After gathering several works together to fit into my theme of western genre fiction, I tried to figure out some other classifications that I could use to add in other works that tow the line of the western genre. I added a “exporting the cowboy” section to examine some works that feel very much like westerns, but either take cowboys to other places or use their archetypes or settings in narratives. I included in this category H. Rider Haggard’s classic novel “King Solomon’s Mines” because I find it to be very much in line with what we find and what we think of as traditional western storytelling. I don’t know if Haggard had any good deal of exposure to American works that concerned the American west, but I find it interesting how similar his protagonist is to someone like Louis L’Amour’s protagonists. This has caused me to more deeply question where the heroes that have developed in our culture come from, and where they are going. One trend I would consider profoundly important is the movement away from the traditional young, white man protagonists, and toward more minority and woman heroes in situations often opposing the kind of people that were traditionally put in the hero role. This trend makes me wonder what the future of the American cowboy hero will be, whether it will change beyond recognition or simply disappear altogether. Either way, I think the spirit of the cowboy hero lives on through the continued mainstream interest in justice, evident in film series like the Avengers or television shows like CSI and NCIS.
Continuing my thoughts on the most notable sections of The Monuments Men, Robert Edsel, the author of the book takes us through the various tasks the men of the MFAA (Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program under the US Military during World War Two) had to accomplish during the invasion of Normandy in June of 1944. Given almost no resources whatsoever (not even radios), they were expected to act as advisers to combat units, often engaged in open firefights. Edsel tells the most from the perspective of Lt. George Stout, a middle aged “dapper” man who was profoundly passionate about the endeavor trying to save the famous works of art and antiquity. Moving at a dash throughout the north of France following the invasion, Stout did a great deal to protect old and threatened buildings, especially churches from destruction, not only from artillery fire and bombs, but also from the allied commandos destroying them in order to build roads for the incoming troops. Aside from monuments in France, the book also delves into one particular abbey in Italy known as “Monte Cassino” that the advancing allies of Patton’s army had to figure out what do with, as the possibility that the German/Italian forces were using it as a base to attack the them was a very real one. After a struggle going on several weeks, the Allies eventually decided to bomb the abbey, leveling it and destroying virtually its rich library. The axis powers utilized this event to the fullest, publishing pamphlets of propaganda giving the idea that the allies cared not for important cultural monuments. It was events like these that put the “monuments men” into full action, saving as much as they could and salvaging what could be salvaged following combat confrontations.
While the narrative occasionally become slightly tedious, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as it made the curating connection especially real to me by associating curation and preservation with a very realistic and historical threat.
I started reading the World War Two history-of-war-curation book, “Monuments Men” for my end of semester choice. I wasn’t sure at first how interested I would be in the book, as World War Two is of great interest to me, but art curation hasn’t ever been. I’ve been so far pleasantly surprised by two aspects of the book, one, that the narrative style is very readable and has very well maintained my interest, even though details that are more on the dry side. The other aspect that has pleasantly surprised me is the connection that the book makes to the themes and topics that we have discussed in class, especially cultural studies and curation. The book centers around the group of men who were very quickly and abruptly given the task of trying to preserve the works of arts, important monuments, and other items of cultural importance throughout Europe and North Africa during the gradual push into Germany starting in 1942. The book gives a good deal of background to begin with, highlighting the need for preserving these items and places to begin with because of Adolf Hitler’s desire to procure an art collection for himself that would rival any other in the world. This was one reason for the creation of the “Monuments Men”, to keep many works of art from falling into Hitler’s hands. Another reason was because the Allied high command was faced with the problem of often having to choose between sacrificing their own men and sacrificing great Western monuments, especially in Italy where countless abbeys and Roman ruins existed. The book very well presents the dilemmas, trials, and struggles that the “Monuments Men” went through in their attempts at preservation.
As I still sift through different western works of literature to determine what to include in my curated collection, I came across the 1968 novel True Grit by Charles Portis. This fairly straightforward novel was turned into a motion picture starring John Wayne the very next year, which actually gained Wayne the only Oscar he ever received. Because of the overshadowing of the novel by the film, I had never known that there actually was a novel; I thought the film was an original script.
