Not having grown up American, I find that I am often ignorant of American culture. On the other hand, when it is pointed out to me, I see it as an outsider and, I sometimes think, more clearly. That was the case with the car culture “discovered” by my spouse in the American cinema. We agreed that the ancillary side-effects of Americans’ love affair with their cars — urban sprawl, social disruption, environmental degradation, individual isolation — are all deplorable. But, it was only recently that it hit me that the promotion of the private automotive capsule and the destruction of cohesive communities was all intentional. Though the evidence of commercial interest was always rather obvious.
What was not obvious, though it might have been if I were more familiar with the American culture depicted in the movies, is the antecedent of car culture in the cowboy culture. That was called to my attention just recently by the apparent horse mania among our new-money elites. It turns out, Ann Romney’s horses aren’t mainly therapeutic. They are part of a horse culture that’s spreading to the point where people are being persuaded to make stupid investments in over-priced real estate on the basis of them being resident on streets named Churchill Downs and the prospect of being able to ride horses on the beach.
We tend to forget that the iconic Reagan sat tall in the saddle while his hapless successor spawned a son widely mocked as being “all hat, no cattle.” Poor shrub wasn’t a real cowboy. But, in not being a cowboy he carried on the cowboy tradition, nonetheless — on his bicycle. Which is why it is telling that the new money crowd, at least here on our island, are now into bicycle paths reaching from one horse venue (the stables) to the next (the beach).
What is the cowboy tradition? Cowboys are herders on horseback. They follow their prey and harass them from on high, so they won’t get hurt. If a steer or a bull turns, the horse will take the brunt of the attack. Cowboys are a cowardly lot. Predatory and cowardly. Just like the dollar herders on Wall Street. I used to think of the speculators as hoarders, but that’s not quite apt. They don’t hoard; they herd. The move dollars around amongst themselves, rather aimlessly. The cowboy’s job is to keep the herd together as it moves through and chews up the landscape. It’s a destructive process, but relatively slow.
Car culture, as depicted in the movies, was/is a direct descendant of cowboy culture — predatory, lawless, thieving, bullying and cowardly.
If Willard is a coward, is Ann the bully in his household? Does he have more cars than she has horses?
Barack Obama looked good in the black cowboy hat. Too bad he gave it up. He’s not a coward and maybe that’s why. Maybe, when Michelle hits the campaign trail in her own right, he can go back to just looking’ good.
What role does the cowgirl play in American culture?