12 October 2004
Not just a hat
A fellow named Pouncer left this as a comment at Stephen Green's place, and it's as good an explanation as I expect to see about how it is that some of us, George W. Bush included, don't get upset by the presumably-derisive use of the term "cowboy":
[T]he image I want the world to have of Americans in general and the US President in particular, the image that matters, the image they should understand is the image of the movie cowboy.
A cowboy can take the first punch without falling down, but then he wins the fight.
A cowboy fights fair he doesn't respond to a punch by drawing his pistol.
But a cowboy doesn't wait for his opponent to "clear leather", either. If somebody "goes for the gun" the movie cowboy draws quicker, aims straighter, and amazes the onlookers with the awesome precision of his gun-handling.
A movie cowboy knows that sometimes, sadly, the sheriff is in league with the cattle baron or other forces of evil. Sometimes a cowboy has to choose between obeying the law, submitting to authority or doing the right thing. In such circumstances the cowboy spits upon the law he always chooses to do the right thing. (Speaking of spitting: A cowboy's attitude toward tobacco, liquor, guns and morphine isn't founded firmly on legalities, either.)
The movie cowboy doesn't really want to live in town and be sheriff for a timid bunch of fat bankers, gimpy bartenders, slick gamblers, scruffy miners and painted dance-hall girls. He'd like nothing better than to hand over the badge to somebody else and ride on in pursuit of the next frontier. But there are kids, and the schoolmarm, the circuit-riding preacher and that youngster in the general store with the dime novel in his pocket, a .22 in his saddle holster and a dangerously quixotic gleam in his eye ... so a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.
A cowboy may surprise you with a quote from the King James Bible or a line or two from Shakespeare. His faith is deeper than he lets on. His appreciation of bawdy entertainments is raucous. But in either case, alone by the watchfire or by a dim and flaring lamp, the movie cowboy is liable to pull a battered book from his pockets to engage in a dialog with minds of generations gone, seeking lessons worthy to pass on to his own descendants.
You can have your ninja, your samurai, your viking, your paladin, your land-knecht, your vandal, hun, mongol, visigoth or aristocratic serf-abusing religous crusader rampaging back and forth across Eurasia looting and plundering, raping, pillaging, impaling, crucifying, enslaving, did I mention raping?, burning starving and destroying the very civilisations and societies that engendered them all to the merry madrigals of the bards paid to spin the history. Fine. Great. That foreign shit can make for dandy movies, too.
Like, when Bing Crosby shows up whistling as the Connecticut Cowboy, er, Yankee in King Arthur's court who shows the knights-on-horseback how to use a lasso... and a revolver.
Yeah, even Connecticut! Birth place of the Shrub. Cowboys aren't just Texans, y'all. Ever see the movie where James Garner teaches the natives how to ranch teaches 'em in Hawaii? Do you have any idea how much beef is raised in New Jersey, New York, and New Hampshire? That you can walk into shops from Key West to Whidbey Island and buy boots, spurs, a hat and yes, a six-gun?
Yeah, the image is important. We're cowboys, and they can call us that.
But they'd better be smiling when they do...
Thank you, Pouncer. (And thanks to Mark Twain, for A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, a book which I have read somewhere between twenty and sixty times in the last 50 years.)