I think I will probably end up adding this particular work to my collection, chiefly because of its influence. I don’t think there can be a lot of doubt that the western as a genre is on the decline in 21st century. Even film projects, such as last year’s Lone Ranger, have flopped at the box office, and the American Cowboy is becoming less an less of an archetypal constant in fiction. True Grit (as in the story, but not necessarily the novel) stands apart as a somewhat transcendent work, inspiring not only the 1969 John Wayne film, but also the contemporary Cohen brothers to rework their own version of the story in a successful 2010 film of the same title. The plot of the book and the adaptions centers around fairly traditional American ideals, such as justice, persistence, and endurance in the face of adversity. It may be that the quality of the storytelling has been enough to keep audiences engaged for nearly 45 years, and/or it could be that the plot qualities mentioned above have been able to continue to inspire audiences to keep reading/watching.
One contemporary cultural theorist that I don’t believe we spoke about at any point in class is Ziauddin Sardar, a Pakistan born and English raised scholar and author of over 30 books, mostly on cultural studies relating to Islam. As a believing Muslim, one of Sardar’s main focuses is on the future Islam. This is a particularly relevant topic to modern society, as a large shift is occurring in the populations of Europe, Asia, North America, and Africa to a potentially future Muslim majority. As the increase of Islam comes, so an increase in fundamentalist and extremist groups within the religion come as well. Though a Muslim, as a cultural studies theorist, Sardar is an advocate of multiculturalism. Because of this, some have categorized him into the camp of postmodern thinkers, but Sardar interestingly does not advocate postermodernism, thinking it a continuation of western philosophy, and imperialistic in its operation. In regards to Islam, Sardar takes a more modern approach to the Koran, the holy book of Islam, seeing it as useful and important to the faith, but not to be followed as strictly and literally as many Muslims would like it to be, interpreting in its own context, but also the context of today. In the context of the cultural studies of this class, Sardar represents a theorist who has applied many of the same constructs and ideas we have discussed, but to a demographic we have not discussed in great detail, but a a demographic we will experience more and more contact with and influence throughout the coming generations.
Working within the context of western literature has been an interesting experience. It’s so different from the literature that I’ve been studying for the several years in college, as archetypes are very obvious, and the lines between good and evil are very clearly set for each work. Contrastingly, the literature I’ve studied in college (for the most part) has been much more focused on originality and profoundness, which means every work is usually much different from another. However, I still enjoy the likes of L’amour, Grey, and others like them. Part of this could be because I don’t like things to be all that complex- simple can be very relaxing! Since I’m doing a similar project for my thesis paper, I’ve been able to do a bit of crossover work. I’ve been able to delve a little more into L’amour’s “Sackett” saga, which traces the roots of a family originally from England, to their final home in the American West, fighting for justice and seeking adventure along the way. A non-L’amour work that I’m going to do a little more research on is Larry McMurty’s 1985 novel, Lonsome Dove, which gained a great amount of popularity as a television mini-series starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones. The novel tells a story of a group of cowboys that drive a heard from Texas to Montana, meeting trials, tribulations, and various adventures along the way. What sets this work apart from a work by one such as by Louis L’amour is its’ increased complexity of the characters introduced, mixing their negative and positive qualities. This is juxtaposed with L’amour, whose protagonists remain, for the most part, pure in thought, word, and deed.
I looked into the group “Ducks Unlimited” for an association dedicated to conservation curation. Ducks Unlimited exists to conserve the United States’ population of ducks and other waterfowl. They accomplish this end by restoring grasslands, replanting forests, restoring watersheds, working with landowners who possess property valuable to the cause, and by acquiring land where they can in order to build sanctuaries. Ducks Unlimited also works within Washington D.C. in lobbying for national land conservation and supporting related bills that come along.
One of the most notable aspects of this organization’s work is their dedication to providing useful sporting information that people can use in hunting ducks and other waterfowl. This may seem bit hypocritical to some, but Ducks Unlimited sees hunting as an important part of the preservation of waterfowl species, controlling the population and keeping them healthy and well fed. As the organization was started by waterfowl hunters and currently counts 90% of its’ members as hunters, this should be of little surprise. The organization’s website even includes recipes for different waterfowl dishes., and provides information about training dogs to retrieve ducks once they are shot. It’s clear to see that Ducks Unlimited exists to conserve not only a group of animals, but also a sport and way of life that has supplied food and recreation for many in wetland areas.