America’s Very Own Mythology

America, as a country, is young. Compared to other countries on Earth, we’ve only been around for a few minutes, really. Empires have been known to rise, flourish, and fall in shorter times than we’ve existed.

And here we are, without any mythology to compare to the rest of the world. What I mean by this is that many countries and areas around the world have this mythological heritage, based on a significant period in their history, that they can claim as their own. The entertainment world continues to draw on these archetypes to this day. The United Kingdom and surrounding areas have valiant knights battling dragons. Japan has the fearsome samurai, stealthy ninjas, and their own dragons, imps, and demons. China has Shaolin warrior monks riding giant kites into battle.

I was thinking about these things the other day, and about how America doesn’t seem to have it’s own myths. But it does have it’s own, I quickly realized.

The wild West. Cowboys and indians. Stagecoaches, gunfights over card games, all that stuff. That’s our legacy. That’s our American myth.

Now granted, that period may not realistically be our country’s finest hour. Greed and corruption ran rampant, despair abounded. The government forced the country’s indigenous peoples off their land and gave them the gift of smallpox-infected blankets (“Thanks a lot, kemo sabe!”).

But, then again, those other periods around the world where myths were created weren’t realistically golden, either. But, sometimes legends are born when we view the past through rose-colored glasses.

I used to think of the old west as the ultra-clean cheese (well, we modernly view it as “cheese”) in those Gene Autry and (my dad’s hero) John Wayne movies. But after doing some research and watching the more realistic modern westerns, I finally think a bit differently about the cowboy and his place in modern literature and entertainment.

Plus, isn’t it kinda cool that our mythology includes all kinda guns (instead of swords) and “steampunk” stuff like steam-trains?

The American knight, circa 1800's.

Published in: on January 24, 2007 at 8:05 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What little boy hasn’t dressed up as a cowboy for halloween? I remember I used to have cowboy bedsheets, a couple plastic six-shooters, and even a real pleather cowboy vest. I ruled. Excellent blog.

  2. Dude. We have BATMAN.

  3. Jed- thanks for the kind words. I, too, had toy six guns and stuff when I was a kid. I, too, ruled.

    Retro- I KNOW we have Batman (he also rules). We also have The Shadow (who rules my world) and all those other guys (hell, we have Ambush Bug, for that matter. Nak nak). I was going for an older time period in America’s more formative years.

    Older and mustier.

  4. Personally I prefer the Silver Age version of Batman when he wasn’t a neurotic. his adventures against spies, assassins etc were a sign of the times. i think it was in the 70s was when Don Pendleton’s Executioner was in full swing.

    The archetype of the cowboy is something that can’t be denied. they are, in a sense, america’s samurai. Uncle Sam’s knight errant.

    after all, cowboys joined TR on the charge of San Juan Hill and many of the tougher brigades in WW1 were made up of cowpunchers… hell, look at the wild bunch movie. cowboys and colt 1911’s!

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