist anyone.
In a fantastical world of super powers we can believe in someone living outside the laws like Batman, but there is nowhere on earth where a wild west exists. Up until the nineteen sixties there were still areas of middle America that were living an almost Western lifestyle, or at least could remember the ‘old west’. As roads began to spider web across the country all the Buffalo Bills and Calamity Janes became truck drivers and soccer moms who dreamt of one day putting their underwear on the outside of their pants and flying up into the stratosphere.
Picture source : http://www.thecomicbookcast.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/SecretWars23.jpg [accessed 11/5/2015]