Westerns were once a mainstay of movies and TV, but in recent years they seem to have been replaced by the post-apocalypse genre.
So many westerns were made, the total number of hours of them may have exceeded the number of hours (175,000) in the 20 years that are considered the heyday of the wild west. But why should those in the 20th century hark back to the 19th century United States? Is there something there worth all the nostalgia, or was it more about the situation in the 20th century?
By the middle of the 20th century, the world had become a more complex place. Any solution to the world's problems seemed to need a lot of cooperation across many groups of people. The world was no longer simple. One person didn't seem like they could do much to change things on their own.
Enter the western, where the rules were simple, and an individual was valued because they could make a difference. Well, that's what it looked like a hundred years later. City life was just too complex. There seemed to be less rules in the west, and disputes could be settled by the gun. So why did the western not do it for people any more? Well, perhaps the western scenarios were just getting too remote from the modern world. How could we dream about a simpler time that we could no longer get back to from now? The technology was just too old as well.
Enter the post-apocalypes genre, where the scenario can be reached by some catastrophic event that ripped down modern civilisation, and left us to our own devices, where rugged macho individuals can make their mark, and where they can be brave, and be seen doing so. Respected, when it seemed to be dismissed in modern times. Just have to look at the number of first-person shoot-'em-up games set in the post-apocalypse, to see the popularity of those world scenarios.
Of course, it is just a romantic idea, because if all those indulging vicariously in such typically young male fantasy worlds really were up to making a difference, they would be fighting in real-world trouble zones, actually risking their lives to save real people. But heroes mostly die, without any recognition. Anonymous. Out of sight of one's peers, or anyone else important.
Nonetherless, the post-apocalypse genre, like the westerns before it, despite giving people a distraction from the ever-increasing complexities of the modern world, is not the type of scenario most people want, as they do want the benefits of modern society, and would like effort directed to solving the problems, rather than avoiding them in a bleak self-serving fantasy world. After all, people didn't really want the wild west, a world more suited to sociopaths and serial killers. They were happy to take on the relative stability, support and protection of larger towns and cities.
The Star Wars franchise is now turning into what could be called space westerns, where the barren and frontier nature of other planets serves as the setting for typical western narratives, complete with gun-slinging, bounty-hunters and paladins. They peddle the same narrative as the post-apocalypse genre, where scattered groups rely upon the weapons and technology left over from former advanced civilisations to protect themselves from bandits. More glorifying the good old days of guns and killing without political or social consequences to snag the emotionally immature and socially inept!
While Tom van der Linden cites a change in the narrative of modern post-apocalyptic TV in his Why Apocalypse Stories Feel Different Now video essay, those narratives still represent a notion that we can only simplify our lives if all the current complex structures we have collapse, somehow leaving us to discover our essential humanity. There are societies now that are the living embodiment of even the modern post-apocalyptic narrative, but they still have significant problems stemming from wealth inequality from megalomaniac psychopaths, just like modern western city life.
Dramatically simplifying or ridding ourselves of our society structures will not get rid of those individuals' control, but strengthening our societies' institutions to support democracy will enable us to reduce the influence of those who try to usurp our power to make our own choices. We don't need to revert to mass hardship and suffering in order to be human, despite millennia of religious indoctrination by those who perverted their religions for power and control .
Subconsciously hoping for the simpler life and moral scope of the wild west or a post-apocalypse world is not a solution, but a way to subvert making a life we could be proud of. Better to be part of making a better world for all. We don't need a dramatically simpler society, but we can take steps to simplify our own lives by not buying into the propaganda imploring us to be addicted consumers of the unnecessary, instead taking on only that which will help us to take control of our own lives.
These western and post-apocalyptic narratives, especially in TV series, are attempts to engage our sentimentality hoping we get caught up in their fake narratives. The more we immerse in their fake worlds, the less likely we are to do something about the societies we currently live in to make them better. We are being lulled into a feeling of being taken to a changed world, but we are really just becoming immobilised couch potatoes while they get richer and hijack our societies. Any sentiment we feel during these shows, we are capable of feeling at any time in a society made by our choices.