Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Old West vs HBO's Deadwood

Well friends, I just can't get into HBO's Deadwood. First off it seemed like a lot of "Revisionist Western" Hollywood to me. Revisionist Westerns are just Hollywood's attempt at Revisionist History.

So what are Revisionist Western films? Well they are movies that question or attack the ideals and style of traditional Western Movies. Revisionist Western films are usually depressing and cynical. They try to amplify the lawlessness of the time period while trying to depict the West as this dark and gloomy place where everyone is out for themselves and no one can be trusted or relied upon. The film-makers who deal in trash like this are usually very busy trying to convince you their audience that what really happened in the Old West never really happened.

The idea of self-sacrifice, and a yearning to be free, and a dependence on no one other than yourself, yet still knowing that neighbors help neighbors is completely opposite to what they want you to think. 

To the film-makers who try to make Revisionist Westerns, there are few if not any European-American masculine male Heroes, the U.S. military is either fumbling or evil, and the American government is uncaring and savage in their desire to conquer. Native Americans and Mexicans on the other hand are looked at more favorable in those films and are usually depicted as being wise, insightful, and knowledgeable of things that European-Americans would never be aware of in a million years. Or so they want us to believe.

Of course, depicting the Indian Wars of the hundreds of years of warfare between tribes and the atrocities that were committed by these tribes upon each other, long before Europeans came to this continent, would not help Hollywood's effort to rewrite history so it's not usually shown on film.

In contrast, the Cowboy, the Cavalry Soldier, the Trooper, the Farmer, the Rancher, the European-American who came West to better his family or who wanted to start a business of his own and shake off the yoke of working for another, he is today's Western Villain. 

And who is he?  Well he's always a white European-American.  Yes, white European-Americans have become the archetypal villain in today's Westerns. It doesn't matter if the European-American's ancestry is Italian or Greek, Spanish or Portuguese, English or French, Polish or Russian or Dane, Scot or Irish, it doesn't matter. Hollywood has bundled us all up in one group called "White" and there we seem to stay.

No matter if that's only a skin color, and really has nothing to do with all of the many different cultural traditions that were brought to America. Fact is that Europeans who came to America were as different from each other as the Blackfoot Indians were from the Miami Indians, who by the way were almost decimated while being pushed out of their lands by other Indian tribes. Europeans came here with different languages, traditions, religions, and so on down the line. But that doesn't matter to Hollywood.

The Revisionist concept of an evil white European-American fits in with Hollywood's idea of what is wrong with America. It fits in with their twisted idea of who they feel is responsible for all of the world's troubles. They don't address the mindsets of our European ancestors here from different nations, with completely different languages and cultures and religions. Yes, no different than the thousands of completely different Native American Indian tribes which had complete different completely different languages and cultures and religions.

Hollywood's Revisionist Movies refuse to honor or give the proper recognition and dignity to the European Explorers who discovered and linked together the world for all mankind, or for that matter our Founding Fathers who set forth a new idea that people matter, not Kings and Queens and Popes.

Hollywood also does the same with the American Pioneers who on the overall, but not all, were Europeans who fought overwhelming hardship to come West and make it against all odds. As for American Farmers, fact is that only one in four stayed and made it. The others returned East, but you don't hear about that today.

Hollywood only sees white European-Americans in the exact way that their Liberal Left Politics will allow them to see them. To the Left, the American Pioneer was only an invader and conqueror, killer of Indians, and a blight upon the land.  Hollywood negates all of the achievements by those who came before us and settled this land, or fought our wars, or enabled us to have the freedoms we have.

Westerns have been following this trend for a while now. Dances With Wolves is a great example of the Revisionist Western. In that film, the Indian was portrayed as noble and wise while the white Union Soldiers in the movie were shown as ruthless, hostile, half-crazy, uncaring, and completely stupid about the stewardship of the land or their own survival.

Great movie soundtrack though! Too bad the movie was horrible. And what does this have to do with HBO's Deadwood you ask?

