Rodeo Cowboys in the North American Imagination
Rodeo is an enduring relic of America’s popular culture, drawing capacity audiences to all its venues, from small western cowtowns to Madison Square Garden. The rodeo cowboy, that figure of rugged independence and solitary courage, continues to evoke the spirit of a vanished frontier and the hardy pioneers who conquered it. In this study historian Michael Allen examines the image of the rodeo cowboy and the role this image has played in popular culture over the past century. He sees rodeo as a significant American folk festival and the rodeo cowboy as the avatar of a nearly extinct authentic figure, the “real cowboy,” who embodies the skills and values of traditional western rural culture. Allen’s analysis explores the evolution of the myth of the rodeo man and its subsequent institutionalization and acculturation into the media of popular culture. He also examines the impact on this myth of significant changes in the rodeo milieu—the commercialization of the event and the professionalization of rodeo performers; the arrival on the rodeo scene of performers from outside the white, male, western, rural origins of the traditional cowboy performers. He discovers that America’s—and indeed the world’s—fascination with the rodeo cowboy reflects feelings far deeper than a taste for exciting entertainment. Allen’s discussion of the archetypal figure of the rodeo cowboy will change forever our perception of rodeo, but it will also help us understand how the ancient tension between frontier and civilization continues to play a role in our national imagination.
University of Nevada Press