- Branding Texas: Performing Culture in the Lone Star State
In her book Branding Texas: Performing Culture in the Lone Star State, Leigh Clemons puns on the cowboy's mark, or "brand," by drawing implicitly on the Marxist critical concept of "branding" to illustrate how the "Texan has now emerged as a brand, a commodity, which can be constructed, maintained, and sold to the public" (5). Citing Judith Butler's notion of performativity, Clemons argues that a preferred narrative, or brand, of Texanness as "unilaterally white and male" (5) has been performed persistently over the past 200 years to marginalize the history, culture, and identity of female, Mexican, and Native American peoples, who have shared in modeling the state's history. Clemons's treatment of branding in a performative sense is both unique and important for illustrating how the act of branding can hegemonically suppress certain cultural narratives through the buying and selling of a preferred performance.
The underlying assumptions of the book are that Texas has set itself up as distinct from the other forty-nine states in the Union, and that, while every state claims and defends its own individuality, Texas maintains that it is "more other" than everyone else. [End Page 668] In essence, this otherness is propagated through a performance of the prototypical Texan (or, at least, the idea of the prototypical Texan): the straight-talking cowboy, that lonesome dove, the white man full of backbone, bravery, and bravado. Such traits are emblematized in the Lone Star, the Texas flag, and the Alamo. While the book's assumptions are apparent throughout the text, Clemons does not state them explicitly until the final chapter. She relies on an implied understanding of Texas, as seen and spread through popular culture.
Clemons begins the book by describing the "architectural landscapes" of Texan culture, notably battlegrounds, museums, historical markers, and even natural spaces. She describes these landscapes as places of memory, "archives in which past events can be stored, visited, and, when necessary, revisited for purposes of reinforcing or revising the social constructions they help maintain" (15). Her detailed descriptions of key locations, such as the Alamo, the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, and Palo Duro Canyon State Park, are useful to gain an understanding of how these architectural landscapes are used to codify and reinforce images of Texas drawn from its cultural history.
Clemons then analyzes the role the Texas Revolution has played in creating the image of the Texan. More specifically, she is concerned with how (re)presentations of the revolution, notably through pageantry, historical dramas, and battle reenactments, have reified a particular reading of the events that led to the institution of Texas as a republic. Her analysis of pageantry as a cultural phenomenon is one of the key strengths of the book, deftly elucidating the pedagogic purpose of Texas pageantry to propagate a jingoistic narrative of evil Mexicans, helpless women, and brave heroes who are unyielding in the face of insurmountable odds. She argues that, even though these historical dramas are largely based on apocryphal stories and myth (and rarely on historical fact), through repetition and exposure they performatively create the appearance of a truth that, when questioned or doubted by others, is defended vigorously by historical vanguards like the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.
After illustrating how the Texas Revolution has been used to brand the history of the state, Clemons analyzes several interpretations of small-town Texas life found in popular entertainment, such as television shows, films, and stage plays. Typically, these outlets present a less-than-idyllic image of contemporary small-town life, seemingly filled with corruption, racism, and sexism. Yet, Clemons maintains, these portrayals also bolster the predominant brand of the Texan: the white male who "still manages to do the right thing" (90).
In its conclusion, the book discusses the larger implications of the Texas brand, mostly with regard to how it is marketed to the country and to the world at large. Aptly titled "Selling Texas," the final chapter indicates how Texas icons, such as...