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Masculinities in American Western Films

A Hyper-Linear History

Emma Hamilton

The «Western» embodies many of the stereotypes of masculinity: rugged, independent men in cowboy hats roam the barren landscapes of the American West, resolving conflicts with guns and tough talk. Where did these cowboys come from? What historical trends led to their emergence on screen?

This book explores the relationship between the Western, film and historical representation and the ways in which masculine gender performance is itself historical. It posits a new interpretation of how history functions on film, termed hyper-linear history. Hyper-linear history creates the possibility of seeing film as a vehicle that makes the past immediately explicit and relevant, rendering historical understandings complex.

The study offers a fresh exploration of American Western films made in the 1950s and 1960s, arguing that many Westerns of this period rely on the post-Civil War on-screen past to make sense of the tumultuous experiences of the period, to various effect. The films especially tap into the ways in which national economic, political, technological and social changes impact the performance of hegemonic masculinities. These films provide insight into the ways in which masculinities are performed and gender crises are expressed, explored and resolved.

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Chapter 2 ‘He’s not a man! He’s a sack of money!’: Corporatism and the Male Breadwinner


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‘He’s not a man! He’s a sack of money!’: Corporatism and the Male Breadwinner

In his landmark studies of the history of masculinities Michael S. Kimmel clearly points to the intractability of the relationship between hegemonic masculine gender performance and existing economic conditions. For Kimmel, along with social and political context, the economic sphere is the prime vehicle by which men define and change the parameters of desirable gender behaviour and values, and establish conditions that lead both to homosocial competition amongst men and men’s justification of continued patriarchal oppression of other groups.1 From the changing economic conditions of the nineteenth century emerged ‘a masculinity defined, tried and tested in the marketplace’; a ‘self-made man’, whose desirable gender manifestations would meet and adapt to changing circumstances and crisis over the coming two hundred years.2 Indeed, to take this point even further, Robert T. Schultz argues in his comparison of representations of white masculinity and resistance across time, that the academic focus on the crisis points in masculinity occasioned by various rights movements, diverts attention from a more meaningful dialogue with the structural forces of power and resistance brought to bear by economic arrangements.3 For Schultz, ‘at the centre of the white guys’ unfulfilling lives […] lie their ← 43 | 44 → relationships to the industrial or postindustrial economies that shape their opportunities, their work routines, their personal and social relationships, and their cultural assumptions.’4

This chapter extends upon existing works that...

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