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When did the Western become a joke?

Did it happen in 1974, when Mel Brooks released Blazing Saddles, an irreverent spoof that found something to laugh at in every possible cliché of the genre? Or did we reach the tipping point in 1971, when the Marlboro Man, the cowboy emblem of cigarette addiction, was pulled off US airwaves, this once glamorous figure now despised as a contributor to countless lung cancer and emphysema cases? Or did it take place earlier, as the Western TV shows of the 1960s — Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Rawhide and the rest — grew more stale with each passing season?

Or was it John Wayne’s death (1979) that ended the golden age of cowboys? Or that campy moment when Roy Rogers put his stuffed horse Trigger on display as a tacky roadside museum exhibit (1967)? Or that cringe-inducing “Rhinestone Cowboy” song by Glen Campell (1975)? Or the publication of Dee Brown’s bestselling Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1970), with its harsh critique of the mythos of Western settlement?
More… “True Grit”

Ted Gioia writes about music, literature and popular culture. He is the author of ten books, most recently How to Listen to Jazz
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