Hinterlands of Devotion

Many of you may be aware of the Afro-British R&B singer Sade. Many more of you may be aware of her ability to capture the essence of love and longing in her music–an impressive set of best selling records that she is talented enough to only release every 10 years or so. Being an African American West fanatic when I heard the first release from her latest album my ears shot up. The title is “Soldier of Love” which does not mean much until she begins to sing about the “Wild Wild West” and the “hinterlands of [her] devotion.” I immediately began trying to figure out how and why the mythic 19th century west became a point of contact in her song (in 2010). I am still teasing this out, but I find it fascinating nevertheless.


Temple Grandin Talk

If you haven’t seen the Temple Grandin movie on HBO (with Claire Danes in the title role),  there are lots of other opportunities on the web to learn about this remarkable woman’s life story.

This is an interesting clip of Temple Grandin (decked out very nicely in a western shirt) speaking at the TED conference:

Temple Grandin: The World Needs All Kinds of Minds

Also recommended:

Dr. Temple Grandin’s Official Autism Website

Cowboy Ethics

From the Associated Press (as passed along by David Cremean), an article about “cowboy ethics.” This code of ethics that the Wyoming legislature is considering seems reasonable if somewhat non-specific. “Saying more by talking less” seems in keeping with a cowboy code, but the rest seems kind of good general ethical sense. What corollaries or amendments might we add to make the code of ethics more “cowboy”? Use the comments link below for suggested additions—and, of course, quoted lines from John Wayne films would be particularly appropriate.

Wyoming lawmakers eye ‘cowboy ethics’ code

The Associated Press | Posted: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 12:19 pm)

Some members of the Wyoming Legislature want to instill “cowboy ethics” in state law, lest lawmakers and citizens forget the state’s western roots.

The code would emphasize the importance of living with courage, keeping promises, finishing what you start and saying more by talking less.

Based on the “Code of the West” outlined in a 2004 book by James Owen, a Wall Street investor from Texas, Senate File 51 galloped through the Wyoming Senate last week and on Monday lassoed unanimous approval from the House Minerals Committee.

The bill is a symbolic gesture that carries no criminal penalties and is not meant to replace any civil codes.

The full House of Representatives is expected to take up the bill soon.

Sponsor Sen. Jim Anderson, R-Glenrock, said Owen’s book captured his interest, and he was inspired to introduce the bill after seeing the December premier of a related video project, “The Code of the West: Alive and Well in Wyoming.”

“There’s a work ethic in all things that we do, particularly in government,” Anderson said.

A number of states have enacted ethics codes, but Wyoming’s proposal has a unique flare, said Peggy Kerns, director of the Ethics Center at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“It’s OK to put in statute these kinds of aspirational statements, and then of course, the proof comes in how it’s played out,” she said.

Brent Hathaway, dean of the University of Wyoming College of Business, keeps a copy of the cowboy code hanging above his desk.

“It’s a nice way to remind the young people or the business people that come into my office to say this is how we believe we should act toward one another and what we should be,” Hathaway said.

Call For Nominations: WLA Awards

The Western Literature Association’s Past Presidents
Invite Nominations for the
Thomas J. Lyon Book Award
in Western American Literary
and Cultural Studies

To honor outstanding, single-author scholarly books on the literature and
culture of the American West, the Western Literature Association invites
nominations for the thirteenth annual
Thomas J. Lyon Book Award.
To qualify, a book must
• have a 2009 publication date and
• be an outstanding, single-author, book-length study on the literature
and culture of the American West.
To nominate a book, send a statement of support and three copies of the
book to
William R. Handley
Department of English
Taper Hall of the Humanities 404
University of Southern California
Los Angeles CA 90089-0354
Questions? E-mail handley@usc.edu

Deadline: May 20, 2010

Click on link for pdf of announcement: CFNTJLyon2

Call for Nominations
for the Don D. Walker Prize
for best critical essay or article
in western American literary studies
published in 2009

Please send five copies of the essay or article you wish to nominate to
Krista Comer
English Department
Rice University, MS 30
6100 S Main Street
Houston TX 77005
Self-nominations are accepted.
Winner will be announced at the WLA Conference in Prescott, Arizona.
Questions? E-mail kcomer@rice.edu

Submissions deadline: June 15, 2010

Click on link pdf of announcement: CFNWalker2010

Time Travels

So, the strangest thing happened today.

I’ve been watching on DVD the much-maligned (and unjustly so) season nine of The X-Files. It had been awhile since I saw any episodes from that final season, and, well, it’s winter, it’s Maine, and it seemed like a good time to revisit The X-Files and cast a fresh eye on Agents John Doggett and Monica Reyes (replacing Mulder and Scully as the agents assigned to the X-Files division of the FBI).

I was watching the next-to-last episode of the season and the series, “Sunshine Days,” which is one of the series’ best comic episodes, involving a house that is mysteriously transformed into The Brady Bunch house (complete with the vase that Peter broke in that episode of The Brady Bunch). At least, the interior of the house changes (and is occasionally even populated with avatars of the Brady cast). The exterior of the house remains the same, and this is one of the few X-Files episode that is set explicitly in a southern California suburb, and the episode itself is at least ostensibly about the southern California suburban experience—or, at least, about the way many of us experienced suburban California in the 1970s, via The Brady Bunch.

