The Future. The West is beckoning Americans once again… but, this time, in a way that feels more demographically inclusive and stylistically modern. That’s because the West, as historian and The Sagebrush Trail author Richard Aquila details, is a “Rorschach inkblot test” of culture’s fascinations and preoccupations. In that spirit, expect the Western to make a roaring return in entertainment and potentially usurp the superhero as this decade’s defining storytelling genre.
Saddle up, culture
Culture is looking west again.
- Some of the largest events of the summer (Barbie, Beyoncé, and, to a lesser extent, Taylor Swift) have all worked in cowboy iconography — but in a way Taylor Johnson, owner of boutique Hazel and Olive, calls “glam western.”
- That style has evolved into an across-the-spectrum fashion trend, with the hashtag #coastalcowgirl going viral on TikTok and luxury brands like Prada harkening back to the Old West.
- The cowboy hype has especially cemented in culture because of the enduring popularity of Yellowstone (and, really, the whole Taylor Sheridan universe of shows), which was the most popular scripted series last year.
- Yellowstone has also fueled a Western tourism trend, with the University of Montana finding the show has pumped some $700 million worth of tourism spending into the state.
Historian of American cinema and culture at the University of Utah, Andrew Patrick Nelson, notes our renewed fascination with the West “is the idea you can live a more authentic, exciting, and rugged life.”
That feeling is especially seductive as we exit the pandemic. Atlantic writer and Lifehacker editor Jordan Calhoun said he became obsessed with Yellowstone because, stuck in his Harlem apartment, he “longed for rows of pines, big stretches of sky.” He has since made his way out to Montana because we all, in some way, want to dress and travel how we want to feel.