Deadwood is a perfect example of the Revisionist Western in a television series. Actually HBO's series Deadwood is Revisionist History gone wild. You want to know about a boomtown long before Deadwood or even Tombstone, read this about Columbia, California,  Columbia “The Gem of the Southern Mines”

But besides its horrible depiction of the Old West and especially the Pioneers that came West, I hate having to watch the show. Why? Well, because HBO's Deadwood is so full of profanity and unwarranted violence that it comes across as vulgar and almost pornographic. Yes, the language is that raw and yet it lends nothing to the show. And yes, I believe it's rated PG. Which of course, now stands for "Profanity Guaranteed."

So the question becomes is the dialogue in HBO's Deadwood accurate, period correct, to what they are portraying? The short answer is, NO it's not.

In the true Revisionist Western style, the writers and director made a conscious decision to increase the severity of the swearing in the show to agree with modern vulgarity. Why? So that there wouldn't be any mistaking that the actors were indeed cussing. Imagine that. They thought we wouldn't be able to tell.

Like it or not, the swearing is all done for shock value and not historical accuracy. Fact is that words like "Damn-nation," or "God", or even "Jesus" was thought to be extreme swearing in the 1870s.  Back then, that was talking pretty filthy! And like it or not, you still didn't do it in front of women no matter what their standing in the community was at that time. It just wasn't done. I'm not kidding.

In contrast to what folks are led to believe now, the people in the Old West did not use that sort of language as the show tries to depict.  Sorry it just didn't happen. The extremely explicit, modern profanity, is a deliberate attempt on the part of the show's creator who has explained that the characters were originally intended to use period correct slang and swear words. Such words, however, were based heavily on the era's deep religious roots and tended to be more blasphemous than a case of toilet mouth.  So instead of it being shockingly crude, reports were that it sounded absolutely comical.

I read where someone connected to the making of Deadwood said, "If you put words like 'goldarn' into the mouths of the characters on Deadwood, they'd all wind up sounding like Yosemite Sam."

So yes, it was a conscious decision on the part of those making the show, that the show would use "current era profanities" in order for the words to have a more vulgar impact. And all that stuff about the show being historically accurate? Well it went out the door, especially when it decided that something like the language and people who were not in their correct historical or chronological time frame.

As for Westerns, well I thank God that Revisionist Westerns weren't around when I was a kid.  Fact is that my Dad would have never let any of us watch Westerns if they were that way back then. And honestly, if that were the case, I don't know if I would have been brought up with such an interest in the Old West at all.  If it weren't for watching pre-Revisionist Westerns on TV and in the movies, I probably wouldn't care.

Now before you go off thinking that I'm painting too rosy a picture of the Old West, I'm not really. I know real well that the West was not quite a Gene Autry Western with him singing and all, but at the same time it sure wasn't the extreme of the uncivilized darkness that Deadwood portrays either.

Was it somewhere in the middle?  No it wasn't. The Old West was not the murderous land of filthy no goods and cut-throats that today's Revisionist Westerns make out.

Were there bad people?  Yes, just like there are bad people today. But all in all, it's well documented that the cities and towns in the East were much more violent than the towns in the West. And there were reasons for this. For one thing, people carried guns more openly in the West.  And honestly, a bad man was a lot less likely to go up against another armed man than he would someone unarmed. Besides people carrying concealed firearms, crime actually went up in the towns that tried to institute gun-control. So yes, guns helped make the West a more polite society.

Another thing is that there had became an unwritten "Code" that people created in lieu of having an established law enforcement presence. But it went even further than simply "the Law" as it also addressed civility and conduct.  The Code was an unwritten law based on the Golden Rule, and yes it helped people to help others and get along with each other on the overall.

Roger McGrath, a historian who studied dozens of Western mining camps and towns, found a high rate of homicide in them mainly because it was socially acceptable for young, drunk single men to resolve points of honor by fighting to the death. But other violence wasn't tolerated, he said.

"It was a rather polite and civil society enforced by armed men," Dr. McGrath said. "The rate of burglary and robbery was lower than in American cities today. Claim-jumping was rare. Rape was extraordinarily rare - you can argue it wasn't being reported, but I've never seen evidence hinting at that."

