Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Complicated: What Westerns Mean to Me #western106


In the situation where you mostly hate Westerns but adore CogDog, do you participate in #western106 or not?

Explaining how I feel about Westerns is complicated but the first week prompt is to talk about what westerns mean to me, so I guess I can do that 🙂 i only noticed it coz of cogdog’s post. if I don’t participate again, you’ll know why. And you’ll also know why I might participate nevertheless. We’ll see.

Here’s what Westerns mean to me, in a nutshell. I hate watching Western movies as a kid and wouldn’t watch now as n adult


Lots of unshaven men (where were the women)

Marlboro commercials (and I loathe cigarettes and smoking with a passion)

Colonialism glorified
Colonialism glorified
Colonialism glorified
Can I repeat it enough?

As a kid I felt uncomfortable with how native Americans were portrayed in westerns and how Russians were portrayed in spy movies. How appropriate to have had that sentiment early on, because now my own people (Muslims) are the ones often portrayed in a negative light in media and pop culture. I am just imagining if I were someone of native American blood – how would I feel watching a western movie?


Country music
I love all kinds of music but none as much as country. I stumbled upon it serendipitously through the AFRTS (Armed Forces Radio/TV station) in Kuwait during high school. We had that radio station because of American troops stationed there after 1990/1991. It originally played half country and half pop. I would be listening to the pop and get too lazy to switch when country came along. I fell in love with country pretty quickly. I love too many country singers to actually list them here but maybe I will post some YouTube videos of country songs over the coming few weeks. I liked the music and the lyrics; I liked the values (sometimes) behind the songs. I also liked the CLARITY of the lyrics compared to other genres. You understand what the singer is saying and what they mean. Maybe others consider that less creative or less artistic. I know the genre is considered not high-quality music. But hey. I listen to everything and enjoy playing classical music as well as Beatles and Abba and Elvis and I love 80s music and I still listen to all kinds (even that weird 90s era – that was high school and college time, had no choice, haha)

Anyway. Country music is called country & western and I wanted to go there and meet thr cowboys and all (later realizing that many of the people who sang or listened to this music were probably v politically conservative and probably wouldn’t be too pleasant to me). I always wanted to visit Texas (not Tennessee for some reason even though that’s where country music’s home, Nashville was).

Living in Houston, Texas
Early in my marriage my husband got a fellowship in Houston. I was excited but wary coz people told me (Americans over here in Egypt) to expect racism. I didn’t find it at all. Mainly because Houston is pretty cosmopolitan. With a huge medical center where my husband worked with mostly expat/immigrant doctors and patients from all over the US/world… I volunteered at Texas children’s and people were lovely. I used to pray Friday with the doctors there and it was lovely. I met lots of Latinos and African Americans and barely saw a cowboy except at the rodeo and fiesta. Maybe a few white people in the library and at Rice University where I worked a little, but those white people were friendly and (election year 08) most were Obama or Clinton supporters.

What cowboys?

Anyway – let me end this with one of my fave country songs by Clay Walker (clever lyrics)


  1. 🙂 Nice song!

    Yeah, colonialism … that’s a sad thing, not just for the past hundreds of years, it’s been done over the lasts couple of thousands of years. All over the world by many empires. All we remember is the names of the rulers, the battles, and we write about it and are proud of the heritage. 🙁
    Bottom line though it’s just Greed & no respect for the lives of others … makes me feel sad.

  2. Yee hah! Did you think I would reply?

    I cannot disagree with the depictions of Western movies you describe… but might suggest you are talking about a specific portion ( the vengeful movie films of 1960s onward) of what I am suggesting is a broader genre.

    Western genre is not my expertise, but I think you are looking at it narrowly. The western B movies of the 1930s were all the singing cowboys (and cowgirls, thought probably not strong women) Roy Rogers, Gene Autrey, et al. There are the farce comedies like Blazing Saddles that poke fin at what you criticize. Toy Story 3. There are films that take place in the West (that might count), Back to the Future 3, Little House on the Prairie. Thelma and Louise (which has violence yes, to men, Is that okay?) One of my favorite movies Little Big Man, does have the lead character white male (a bumbling Dustin Hoffman) who learns from the Indians who take him in (and is said to be a parable of the Vietnam War). Dances with Wolves, glitzy and over done- does that fit the Westerns you describe? The movie version of The Last of the Mohicans? The old Gunsmoke series was more soap opera that shootout. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid- some gun shooting but more romance, bromance, and adventure.

