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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 6 ‘Who are those guys?’: Understanding American Intervention in the ‘South of the Border’ Western


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‘Who are those guys?’: Understanding American Intervention in the ‘South of the Border’ Western

This volume has explored the ways in which changing economic, social and technological conditions, and particularly rights-based movements, from 1950 to 1970, have contributed to a perceived ‘demasculinization’ of American men and a fundamental questioning of the desirability of hegemonic standards of gendered behaviour at the structural and individual levels. Indeed, it can be argued that Western films of this period both illustrate the fracturing of men’s identities in this context and assist audiences to understand and historicize this fracturing by allowing them to view past periods of crisis following the American Civil War. In doing so these films construct a relationship between past and present that can have positive, negative or discontinuous implications for the ways they view their own time. In many ways the Vietnam War came to embody the various fissures of American society during this period. With contestations regarding war and war technology, American interventionism, accusations of race and class discrimination in conscription, difficulties reintegrating veterans into society, and the re-evaluation of American ideals and the exclusionary forms of identity it stimulated, the Vietnam War acts as both event and signifier of the broader domestic issues plaguing American society at this time.1 Indeed, it is ultimately the Vietnam War that facilitated ← 175 | 176 → the vocalization of demasculinization; the so-called ‘Vietnam Syndrome’, which afflicted the American nation, was marked, according to President Nixon,...

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