So, I was watching, and, like the characters in the episode, kind of thrilled to see the set of The Brady Bunch recreated right before our eyes. It turns out that the owner of the house—rather than the house itself—is the cause of the mysterious goings-on.  Possessed of a variety of telekinetic and telepathic abilities, he is able to project a vision of The Brady Bunch world outward. He’s a kind of virtual reality generator.

The really suprising thing about the episode is when the door opens and Ben Linus of Lost walks out—or rather, the actor who plays Ben Linus (Michael Emerson) walks out as the character Oliver Martin (named for cousin Oliver “the jinx” from BB). And, after 6 years of Lost (which has its own X-Files elements), it’s very difficult to see Michael Emerson in something else and not think Ben Linus, even when the role he is playing pre-dates his Lost performance.

But that’s sort of the way we watch television these days. Past, present, and future are as interchangeable and as hard to disentangle one from the other as they are on an episode of Lost. One timeline (Michael Emerson plays a character on The X-Files in 2002) exists simultaneously with another (Michael Emerson plays Ben Linus on Lost from 2006-10). And, watching “Sunshine Days,” it was difficult not to see the character as being as much Ben Linus as Oliver. And Agent Scully’s description of cousin Oliver the jinx (“unlucky, star-crossed, dangerous”) also seems strangely apt for Ben Linus. And, thinking back to last season’s Lost when we saw Ben Linus in the 1970s as a bespectacled boy, he actually looked a little bit like The Brady Bunch‘s cousin Oliver.

In “Sunshine Days,” the suburban house is the Island writ small,  a place where mysterious phenomena take place. There are no smokey monsters, but individuals are catapulted by the power of Oliver’s mind through the ceiling. There are ghostly “Others” (the Bradys that we glimpse through windows), and the retro-70s decor inside the house is a little bit like the retro-70s decor inside the Hatch. The difference, I suppose, is that it is Ben Linus (or Oliver Martin) rather than the house (or the Island) that is the cause of the phenomenon. At least, I assume that it is the Island and not Linus that’s the source of all the mysterious power on Lost. I suppose it could turn out that Ben Linus is the source of it all after all. Or maybe we’ll discover that the Island is really a suburban house in Van Nuys, California, after all.

The juxtaposition of The X-Files and Lost brings a new kind of sense to the episode, and, in some ways, I prefer to think of it not as the penultimate episode of The X-Files but as a missing episode of Lost, one of the series’ explorations of an alternate reality, a world in which Ben Linus leads an alternate existence (and, quite honestly, Ben Linus as Oliver Martin makes more sense to me than Ben Linus as teacher, as he is in the current season of Lost‘s exploration of alternate reality).

So, bump “Sun Shine Days” from season nine of The X-Files up to the top of your Netflix queue, and watch it as a missing episode of Lost, and see if doesn’t make a strange kind of sense viewed that way.

Also, viewed from a distance, without the expectations of what The X-Files was (a show about Fox Mulder) as strong as they were back in 2002, the John Doggett and Monica Reyes version of The X-Files has some great moments, which I didn’t appreciate when I first viewed them. And “Sunshine Days” gives Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish an opportunity to play comedy, which is a treat in and of itself.  So, even if this episode doesn’t answer all those open-ended questions from Lost (although, maybe it does. . . . ), the episode is enjoyable just for itself.

Under Western Skies (CFP)

Extended Call for Papers and Added Keynote Speaker


October 13-16, 2010, Mount Royal University Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

The call for papers has been extended to March 1, 2010. We are especially interested in additional proposals related to environmental issues in Mexico or from private sector/corporate stakeholders, but we continue to welcome any and all proposals that speak to the call.

Call For Papers
This interdisciplinary and cross-cultural gathering welcomes presentations on the environmental challenges now faced by diverse populations, both human and nonhuman, in the Western lands of Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

Academics and other stakeholders from the wider community are invited to participate in this urgent and compelling dialogue. The conference invites academics from the humanities, social and natural sciences, as well as activists, businesses, artists and others to speak across the boundaries that conventionally divide them.

Since both the geographical and critical terrains at issue are considerable, a wide array of topics and time periods is welcome. The shared concern will be the interaction between humans and the natural environment in the context of Western history, geography, climate change, and commercial/sustainable development of lands and resources.

Possible directions may include, but are not restricted to, the following:

* sustainable economic development
* indigenous ways of knowing
* urbanization/suburban sprawl in the “New West”
* popular culture and the mass media
* literary or filmic representations of natural, urban or
industrial environments
* government action/inaction on the environment
* ecofeminism
* environmental racism and justice
* ecological or ecocritical examinations of particular
Western environs and climes
* specific issues such as the Cophenhagen Summit, Kyoto
Protocol, or oil/tar sands development
* the borderlands of Canada / United States / Mexico
* environmental education in K-12, postsecondary and
community contexts
* historical perspectives
* environmental activism
* environmental law and policy

Proposals of 250 words (attached to an email as a .doc or .docx file) can be sent to either Robert Boschman (rboschman@mtroyal.ca) or Mario Trono (mtrono@mtroyal.ca).

New Deadline for Submissions: MARCH 1, 2010

Western Hip-Hop

Continuing the theme of western music, there’s a new single out from hip-hop artist Gonjasufi called “Kowboyz and Indians.” In terms of musical genre, it’s a long way from Tex Ritter and John Denver, but an interesting song nonetheless from this Nevada-based performer.