A CALL TO AMERICANA by: M.R Branwen

I’ve just finished watching this somewhat obscure Western from the 1990s, whose reception, even at the time of its release, was lukewarm, and whose only redeeming quality, at first glance, is Tom Selleck in his full post-Magnum P.I. man-bloom: Quigley Down Under. 

So, first, an introduction to the film: The era is the late 1800s. Our hero, Matthew Quigley, is the quintessential sharp-shooting, do-gooding American cowboy of a Clint Eastwood and John Wayne ilk. He arrives in Australia, which is, at this particular moment in time, especially lawless.

The first thing we understand about Quigley is that he is morally intact. His sense of justice and correctness is completely inflexible and, you might argue, somewhat arrogant. But you can - and do - forgive him his arrogance, because even though he sets foot on a foreign continent, into a culture that is not his own and to which he has never been exposed, and immediately starts interfering with other peoples’ business, you always agree with his motivations. A man is pushing in front of an old lady to get off of the ship — not in front of Matthew Quigley! Two ne’er-do-wells are trying to bully a woman into their wagon — don’t think so, partners!

What happens next is that Quigley realizes that the man who has hired him - a man who, to the best of our knowledge, has everyone under his thumb - is methodically eradicating the aborigines. This guy is like the ultimate bully. Obviously, Quigley can not stand for that. So even though he is out-numbered and out-equipped; friendless and, at one point, left for dead in the outback, he risks his life to end the genocide, because of his irrepressible old school American impulse to set wrongs right at any cost. He takes on old west Hitler and all of his goons, and eventually succeeds in putting an end to the genocide, single-handedly standing up for thousands of helpless aborigines who were unable to stand up for themselves, because he is an American. And he is fighting the good fight.

Is this arrogant? You betcha. But do we love Quigley? You fuckin betcha.

This, I began thinking, is where our fantastic sense of American arrogance must have had its beginnings: in the hero of the old west. Only now, within the primary demographic that retains its trappings, it’s been eroded down to a sense of superiority without any of the moral upstandingness — the way hippies of today have retained their tassles and center hair parts even though the backlash against the repressive housewivery of the 50s and the fallout of the Vietnam War are things that hold absolutely no emotional resonance for them, or the way punks of today have retained their refusal to shower and consequent body odor, even though The Man has long since stopped caring about them and they are not protesting any real cultural marginalization. It seems to me that the primary subcultural off-shoot of that noble, old west lineage is the gun toting, huge truck driving, misogynistic, wilfully ignorant, redneck, who takes an active interest, it seems, in not fighting the good fight. Global warming? Doesn’t exist. Homosexuals? Are offensive. Animal rights? For pansies. Feminists? Lesbians. Lesbians? Are offensive. Foreigners? Terrorists. Immigrants? Criminals. Europeans? Socialists. Liberals? State enemies.

Whether or not these lines of thought offend me is (somewhat) beside the point. What especially offends me about this particular subculture, is that they have aligned this set of values with those of the true American. And they have appropriated the American flag as their own. It now flies in the place of - or in many cases, alongside of - the Confederate flag, affixed to the back of lifted pickup trucks, or, for example, next to a sign above my former neighbor’s garage that read: WE DON’T CALL 911, which only makes sense if you understand that they have punctuated the sign with fake semi-automatic guns.

Now, let’s see if we can’t excuse them a little: Quigley’s mission was pretty straight-forward. He found himself bearing witness to a genocide and had the sharp-shooting skills necessary to single-handedly bring it to an end. We face different, infinitely more complex problems today; problems that a 13.5 pound, single-shot, 1874 Sharps Rifle simply cannot address. No amount of sharp-shooting is going to bring about the end of global climate change; shooting’m up isn’t even an adequate foreign policy - though I have heard it argued that it is. Maybe that’s why these country boys have turned into such hooligans: they realize that the moment of their usefulness has passed. Confronted with the real world problems of today, they find themselves ill equipped and  unaccustomed to playing the hero, and so have forgotten how to do it. Or, maybe like other later iterations of previous movements, they have simply lost the guts of it along the way.

This appropriation of the American flag, and of Americana generally, offends me because I am the patriot, here. I am fighting the good fight every day by being respectful of my neighbors (even those neighbors) by caring about the environment and the ethical treatment of animals; by understanding that there is more to foreign relations than military power, by believing that every American citizen (let alone, every citizen of the world) should have access to wholesome food, an education, and health care, and figuring out who and what can  make that happen. I have, in my opinion, inherited the true ethos of the old west that demands that people are treated fairly and that can’t help itself but interfere when they are not. This is, in my opinion, what the American flag truly stands for, doesn’t it? And I call for every compassionate, thinking, liberal to reclaim it. Because it has nothing to with Stetsons and cowboy boots — not that I have anything against those. Let Tom Selleck be an example of how sexy that get-up can be on the right man.

