Cowboys and Comedy: The Simultaneous Deconstruction and Reinforcement of Generic Conventions in the Western Parody
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 33, Number 2, 2003
- pp. 48-54
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Turner | Cowboys and Comedy: The Simultaneous Deconstruction and Reinforcement of Generic Conventions in the Western Parody Cowboys and Comedy: The Simultaneous Deconstruction and Reinforcement of Generic Conventions in the Western Parody Matthew R. Turner Ohio University Almost as long as the Western has existed as a genre in film, there has been a sub-genre of Western comedies to parody the generic conventions inherent in the form. From as far back as the 1920s with Buster Keaton, continuing down to the present with Jackie Chan, the Western has been a target of satire and a rich source for comedy. Comedy relies, to a large extent, on the reversal of expectations. Because of the highly formalized and codified conventions of the Western, it becomes a prime target for reversals of those expectations. By studying a representative sample of Western parodies from the 1940s through 2000, this paper will examine how Western parodies subvert the conventions of the Western in ways that breathe new life into the genre. Although the Western parody undermines the conventions of the archetypical Western, it should be classified as a Western subgenre . While the Western parody mocks conventions of the Western , itultimately reinforces them through its acceptance ofa shared set of codes. Although many different definitions have been created for the phenomenon that is the Western film, it is difficult to find one that is comprehensive enough to include theWesternparody. Mitry describes aWestern as a "film whose action, situated in theAmerican West, is consistent with the atmosphere, the values, and the conditions of existence in the Far West between 1840 and 1900" (qtd. in Altman 30). Although this definition is generally appropriate , it becomes somewhat problematic when it is applied to the Western parody. While the geographic localization of the Western in the definition is appropriate, the Western parody does not seem to be consistent with the atmosphere and values oftheWestern . The Western is a complex set of codes and images, and although theWestern parody does not reflectthe prevailing dramatic mood of the Western, it does still adhere to the setting and incorporates the codes that constitute the traditional Western even if it is only for comedie and satiric purposes. Origins of Western Parody A parody is a comical imitation of a genre that uses its existing codes to examine the subject in a humorous way. Parody often exists simultaneously in conjunction with satire, but can be distinguished from satire, which is designed more specifically to point out vices, follies, orproblems with conventional beliefs while parody is generally more lighthearted. DespiteWestern parodies' tendency to undermine or make fun of the codes of the Western, they are still situated within the Western genre. That Western parodies are a sub-genre ofthe Western is supported by Cawelti's argument that parodies are an inevitable part ofthe life cycle of a genre: One can almost make out a life cycle characteristic of genres as they move from an initial period of articulation and discovery, through a phase of conscious self-awareness on the part of both creators and audiences , to a time when the generic patterns have become so well-known that people become tired oftheir predictability. It is at this point that parodie and satiric treatments proliferate and new genres gradually arise. (244) Here Cawelti suggests that genres eventually become stale and new genres arise to take their places. Harries, in a slightly different take on the subject, believes that "film parody can be seen as a source of renewal by breathing new life into worn-out canons without specifically burying that tradition" (123). The continued popularity of the Western and the Western parody seems to indicate that the latter is the case. It seems obvious that the Western needs to have established generic conventions before those conventions can be parodied. For this to occur, something like the life cycle of the genre that 48 I Film & History Matthew R. Turner | Special In-Depth Section Cawelti describes must havehappened to theWestern, andit seems that this progression through the cycle happened quite quickly. The first Western parodies take place early in the history of film. Fenin describes the existence of satires of the Westerns by Mack Sennett and Douglas Fairbanks...