syllabus-fall09 - ARLT 100g Types and Stereotypes of the...

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ARLT 100g Types and Stereotypes of the American West in Literature and Film Syllabus Semester Fall 2009 Lecturer Dr. Ron Scheer Email [email protected] Section 35214 Office JEF 261 Voice mail 213-821-1206 Time MW 10:00 Office hours MW 9:00 Fax 213-740-4100 Classroom GFS 223 and by appointment Course description The western has been a genre of American movies and popular literature for over a century. The stories told in this genre reflect values that are embedded in American culture. They are typically about men of strong character who represent a certain kind of moral order, and the story being told is about how they confront and overcome villains, outlaws, and other “bad guys” who are enemies of that order. It can be a black-and-white world of good vs. evil, or it can be a world where there are many shades of gray, so that it’s less easy to tell the difference. This conflict is typically played out on the American frontier, in the late 19 th century (1865-1900), during the decades after the American Civil War. It is the era of cowboys, the growth of the cattle industry, the fencing of the open range, the demise of the buffalo herds, the final displacement of the Native American tribes, the building of cross- continental railroads, and rapid settlement of the frontier territories fed by waves of immigration and the availability of free land made possible by the Homestead Acts. The conflict in a western typically involves and is eventually resolved by violence – fistfights, gunfire, sometimes even explosives. It is common for lives to be lost. Violence and the threat of violence generate a high-risk atmosphere and the promise of action and excitement. This focus on heroes, villains, and violent conflict raises the western out of its roots in history to the level of myth – a dimension where what feels like deeper truths about life and humanity matter more than historical fact. This is the level where we find cultural values that are being asserted and reaffirmed – values that are assumed to be true and beyond question by readers and viewers. Because westerns have been created for and chiefly consumed by a white male audience, women and other ethnic groups have almost always played secondary roles. Stereotypes of them tend to be the rule if they appear at all. For instance, until recent years Native Americans were invariably portrayed as bloodthirsty savages, with little attention to historical accuracy. Meanwhile, we know from history that African-Americans made up a significant part of the frontier population. Many were cowboys. Yet they rarely show up in westerns. Objectives
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syllabus-fall09 - ARLT 100g Types and Stereotypes of the...

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