Tag: The New Frontier

Fighting Change: Butch and the Kid Defining the American West by Samantha Smyth

BCSDK1The Western has long captivated audiences in theatres. A quick search on Netflix will pull up 30-some-odd films, of which, half are made within the past 10 years. What does this mean? It means the Western and the West itself is still marketable and still intrigues people.

So, what is it about the West that continues to enthrall? As stories are passed down from generation to generation the myth of the west is perpetuated in national consciousness and has become the United States of America’s embodiment of the “Conquest and Transformation of the Unknown” familiar story (Stoeltje 240). To perpetuate these storylines, three distinct themes can be utilized and mixed for desired effect as folklorist Beverly Stoeltje points out: the Rational, Romantic, and Reactionary.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a cornerstone piece in the world of Westerns. Released in 1969, the film would go onto be ranked 49th on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years… 100 Movies list (IMDB). Based on the real life exploits of two bandits, the story covers a wide range of themes, images, and icons. Let’s break a few down here:

BCSDK2The Frontier: Red hills, sparse vegetation, horses and cattle: the area inspires, it awes, and it overwhelms. The movie switches between gorgeous shots of vistas and gorges to small towns with dust fluffing around. American’s great outdoors is something well-known, especially as one of the largest countries in the world. Its range of environments is almost unparalleled due to its unique situation on the planet. The wide-open plains portrayed in the film evoke a sense of freedom and possibility, both typically associated with the United States of America to some. By producing this film in 1969, the film studios are employing the ‘Romantic’ modern myth theme: nostalgia for another time (Stoetlje 242).

The future: The first glimpse of the future is when a travelling salesman attempts to make a sale of the ‘way of the future’ bicycle. Butch decides to partake in this future, but ultimate decides to dispose of it before running to Bolivia. The ‘future’ also pops up in the form of the various trains used throughout the film. In this sense, Butch and the filmmakers are portraying the Reactionary approach to the film (Stoeltje 243). Butch is concerned with the status quo and remaining the same. When the boys meet Sheriff Bledsoe and he confirms this sentiment: “It’s over, don’t you get that? Your time is over and you’re gonna die bloody, and all you can do is choose where.” The way of the bandit and outlaw is coming to an end in the late 1890s, and Butch and Sundance are on the outs.

The ‘new’ Frontier: Just as Stoeltje asserts that American’s applied their Frontier Myth to the space-program, Butch and Sundance apply the Frontier Myth to Bolivia (240). They believe Bolivia to be the next big step, and once they’ve had their fill in South America, the film ends with the boys saying Australia could be next (though in reality, the boys died in Bolivia, the movie carefully omits that part). By believing in the future (even though that future may be similar to their present) Butch and Sundance are fulfilling the Rationalist approach to mythbuilding.

The ‘second’-citizens: Ah yes, in typical old American fashion, the film chooses to provide some stereotypical representations of the underrepresented. The use of a prodigious Indian tracker named Lord Baltimore, the blundering and seemingly slow Spanish-Bolivians, and the fawning female. Sure Etta joins the boys on their quest to Bolivia, but not before she agrees to sew their socks and cook their food!

BCSDK3The West will continue to inspire and intrigue people through cinema and television. So, what is the West really? The West is the embodiment of the American Myth of possibility: the idea of grasping more, of conquering the elements and the system. Through employing various modern myth themes, the filmmakers are able to transport the viewer into their idealized version of the West.



Stoeltje, Beverly J. “Make the Frontier Myth: Folklore Process in a Modern Nation”. Western Folklore 46.4 (October 1987) JSTOR

Photos: https://www.tumblr.com/tagged/butch-cassidy-and-the-sundance-kid


A Darker John Henry – by Alisha Evelissa Rivera

The John Henry I found appears in issues 3 and 4 of “DC: The New Frontier” John_Henry_New_Frontiercreated by Darwyn Cooke. When I first looked at the picture, I noticed that like the other forms of art observed in the Nelson readings, the John Henry depicted in this picture carries with him the strength and hammer that is synonymous with in his name and story. Also, like many superheroes drawn for comic books, John Henry is imaged as “a balloon-muscled strongman” to emphasis his power and strength (Nelson 161).

However, unlike the many other recreations of John Henry, Cook’s Henry is created to look like a menacing character. The combination of the black mask on his head, with a rope around his neck, and the lyrics to those specific lyrics to his ballad, is unsettling. This picture looks like the opposite of the Communist/Black Power/American hero that Nelson talks about in his book. In fact, he looks like the villain of this piece. In order to understand this intensity, the picture forced me to read more on the comic book character version of John Henry.

I found out that in “The New Frontier” he isn’t introduced as John Henry at first. Actually, his name was initially John Wilson. In this version of the John Henry tale, John Wilson is a respectable man and a veteran of the Korean War. After returning home, he became a steel worker. Things changed when the Ku Klux Klan murdered his entire family while also lynching him.

Having survived his lynching, John Wilson avenges his family by using his signature hammer and by changing his name to John Henry. The only words that fill the page of the comic come from the song, and provide the background while he terrorizes the Klan.  He does this for three months before falling over and dying himself. There are two ways of reading this: either John Wilson is the reimagining of the John Henry story or John Wilson, having been presumably brought up on the John Henry story took up his identity, much like V took Guy Fawkes’s identity in V for Vendetta. I believe that legend of John Henry exists and is known within the DC Universe, and so the legend that a man strong enough to drill further and faster than a steam drill would be known. Much like the Communist Party used Henry as the poster child for hard work of a human verses the work done by machine (Nelson 152), Wilson is using the “strong, determined” version of Henry to strike fear into Klan.

Whichever way you view it, this John Henry leans closer towards the image of John Henry that was used to entice a “new kind of multiracial America” (Nelson 164).  By snuffing out the Klan with his hammer, he is simultaneously striking down the injustices created by racism.