Cowboy Up

One of the great American Myths is the Cowboy Myth.

And, at times, I fall for it, hook, line, and sinker. Even though I am a flaming liberal, after six years in Wyoming, I came to appreciate the Cowboy Ideal. After moving to Indiana, there were people who were utterly convinced that I was born and raised in Wyoming—probably because of my unwavering support of the University of Wyoming Cowboys reinforced by my personalized license plates, “GO WYO”—a plate I had issued to me in both Colorado and Indiana (and, ironically, a plate impossible to issue in Wyoming).

Denver has an uneasy relationship with its history. There are times that Denver is proud, trying to capture that Cowboy mystique in order to enhance its image—and there are times that it seems like the city is desperately trying to shed its Cowtown image in order to be “Wall Street West”.

For me, it’s not clear why the image should be shed, rather I think it is a mystique that can be re-forged in a modern way that compliments whatever direction the city happens to be heading now.

As it happens, I traded on that Western Cowboy Mystique my first day in town. Monday I headed to Shepler’s Western Store to buy Levi’s—my mother had thoughtfully cut a 20% off everything coupon out of the paper and so I was able to purchase 5 pair of blue jeans for a not-untidy sum that would equal about 1.5 pair in Germany—in other words, about $140.

It was thrilling because I found two pair on the 50% off rack—which were discounted an additional 20%.

I also must confess that I made a Point-Of-Sale purchase decision—buying a 2009 “Cowboy Hunks” calendar, featuring 12 (mostly) hunky men from the Professional Bull Riders circuit. Out of the 12 months, four have bare/exposed chests, two are wearing wife beaters, one is strumming a guitar, two are wearing chaps, and all 12 are wearing Cowboy hats. This is the calendar going in my bedroom at home—I want these guys watching over me.

While in Sheplers, I had a brief flash of, “Wouldn’t it be cool to be Cowboy in Weimar?” I instinctively knew that this would be a bad idea—Cowboy boots have no ability to grip, so wearing them in slushy snow isn’t realistic. Meanwhile, right outside the men’s fitting room was the hat department, and inexpensive hats were over $120—I tried to imagine wearing one in Germany. Despite what my close friends think, I’m actually quite the introvert and the attention garnered by wearing an authentic Cowboy hat would be unwelcome. Touring the shirt department quickly reinforced the image—the authentic cowboy shirts (that is to say the ones with snaps instead of buttons) were expensive and a bit garishly decorated for my tastes. I am not kidding when I tell you that one of the shirts was the American flag.

From there, I returned home, picked up my Father and we went to lunch with a friend at a Mexican restaurant over on East Colfax. It fits my Mom’s definition of goodness you can tell from the outside because the windows are dirty. Before leaving, I popped into the WC, and spent a minute staring at a tacky painting above the urinal—naturally it bought into the Cowboy Mystique, but with Mexican attributes.

The mythology is powerful stuff that allows for a number of competing things to come together: Americans, Mexicans, and Indians all share this mythology, using it to their advantage, and ownership, even partial, is powerful. I doubt it would have been possible for former US Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Traitor-Colorado) to have ever been elected if he hadn’t pushed a powerful combination of Native American-Cowboy imagery; that and his love of riding motorcycles.

It’s also imagery that drives Denver’s image abroad.

That and Dynasty.

8 comments to Cowboy Up

  • You can take the “Dy” off that show… it was just plain nasty.

  • You are officially German now – you bought Levis when you went back to the States and commented on how cheap they are ! LOL! 🙂

  • G

    Adam, I think that you can officially say that I am sensitized. What do you mean by “wifebeater”? Is that a phrase that you would feel comfortable saying if you substituted a group of which you are a member into as a noun? Sexism, racism, misogyny, homophobia, tranphobia: we beat them by noticing when we buy into them and normalize them.
    I just read an sf novel from the 50’s on the Guttenberg project (H Beam Pieper, btw). I actually read it last in the 70s. Wow, is it cute in a racist, sexist way. Yet it was advanced for that time period. It made me realize how far things have come and how far they have yet to go.

  • @CQ: Ironically, I’ve never seen it!

    @Yelli: Do I get my passport when I return?

    @G: I see your point, but I don’t have another shorthand way of referring to the shirt in question. Sometimes I think its possible to be too sensitized to meanings. Politically Correct speech can, and does, cover up true feelings. Of course that doesn’t make “wifebeater” any better…

  • Dynasty was a horrible show … but not as bad as Dallas and Knot’s Landing. Those 1980’s evening soaps really stank.

  • Mexican food and 5 pairs of Jeans at a reasonable price? OH it sounds like my dream trip home!

  • @Dynasty–I saw the second half of the third season for sale at best buy — it was something like $50….

    @Diane–and the mexican food is not over…. yum! the best part of denver!

  • My hometown also happens to be the hometown of Sheplers. It is one of the biggest tourist attractions they have… which gives you an idea of the interest level of the city itself.

    BUT, I completely agree with you. For a good pair of Levis there is no place better than Sheplers to pick up some great bargains.
    You just have to resist the temptation to buy that mother of pearl snappin, 14 color displayin’, shit-kickin’ ca-boy shirt. That and a pair of ca-boy boots are gar-un-teed to get you second and third looks even in Berlin!

    Oh and G. Um, I myself knew exactly what Adam meant by the “wifebeater” t-shirt comment. Unfortunately I too can’t think of another word for that kind of shirt. I would be in the same situation when describing it.
    When I think of something like a wifebeater shirt it is certainly not empowering the action of spousal abuse in my eyes… In fact it puts me in mind of a large scruffy guy with hair sticking up out of the back of his wifebeater t-shirt as he proceeds to treat a woman badly.

    Being a woman who has suffered such abuse from a lover in the past (uh huh, lesbians have this too) I can say that I take no offense to the offhanded stereotypical name of this shirt.

    It really is possible to get too PC.
    Yup, I’m a dyke, carpet licker and many names not printable… but taking the name for yourself removes the power from it.
    I remember when “nigger” was a bad word that only white people would utter when they wanted to speak badly about a black person. Now look what has happened… Blacks took over the word, changing it just a bit to “nigga” referring to each other with this divisive term. Now the power has been removed by the word and if a white person mentions it, the word itself has lost its mystique.

    I’ll stop babbling now.