I’ll admit that the idea of participating in #Western106 is a bit of a struggle for me. I sympathize with Maha Bali’s most recent post on this subject. I can see the political implications of Westerns as a genera and I’m not in agreement. I’m not a fan of violence. But I pride myself on turning things on their side – so I will need to stretch for this one… That’s ok – stretching is good for you.
I do have a few things to draw upon and so I figured I would reflect here in week 1 of #Western106 on some of those things.
Part One: Music and Story
I grew up on Country and Western music and I loved it – no really. There’s a childhood story about me from around age 7, falling for a little boy next door to my grandparent’s place. That is till I told him of my love for Country music and he expressed that he was not a fan. Apparently, I could tell right then and there that while our time up to that point had been sweet that we had no future and I had to call it off.
Why did I love the music so much? Well, for me, it was all about the stories. It is here where I might be in good shape for #Western106 as an iteration of #DS106 – for how can we have digital stories without stories.
You might say that all songs tell a story of some kind but I would argue that some Country and Western music (that which is often tied to a more classic approach) really takes its time to paint a picture. I figure not all you will know what I am talking about so I made this YouTube playlist of some of the Country and Western story songs from my childhood to demonstrate what I mean by this:
This laid a foundation for me and as I started to listen to other types of music that tried to convey a feeling or a mood. No matter the abstraction, I was always looking for the story.
I struggled with this as a teenager when I tried listening to music that was more popular among my peers. The only way I made sense of it was to eventually embrace the abstraction. I realized that some of the more popular songs (among my age and socioeconomic status) were telling one part of a story or telling the story in a non-liner way… I also realized they were telling a different type of story…
Part Two: Activism
Okay, so I’ve got the aspect of story in Country and Western music on my side while I start #Western106 but it is not the only thing; I also have Tom Robbins.
In my last #Western106 post I touched on Even Cowgirls Get the Blues which I plan to use as my anchor in this course. I would like to unpack it a little bit as we go along. I am still struggling to re-read the book. I did re-watch the movie. The first time I read the book I was traveling through India in my mid 20’s – it has been awhile.
Today, as I think about Westerns and merging it with Cowgirls this idea of the outlaw pops up and for me I’m asking how it relates to activism. How are they different and how are they alike? When do we justify law breaking in terms of breaking new ground and making a point?
Let me give you some context as it applies to Cowgirls. You see there is this take-over, this occupation, this coup of a ranch (the Rubber Rose Ranch) as a part of the book/movie. And it is not non-violent there are guns involved. The cowgirls take over this ranch which was developed as a type of high-end beautifying retreat for women looking to loose some weight, get facials and manicures, and such. The cowgirls are offended by this type of working over of women to make them all look (and smell) the same and so they take over the ranch from it’s lawful owners. I find myself cheering for the Cowgirls and rooting for them.
Cowgirls is a story of fiction and the ranch is just a metaphor (in my interpretation) for ideas that women need to fit some standard of beauty. The ranch in this case is like an assembly line where women can go through certain steps and come out conforming on the other end. The take over of the ranch by the cowgirls is a direct assault on the ideas of a singular beauty standard of all women. Throughout the book a profile of each of the cowgirls breaks while a parallel story is told to highlight their uniqueness, their quirkiness, and their “flaws” (which are often celebrated).
Of course as I’m reading this I’m thinking about this real ranch out West that is being occupied. Here I don’t find myself rooting for the ranchers. I realize they feel wronged. I realize that they are trying to make a point. I’m not so against their methods as I am their reasons. Here again, issues of ownership are at stake but it is not ownership of one’s own body it is ownership of land and resources where they feel entitled and think that the larger governmental body has over stepped. This is not a metaphor. To recognize any ownership of land that these ranchers might claim, for me, would be difficult as I would go back further to recognize another right of land. Enter the Indians into this western story.
Resistance as an act of reclaiming.
Resistance as and act of entitlement.
How about a lack of resistance as an act of beauty?
Part Three: Wait I thought there were only two parts? (well I said we were going to stretch, didn’t I?)
Yes, I know I thought there was only going to be two parts too but alas I’m more of a hitchhiker than a cowgirl and you never know where the road is going to take you.
This weekend I find I’m also confronted with another story that I can’t help but tie in as I think about outlaws and as I think about activism.
Everybody is West of something.
— Terry Elliott (@telliowkuwp) January 14, 2016
The story I want to bring to your attention to is that of Philippe Petit, French wire walker that tempted fate in 1974 (by traveling West) to walk across a wire he strung between the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.
Why would someone do that?
After being arrested for the act Petit said “There is no why. It’s just when I see a beautiful place to put my wire I cannot resit.”
Of course this story is on my mind because I rented The Walk. I highly recommend it as it is beautiful in its cinematography as well as its storytelling.
I bring it up here because I think that there should be a place for an outlaw who is called by creativity in an open online course about storytelling with a theme that spends a fair amount of time with outlaws. I think it is important – if we are going to talk about story and the creation of story in the context of a rebellious genera to ask about breaking the rules.
I’ll let Philippe end this post talking about his book Creativity: The Perfect Crime with NPR. He says the book is an “outlaw confession” and states that “his journey has always been a balance between chaos and order” which really makes me smile.