Violence in the film western

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

6 Scopus citations


No other popular genre asks what it means to be a man so assiduously as the Western does, which helps explain why violence is one of that genre’s central features. In a given decade, of course, Westerns resolve (or fail to resolve) the same range of cultural issues that energize other popular genres-from alarm over adolescent rebellion, to consternation at changing labor patterns, to anxieties about foreign policy (and so on; the list is endless). But the Western’s obsession with violence grows out of a larger fascination with what is now termed the construction of masculinity. To be a man, at least as the Western understands it, requires not only a distinctively male body but certain learned, appropriately male skills as well. Manhood, that is, forms as much a culturally conditioned experience as a blunt biological process. And the Western’s characteristic eruption of violence occurs as a testing of both these assumptions-both the body that must recover its masculine features (tall in the saddle, quick on the draw) and the characteristic male response celebrated by the Western (restraint, taciturnity, endurance). Violence is the means by which men are encouraged to show their manliness, both as handsome cinematic figures that rivet the viewer’s gaze, and as individuals capable of triumphing over adversity as only men are allowed to do. Unlike any other genre, then, Westerns oscillate between the conditions of sex and gender-between an essentialism that requires the flamboyant display of a male physique and a constructivism that grants manhood to men by virtue of behavior rather than bodies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationViolence and American Cinema
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)0415928095, 9781135204914
ISBN (Print)0415928109, 9780415928106
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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