Depictions of the American West in popular culture (literature, film, new media) have tended, both subtly and overtly, to bolster extractive capitalism and the subjugation of women and indigenous populations. Therefore it is crucial to understand how popular cultural texts historically have played a formative role in the exploitation of the land and its people, providing a powerful alibi for American exceptionalism. However, popular culture may also engage aesthetics of resistance. While it is crucial to be skeptical of representations that claim more socio-political power than they actually hold, depictions may also have radically shifted from the mid-twentieth-century to the present, suggesting the possibility of a new collectivity. This panel will complicate any simplistic notions of the relationship between popular culture and the American West as either redemptive or exploitative, and instead reveal the stakes of such representations. We will use this topic as a platform to question the divestment of power through racial capitalism and alter our understanding of what it means to have power or to be powerful, as this power reveals itself in gender and sex categories, and in state-regulated institutions and economic systems.
Popular Cultural and the American West
K. Allison Hammer, Associate Director of Women's and Gender Studies, Vanderbilt University