Date of Degree
Jerry W. Carlson
Paula J. Massood
American Studies | Comparative Literature | Film and Media Studies
Film Genre, Westerns, Transnational Cinema, Global Cinema, Adaptation, Bakhtin
The Western is often seen as a uniquely American narrative form, one so deeply ingrained as to constitute a national myth. This perception persists despite its inherent shortcomings, among them its inapplicability to the many instances of filmmakers outside the United States appropriating the genre and thus undercutting this view of generic exceptionalism. As the Western has migrated across geographical boundaries, it has accrued potential significations that bring into question its direct alignment with national ideology and history. Rather than attempting to define the Western in terms of nation or myth, we should attend to how each new text reconfigures the genre.
Because of the repetitive and accumulative nature of genre storytelling, each new use of a genre inevitably engages with previous uses, creating a densely intertextual network. Following Bakhtin’s theory of the utterance being comprised of prior, historically situated utterances, I argue that each new use of a generic convention carries with it the echo of past uses, which it also retroactively reframes. This phenomenon produces a transtemporal exchange of potential meanings between existing uses of a convention and each new use, through which the latter is able to alter and expand the potential readings of all prior uses. In this sense, Western films are neither exclusively about the past nor simply a reflection of contemporary contexts and concerns. Generic texts necessarily engage with their semiotic genealogies, belying the notion of genre as a static, ahistorical structure or as a series of symptomatic historical reflections subject to a linear process of evolution.
Because genres are not monolithic, it is essential to attend to the peculiarities of each text in order to see how a genre’s various users employ and interpret generic elements in sometimes quite idiosyncratic ways. Analyzing a diverse range of films from Japan, Brazil and the United States, I show the need for a more expansive model of genre analysis, one that attends to the transgeographical, transtemporal, and transmedial elements of genre. I argue that the drawing of boundaries around a genre that is itself about interstitial spaces can lead to misreadings of the Western as a hegemonic formal structure rather than a dialogic relationship among generic media artifacts.
Phillips, Michael D., "Manifest Density: Decentering the Global Western Film" (2018). CUNY Academic Works.