    The Lone Ranger has a subservient sidekick (thought most of the time Tonto saves his butt) and in the first TV episode (I just re-watched) he takes the vow to use his gun and silver bullets not to kill– check out his creed

    Check out this children’s book series for the lead character, not an unshaven gun toting man, but a 12 year old half indian with Aspergers

    Here is a list — I’m a Big Fan of the Following Westners, And No They Aren’t Porn and in looking some stuff up found this interesting article The Culture of Violence in the American West: Myth versus Reality (article, 2010, the Independent Review) which suggests the roots of the violence are the US Government mistreatment of Native Americans

    The world is violent. The world is full of colonialists. The Marlboro man has been extinguished by a society that has largely (but not everywhere) stigmatized smoking. Why would we expect film, literature not to mirror what is in the world? And understanding something does not mean you do not study it, right? I ought to learn about society and leaders in post World War Germany, yet that does not require me to adopt a Nazi perspective. The same for the impact of Vasco de Gama’s exploration/exploitation of India. Or to understand the reasons for the secession of the South US leading to the Civil war does not require me to be a Confederate. Isn’t this category called “Critical Pedagogy”?

    I realize you are framing the perspectives formed as a kid from the Western films you saw. I am saying I think there is a lot more to it, but I do not know for sure without going inside of it.

    Yes, there are problems with some / most ? but not all Westerns, and I am not asking anyone to stay inside the smoking unshaven male gun shooting box. The whole way of ds106 is that you do is, as much, little, or none, as you choose, and what you don;t like, you say, or subvert. I am not trying to convince you to do anything more that enjoy both kinds (C&W) of music.

    • Hi Alan – this is a replica of my facebook response – didn’t get a chance to respond here yday.
      A. Saying i don’t like Western films isn’t a criticism of you, it’s an explanation of why i don’t have much to say about western films coz i stopped watching them ages ago. You gotta remember i grew up in Kuwait and Egypt. The TV station probably just bought 5 western films and replayed them regularly.
      B. I don’t think I am stereotyping the west (the country music and love of Houston are examples of my love of modern western/Southern things/people) but i may be stereotyping western films. Most civil war films are pro-North, right? By default. Most WW2 films are anti-Hitler (and frankly often downplay the disastrous American actions on Japan). I haven’t watched all western films but the setting is one of colonialism as adventure.

      I know u don’t “need” me in the course and I can totally ignore it. But it keeps showing up on my Twitter feed 🙂 and I am attracted to Cowboys, cowboy hats and boots 🙂 so I was just sharing how I feel.

      If it makes you feel better, I didn’t even consider participating in wire106 coz… Uhhh…had no idea what that thing was and wasn’t gonna invest time in it. Am sure American students enjoyed it very much.

      It’s fine. You can never please everybody. I particularly don’t watch many movies or much TV (so I also have no affinity for Lord of the Rings or Star Wars or such). I just wanted to explain long-form the reservations I had about this particular theme.

      P.s. Thanks for the links. If i had a chance to check only one which would you recommend?

  3. Maha, Thanks for your frankness about your ambivalence on the #western106 theme. I have made my dislike of the genre clear, as well, and for most if not all of the same reasons. However, there’s a lot of themes under this umbrella that can be explored, as you prove with your appreciation of country music.
    I blogged my thoughts here, if you are interested in a sympathetic but very different point of view:
    I hope you participate–I would always look forward to your push back!

  4. Thanks Maha. I understand and respect the reservations of the film genre based on your exposure and experience. But I am saying that participating in the theme for western106 means looking at things far from what your known experiences. Let’s say you are teaching a game theory class, and you have a student who does not want to be active because of their bad experience in an online game…

    The fences on the western genre are not fixed. ** There is no definition of a “western” in western106– that is what we are investigating ** Most courses begin with a statement / definition of what the subject is; in ds106 everything is a question.

    For many, a western film/show can be one that takes place in the place- thus not only Lassie, but Back to the Future 3, some of the old Star Trek episodes. For others its the idea of how to survive in an alien landscape, thus space westerns.

    • Space balls! (i never watched it but saw a cartoon version – it makes fun of Star Wars right?)

      Sandy’s blogpost made me realize i have read a bit of Western literature (not in postcolonial East/West but in sense of moving Westward in early days of America).

      It’s possible that all this time what i had been stereotyping is ds106 (which i took as a fun course based on daily creates) forgetting it’s an actual course with serious dimensions and u can pick a subject as ugly as the Holocaust and study it and do digital storytelling about it

  5. There’s more to this world than appears in twitter! DS106 has a longer run and more rhizomatic strands than the ones you read about all the time…

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