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Death of the Cowboys: George W. Bush, 21st Century Westerns, and the Failure of Masculine Performance
Thesis - University Access Only
Master of Arts (MA)
Department / School
Throughout his presidency, George W. Bush—via his apparently straightforward rhetoric, Western attire, and myriad staged media events—sold the public a “cowboy” image. He was not the first “cowboy president”—Theodore Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Ronald Reagan each bore that label before him—but he was perhaps the most ardent practitioner of “cowboy diplomacy,” a term that originated during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency and is categorized by seemingly overt language and simplified, dyadic reasoning. Several writers—Karen S. Hoffman, Tom Engelhardt, and Karen Dodwell among them—have likened Bush to the heroes of old Western movies. Much as an old Western Sheriff, he was tough, taciturn, and direct. He even looked the part when he donned boots, jeans and a cowboy hat during vacations at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Most writers who pursue this comparison astutely link Bush to characters in classic Westerns, but in so doing they often overlook the complex revisionist Western films released during his administration. In this thesis, I examine Bush’s “cowboy” persona as a performance of masculinity that ultimately failed, as his quick-to-fire leadership piloted the country into two long, costly wars and into a financial recession. I also explore themes of masculine performance as they relate to three films released during Bush’s second administration (when his popularity was dwindling): Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005), The Coen viii Brothers’ No Country For Old Men (2007), and Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007). In my analysis of these three films, I employ three major bodies of research: 1) cultural criticism, 2) New Western studies, and 3) film criticism. If the American cowboy functions as a symbol of an idealized America, these three films reflect a growing distrust of and confusion regarding that ideal. Thus, the central argument of this thesis focuses on how the three films subverted the myth of the American Cowboy, the Western genre, and, in turn, the myths of the West at a time when terms such as “cowboy president,” “cowboy rhetoric,” and “cowboy diplomacy” were prevalent in the national discourse. Lastly, in order to further illustrate the power of Western films to analyze, reflect, and influence American culture, I discuss how I teach Western film in my composition classroom as a means for my students to both write passionately and think critically about an important topic.
Library of Congress Subject Headings
Bush, George W.--(George Walker),--1946-
Western films--History and criticism
Cowboys in popular culture
Masculinity in motion pictures
Masculinity in popular culture
Includes bibliographical references (pages 84-89)
Number of Pages
South Dakota State University
In Copyright - Educational Use Permitted
Brenden, Mark, "Death of the Cowboys: George W. Bush, 21st Century Westerns, and the Failure of Masculine Performance" (2015). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1765.