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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 5 ‘A pistol don’t make a man’: Technology and Masculine Gender Performances


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‘A pistol don’t make a man’: Technology and Masculine Gender Performances

The three previous chapters have examined the ways in which Westerns have represented the threats to hegemonic understandings of masculinity posed by economic shifts, and women’s and Native American rights-based movements and discourses during different times. Despite the apparent differences in these representations they share a fundamental question: what has been, and is, the role of violence and violent oppression in maintaining the dominance of white male patriarchy over these groups and over other performances of non-hegemonic white masculinity? This question calls to the fore one of the most commonly identified symbols of the Western: the gun. This chapter analyses the evolving and deeply historical relationship between performances of masculinity and the use of technology in two Western films: Colt .45 (Edwin L. Marin, 1950) and The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969). It is important to remember that the gun sits as only one symbol of technology in Western films. Guns have usually been the central focus of studies on gender, Westerns and technology without examining the ways in which the gun is part of a broader network of technological symbols in Westerns to which men have a variety of relationships. Certainly, the railroad is in many ways a more complex representation of technology as it has generally been rendered in ambiguous ways over time; that is, many films have depicted railways as a symbol of ‘civilized progress’ whilst also...

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