How the West has Warmed: Climate Change in the Contemporary Western

Weatherston, Jack (2018) How the West has Warmed: Climate Change in the Contemporary Western. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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Abstract

This thesis will argue that the contemporary Western, in literature and film, has shown a particular capacity to reflect the influence of climate change on the specific set of landscapes, ecosystems and communities that make up the American West. The Western has, throughout its history, articulated the major anxieties afflicting American culture within the confines of its genre tropes, symbols and character archetypes. As climate change has begun to represent an existential threat to the West, the Western genre has been compelled to address its destabilising, terminal implications. The Western genre is a product of a specific mythology. As such it reflects many of the harmful ideological premises of colonial ideology and the white settler expansionist project. However, the genre has the capacity to establish spaces of resistance and critique within the mythic space of the Western. Responses to climate change are examples of this. This thesis is also informed by ecocritical approaches that emphasise the importance of the material environment, in contrast to anthropocentrism, and that acknowledge the influence of climate change on culture. I will argue that the Western, as an environmentally-located genre, is uniquely sensitive to the changing climate. Although cultural awareness of climate change has only recently begun to emerge, there has been a long history of environmental reflexivity in the Western. Studies such as the edited collection The Landscape of the Hollywood Western (2006), and Murray and Heumann’s Gunfight at the Eco-Corral (2012) have delineated the ways in which “Ecowesterns” have responded to environmental destruction and loss. This thesis will add to the critical debate around the ecological Western by focusing specifically on climate change as it presents itself in contemporary Westerns. I will show the variety of ways in which the threat of climate change has made its presence known in the genre. It is apparent in the politics of the border space, the depiction of extractive industries, sound and visual design, the interaction of scale and time and even in the actual process of filmmaking itself. Genre fiction and film are potent sources of narratives that might begin to come to terms with the representational challenges of climate change.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Ecocriticism, Film criticism, Myth criticism, American popular culture, Anthropocene fiction
Subjects: P300 Media studies
W600 Cinematics and Photography
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Humanities
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: Paul Burns
Date Deposited: 21 Jun 2019 15:14
Last Modified: 26 Oct 2019 08:30
URI: http://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/39786

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