If the wild west has occupied a particular – and glorious – place in the United States’ collective imagination for centuries, then it is surely down to that most archetypal of all-American heroes, the cowboy. Are there many symbols that encapsulate the American spirit quite like the cigarette-puffing Malboro cowboy, riding off into the sunset?
That image – replicated too in the advertisements of tobacco competitor Camel – is not, of course, without its irony. Cigarettes kill after all, and the cowboy seemed well-versed in that activity too – it is no secret that the conquering of the frontier came with death and destruction all of its own. If cowboys and Indians was once an innocuous playground game, it is surely now an exercise in replaying America-grade colonialism.
And yet, the cowboy, and his female counterpart, the cowgirl, continue to fascinate. They may have evolved – in some cases, literally, as per the artificially intelligent pioneer-bots in HBO series Westworld – but even a troubling backstory has not tamed the propensity they offer for escape, and the whiff of freedom they exude. One imagines that for many, particularly in Trump-era America, there is new appeal to striking out into the ungoverned yonder.