Gene Autry exhibit in the Autry Museum. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber
By Ruth Ellen Gruber
About five years ago, I was a visiting scholar at the Autry National Center/Institute for the Study of the American West. My project looked at how the "western myth" was created and marketed to the world... it fit well within this wonderful museum's exhibition, which includes big sections on the romance of the west and the west of the imagination and popular culture.
In this interview, Jeffrey Richardson, one of the museum's new-- young -- curators, discusses this imagery and its impact on various generations of visitors, including young people who scarcely know what a "western" is -- and mistake old TVs for game-boys... Richardson, the Autry’s associate curator for film and popular culture, sees his job as one that bridges old and new views of the West.
“That question of the fresh look is really apropos for the Western, because so many people do see it as a dying genre,” said Richardson, who is 33 years old. “How do you take what many people perceive as a dying genre and present it, not only to those people who appreciate the genre and grew up with it, but to people like myself, who did not grow up with the Western?”
Richardson said that, as a child of the 1980s, he wasn’t really aware of Westerns. That occurred later, when he gained an appreciation of history. He thinks the GameBoy-toting 8-year-olds of today have an even bigger hurdle to jump in understanding that legacy. So he tries to craft shows and exhibits that appeal as much to them as to the 80-year-olds that likely saw those Westerns in movie theaters.
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