Speaking of which: Quigley Down Under is totally worth a watch.

Read more about M.R Branwen here

Chelsea Wrightson
Albuquerque, NM
2012
Read more about Chelsea here

Chelsea Wrightson

Albuquerque, NM

2012


Read more about Chelsea here

Stephanie Wilson is a visual artist who likes most to interrupt the surfaces of wood, paper, metal and clay. She returned to New Mexico after a decade of living and learning in Portland, Oregon, where she obtained a BFA in printmaking from Pacific Northwest College of Art.  She enjoys watching New Mexico sky and letting the dirt fall between her fingers, long soaks in hot springs, making out with cats, cardamon in her coffee and red chile stained lips

Stephanie Wilson is a visual artist who likes most to interrupt the surfaces of wood, paper, metal and clay. She returned to New Mexico after a decade of living and learning in Portland, Oregon, where she obtained a BFA in printmaking from Pacific Northwest College of Art.  She enjoys watching New Mexico sky and letting the dirt fall between her fingers, long soaks in hot springs, making out with cats, cardamon in her coffee and red chile stained lips

OCCUPYING SPACE: BODY IMAGE & WOMEN OF COLOR by: Natasha Parker

     bell hooks once stated in Communion: Female Search for Love,  “All girls continue to be taught when they are young, if not by their parents then by the culture around them, that they must earn the right to be loved — that “femaleness” is not good enough. This is a female’s first lesson in the school of patriarchal thinking and values. She must earn love. She is not entitled. She must be good enough to be loved. And good is always defined by someone else, someone on the outside”.

             As a female in the United States, our patriarchal, white-male societal structure bombards us with images and messages that make us feel inadequate, and often times, try to make us feel guilty for occupying public space.  Thinner and smaller females are easier to push aside and diminish until the importance of females becomes irrelevant. These standards are littered throughout the various forms of media ingested by females of all ages, which often leads to toxic behavior and patterns of thinking…but you already knew that.  

     In my personal experience growing up, I didn’t really begin to internalize ideas about the meaning of being female until sometime around the third grade. All of my friends began getting their periods and I was confused about all of my own changes. I remember the other girls talking about what was appealing to boys based on the magazines they stole from their older sisters and not completely understanding what they meant until I had my first crush in the sixth grade. The game had changed and I didn’t get the memo on what I was “supposed” to do. My parents worked a lot, therefore weren’t around much, and my mom’s idea of teaching me about how “it” works was to give me a book about it. The book had a lot of good information about sex and what was happening to me, but didn’t really explain the self-esteem issues I was about to endure, some of my own issues and some of the issues I learned at home.

     A “gift” my mother gave me was  her own insecurities about herself, which in hindsight, became visible in all of the relationships she had, including the one with my father and the others after my father.  This translated pretty clearly into my own relationships later on and began to take on a striking likeness to the saying, “like mother, like daughter”. My mother instilled insecurity in me for fear of me developing insecurities like her own, much of which centered on weight and body image. In middle school, I started being bullied for my appearance and didn’t have the tools to defend myself since I had been taught to hate myself already. My body didn’t resemble those of the predominantly white bodies that surrounded my own body of color, and they made me feel guilty for it. 

     I became really good at beating myself up with the help of others. This sentiment carried into my first relationship. I was eighteen years old, he was two years older than me, and everything started out fairly innocent. I kept forcing an idealized version of a relationship on him, and he definitely started to take it out on me. The most vivid memory I have of this occurring was when we were fooling around and I was straddling him,  he told me that I was too heavy for him and that he didn’t like it when I was on top. This would happen on multiple occasions where he’d say I was hurting his hips or tell me that I gained weight. I internalized this, already having stake in the idea that your weight determined your worth, taking it through to every attempt at getting any attention from the opposite sex, and into the second relationship I’ve ever had. After that second relationship ended, I’ve spent the last four and a half years trying to reconcile why it wasn’t working out with guys and what I was doing wrong with myself.

     I decided the best way to go about learning to accept and love myself as I am was to physically distance myself from Albuquerque. In this past year, I spent a lot of time analyzing the basis of which insecurity of body image comes from, reading works from amazing authors like bell hooks and Audre Lorde, and listening to the females around me discuss their own plight. Through Tumblr, I was able to find like-minded females who had the same gripes and who spoke of body positivity and who spoke of “radical” self-love and it inspired me to start loving myself.

    Back in Albuquerque, I am excited to start anew with a fresh new love for myself and a new love for the place that I call home. My love for myself will no longer be determined by an outside source, and I will no longer be told that I cannot love myself as I am, for I am good enough. We are all good enough.


Read more about Natasha here