While many Hollywood Westerns are little more than whimsical stories of legitimated violence, serious Westerns attempt to examine social issues in ways that no other medium can. An underlying assumption of all serious study of Westerns is that a Western film is never about the historic old West. It is always about the cultural present, the present of the film’s production and marketing. The myth of the West, with its historical moment, and its geographic space, allows writers and directors freedom to distance controversial issues in such a way as to make them acceptable themes to audiences who would resist direct representation. Westerns of the classic period, thus, could deal with American race issues through films dealing with conventional Native American conflicts in the past. Issues relating to war and combat were often dealt with in the cavalry Westerns of the World War II era and the Mexican Westerns of the Vietnam War era. Recent Westerns have dealt with feminist issues and homosexuality issues. Beyond that, Robert Warshow has argued, one of the primary claims that Westerns have “high seriousness” results from its “serious orientation to the problem of violence which can be found almost nowhere else in our culture” (cited in Cawelti 1999, 56). The best Westerns have always treated the ambiguity of legitimate, regenerative violence relative to the illegitimate violence of savagery.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

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