A few years back, western novels were plentiful and we had Gun Smoke, Rawhide, Bonanza and a host of other television serials as well as western pictures in the theaters. Today, the western genre is a pretty small niche in the publishing market.
Much of this stems, no doubt, from the distance we are removed from this era. The last Indian battles occurred just after the turn of the last century and the last of the western ‘gunmen’ passed away in the 1930’s. There are few of us left who lived when America was clawing its way through a depression, and following with severe rationing of World War II for the civilian, or the problems of fighting a war on two different continents for the rest of us.
With this removal from that time frame, there also has been a huge change in wealth and the way of life. During the ‘great depression’ a ‘Big Cone’ of ice cream cost a nickel; entrance to the movie theater was ten cents. The government established the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) just to provide work for the thousands who could not find jobs. They built roads, established parks and participated in other worthwhile public projects. The thought processes of the time were that a man’s pride made him want to do something to ‘take care of his family’. It was an embarrassment if he could not.
Unemployment today is very low, and we now have food stamps, and unemployment compensation for those who are not working. The mental set often is to continue to receive the checks until they run out and one is compelled to go to work.
The phrase was coined a couple of years ago, “You only go around once in this world, so do it all.” With a minimum wage now provided and at an all time high, and jobs with high pay at a high level of availability, people tend to live this kind of life. It is fast paced, the toys that accompany it are plentiful, and they’re expensive. The effects evolving from this life style are notable. There is an underlying tension demonstrated by the frequent ‘road rage’ and similar confrontations.
Another factor exacerbates the process. Within the past few years, a mentality has evolved where every person must be the same as the next. Every child who performs in school must be rewarded in the same manner. Every child on every baseball, basketball, or other sporting team must receive a prize. There can be no ‘losers’. There is a fear that the ‘loser’s ego’ might suffer. If someone gains an advantage, therefore, and acquires something BONANZAJP another covets, resentment and tension can result.
What has this to do with the western genre? The western creed called for a hero who embodied all of the good in the world. He was good, honest, a ‘true friend’, courteous, respectful of women, but also tough, resilient, and a winner over adversity. Often such a picture of the old west was not completely accurate. However, it did provide a type of person youngsters were taught to be worthwhile to try to emulate.
The heroes provided for today’s youth may be more realistic, but do not necessarily provide the finest examples for social development. We have seemingly endless involvement with steroids, and sporting greats who constantly make the news because they beat up their wives or significant others, or are otherwise engaged in unsocial behavior. And with evolution of gender equality, women often are not enamored with the older type of gentlemanly conduct, but see it as somehow demeaning.
So, one of the main reasons the western niche is so small, may be because the mores of our society have changed. We don’t have that many people anymore who believe in the same tenets as before.