The Trouble with Cowboys

The Trouble with Cowboys grew out of my father’s love of movies and television programs about the early days of the American West. He had protanopia, a type of color-blindness that affected the green-yellow-red portion of the visual spectrum. Because of the disorder, he preferred black and white TV and films to color because, to him, they presented a more believable representation. The plot lines of popular Westerns were generally simple tales about good and evil, usually represented by men in white and black hats. These American morality plays became even less nuanced when Native Americans were included. Often depicted as the aggressor, the “red man” stood in the way of the “white man’s” God-given right to all the lands within and just beyond the newly formed “United States of America.” Images of the rugged men of the West, as embodied and enshrined by Hollywood, were a constant feature of life in the 1950s. Ubiquitous publicity stills were offered as distillations of all that was good and righteous in America. The oversimplification of good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, and monochrome clarity vs. color complexity underpins The Trouble with Cowboys. There’s also an obvious element of homage to the work of John Baldessari and an affectionate remembrance of my Dad.