He Was Some Kind of a Man
Masculinities in the B Western
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$32.95 Paper, 222 pp.
Finalist for the ForeWord Magazine 2009 Book of the Year Award in the Popular Culture Category
He Was Some Kind of a Man: Masculinities in the B Western explores the construction and representation of masculinity in low-budget western movies made from the 1930s to the early 1950s. These films contained some of the mid-twentieth-century’s most familiar names, especially for youngsters: cowboys such as Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, and Red Ryder. The first serious study of a body of films that was central to the youth of two generations, He Was Some Kind of a Man combines the author’s childhood fascination with this genre with an interdisciplinary scholarly exploration of the films influence on modern views of masculinity.
McGillis argues that the masculinity offered by these films is less one-dimensional than it is plural, perhaps contrary to expectations. Their deeply conservative values are edged with transgressive desire, and they construct a male figure who does not fit into binary categories, such as insider/outsider or masculine/feminine. Particularly relevant is the author’s discussion of George W. Bush as a cowboy and how his aspirations to cowboy ideals continue to shape American policy.
This engagingly written book will appeal to the general reader interested in film, westerns, and contemporary culture as well as to scholars in film studies, gender studies, children’s literature, and auto/biography.
Roderick McGillis is a professor of English at the University of Calgary. He is the author of the award-winning The Nimble Reader (1996), A Little Princess: Gender and Empire (1996), and Les Pieds Devant (2007), and the editor of George MacDonald: Literary Heritage and Heirs (2007). He is a former editor of The Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, and former president of the Children’s Literature Association.
“In his fine book He Was Some Kind of a Man ... McGillis views B westerns with the steely-eyed gaze of a tough-minded culture critic.... As McGillis notes, the heroes of B westerns are ‘steadfast, independent, resourceful, self-reliant, aggressive, rational and controlling’ (1).... To be a B-movie cowboy is to live the playfully irresponsible (and sexually inactive) life of a boy. Indeed, according to McGillis, ‘the “boy” is our ideal of masculinity’ (18). Real men do not work in offices, change diapers, or cut down on sweets or gunplay.... As well as drawing on theories of camp and drag and offering a Lacanian analysis of the cowboy hero as ideal, McGillis derives insights from a range of ideological theories and cultural approaches, including shrewd and persuasive discussions of race and stereotyping, queerness and homosociality, the psychological significance of horses and guns, and the ambiguous relationship between the B western’s usual identification of bankers and businessmen as villains and their cowboy hero’s involvement in consumer culture. Indeed, the book’s main strength is the way it combines diverse theoretical threads into a complex reading of what seems at first to be so simple.”
— Perry Nodelman, Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures
“Roderick McGillis analyzes the portrayal of masculinity in the Saturday afternoon western films of the thirties, forties, and early fifties, the B westerns of the early sound era. He approaches these films as a version of children’s literature, since they were aimed at and primarily viewed by boys. He considers various standard images, including those of women, of Indians and blacks (the racial Other), of guns, of clothes (sequins, fringes), of horses, and of the western landscape. His analytic tools include references to queer theory, psychoanalysis, and the needs of the market. He was a fan of these films as a child, he remains a fan today, and he wants to understand the effects of these flms on our current concepts of manliness.... Thought provoking and insightful.”
— Will Wright, University of Toronto Quarterly
“Although McGillis focuses on...Westerns of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and Hopalong Cassidy (among others) of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, this study transcends this body of films and makes important contributions to theorization of cinematic masculinity.... His remarkable knowledge of the story lines of the films allows him to articulate several leitmotifs of the subgenre. His application of queer and psychoanalytic theory is brash, and his discussion of gender construction, textuality, and cowboy codes in B Westerns applies both to the films and to 20th-century concepts of masculinity.... Highly recommended.”
— G.R. Butters, Jr., Aurora University, CHOICE
“McGillis is particularly good at making critical and psychoanalytical theory intelligible for the layman.”
— John M. Clum, Duke University, Great Plains Quarterly
“This sharp and fabulously entertaining study of B westerns and the American cowboy also has a lot to say about popular culture, children’s literature, the gun fetish, white privilege, camp, heteronormativity, and nationalism. McGillis is at home on the range. A major work of scholarship and great fun as well. His heroes have always been cowboys, admits McGillis, and lucky for us. McGillis provides an incisive and entertaining analysis of American cowboy culture by way of B westerns from the 1930s to the mid-50s. A significant work of scholarship, of interest to anyone working in American cultural and literary studies.”
— Kenneth Kidd, University of Florida