16 Cowboy Up Down Under: Representations of American Wild West Imagery in Australian Popular Entertainment

Sunday, January 4, 2009
East Ballroom Foyer (Hilton New York)
Leland Turner , Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX
Tom Mix, John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood carried American cowboy mythology through a century of cinematic interpretation.  Earlier Buffalo Bill Cody promoted a wildly popular Wild West show and the popularity of the Western arena show has carried forward to contemporary rodeo. 

Both the American West and Australian Outback have produced powerful frontier imagery and inspired national mythology. Yet, Snowy River, an important Australian film production, follows a classic American Western plot.  From early Wild West arena shows, to movie productions, to rodeo sports, Australian popular entertainment has utilized American Wild West imagery and mythology.  As a result, many contemporary Australians celebrate the mythological cowboy. 

Crocodile Dundee, the hero of Australia’s most successful cinematic production, is essentially an Australian creation dripping with cowboy imagery.  Film critic Peter Ackroyd wrote, “Dundee, wearing his Australian version of the Stetson, acts like some representation of the old cowboy.” And, American Wild West imagery dominates rodeo sports down under:  gone is the traditional stump-jumping competition, Stetsons have gradually displaced the Australian Akubra, and bull-riding cowboys are the arena heroes.

Does Americanization threaten a unique Australian culture or do Australians simply enjoy selective bits of American entertainment?  A study of the inroads made by American popular entertainment into Australia will enable Australians and Americans alike to understand the truly unique nature of Australian culture and the global power of American popular culture. This study, given its consideration of imagery, is necessarily a visual study and lends itself to a poster presentation comparing American and Australian imagery.  Broadsides announcing Wild West shows, movie posters and stills, and rodeo contest images will produce a compelling visual story.

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