Deadwood's bad reputation was established by the famous killing of Wild Bill and enhanced with claims that the miners "averaged a murder a day." But Deadwood historians like Watson Parker dismiss that statistic.

"Pure bilge," Dr. Parker told me. "There wasn't an awful lot of violence in Deadwood except for the crooks and drunks killing each other.  When everybody has a gun on his hip, they tend to avoid confrontation."

Another Deadwood historian, Bob Lee, said that the best account of the two peak years of the gold rush, 1876 and 1877 lists only 77 violent deaths in all of the Black Hills. Only 4 deaths were in Deadwood and the rest were outside Deadwood. And as for those, they were attributed to Indians.

Yes, the years 1876 and 1877 lists only 77 violent deaths in all the Black Hills - and most were outside of Deadwood. Research shows that the town of Deadwood only had 7 homicides in 1876. That's it, only 7! Try comparing that with the city you live in now, then ask yourself if the town of Deadwood was really that violent at all?

It's no wonder this new generation doesn't know a great deal about the Old West. Between what they are being fed being all bullshit, and there's nothing for them to watch on TV that shows the Old West in any sort of positive light  - or just entertaining. 

All of the old Classic Western TV shows, including Maverick and Bonanza, were all so much more entertaining then HBO's Deadwood. And yes, it didn't surprise me that the so-called "hit" they call Deadwood only ran for three seasons before being canceled. Heck, that would have been considered a flop by 1950's and 60's standards. Take the series Gunsmoke for example, it started on radio in 1952 and then it ran on TV from 1955 to 1975. Now friends, that's a hit!

HBO's Deadwood is not entertainment.  It's Deadwood revisionism. It's simply graphic violence. It is just a director's desire to see how pitiful he can make the West appear while he screws up a television series. As one friend told me, there's no redeeming qualities about it. It was supposed to be a historically based drama, but it's not.

Buying it would be a waste of money. Save your money. There are so many other Westerns that you can buy that depicts the Old West in a more honest light. Heck, even a horrible Western like the movie Silverado with an over the top goofy-as-all-get-out Kevin Costner is a lot more honest and entertaining than sitting through one episode of Deadwood.

And yes, that's the way I see it.

Tom Correa


  1. At last, someone with a brain doing "entertainment" critiques!

  2. I am of two opinions on revisionist stuff in films. 1. There is a lot of history that most of our Classical movies do not cover in an adequate fashion. They omit the effort of black Americans to move west and carve out the same second chance to make a good life. And some of them make the point about Chinese trying to land in the west who were checked by Anti-Chinese groups as in Tombstone. They do offer a balanced depiction of what our war on Indians was like. I mean good grief, when the Duke even takes this on in McLintock, you have got to know revising isn't all bad.
    2. I want to start with the part of this piece where it says that many revised westerns make the west out to look so dirty, grimy, and disgusting that it is sometimes unwatchable. Well, truth be told, this depiction or revision is pretty accurate. It was not all sunshine and roses. Take Open Range. When the rain comes down so hard that it nearly washes away the center of town, that looks pretty accurate to me. On the other hand, many of the revisions make the west seem like a place full of nasty people all out for themselves. If that were the case, the west would not have been developed as fast as it did.

  3. I'll be honest. When I first began watching Westerns as a kid, I didn't know what to think of them. I really thought I was gonna hate the genre, but then later on I had come to enjoy it. My first ever Western movie that I saw was Dances With Wolves. It was 1997 and I was 4 years old. That was also the time I started my music career. My first Western TV show that I saw was Bonanza. Now that I'm 29 I'm starting to appreciate the Western genre more. And besides, it helps me cope with my autism and mental illness. I'm also a talented actor and I did a lot of acting in high school and most of my plays were in the Western genre. I've had the lead in at least several of them. No, I haven't done any Hollywood films or Tv shows or for that matter any films or shows period. But I do have some acting experience. I would like to one day be in a Western film. Maybe I'll be in the lead, who knows? But I have always loved Westerns and I always will. Long live the movies and long live the Westerns. Happy Trails, partner.


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