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The Southwest in American Culture Essay

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Updated: Jul 11th, 2021

The West in Popular Culture

The culture of the so-called West is now prevalent throughout most of the world. Hollywood is renowned as the premium location for movie filming, and music by performers from the United States can be heard in most places on the planet. The country has given rise to many different styles of writing and music, finding reflections in numerous other cultures and borrowing from them in turn. This post discusses how the West is represented in its cultural media such as music and literature.

After World War II, which made the United States an indisputable world leader as other significant countries weakened, the nation began rapidly building and expanding. Etulain (1994) describes a study that shows the beginnings of new construction in California, Washington, and other locations. The freshly created culture was a combination of various approaches, displaying a mixture of ethnicities that characterized the U.S. (Etulain, 2004). The acceptance of multiculturalism found its way into other art forms as well.

The ethnicities that were deeply rooted in American history received particular attention. Anderson and Chamberlain (2009) note that writers in the West began writing about Native Americans and their past. Later, as the new millennium approached, another often-overlooked fixture of the nation’s history, its gangs, which were present in the West as well as the East (Sánchez-Jankowski, 2018), was popularized with the emergence of hip-hop. Overall, popular culture became less concerned with white people and idealized heroes and began investigating the nation’s history.

The role of the West in popular culture began shifting after the end of World War II and the intense urbanization that followed. The last vestiges of the savagery of the frontier disappeared, but the concept changed instead of disappearing. The West became a place where numerous cultures and ethnicities that defined the American identity mingled and interacted. The art depicting the region changed to accommodate this new vision.

The West in Popular Music

The West can be interpreted in a variety of ways, many of which found their way into popular culture. These views can be diametrically opposite at times, ranging from viewing it as a dead end to considering it a land of optimism and opportunities. The change from the former to the latter took place as the United States was transitioning into the twenty-first century. This post details how the themes of American music changed from the darker tones of pulp literature.

Works of literature and other media from the early twentieth century reflected the beliefs of those times, showing racism and other currently unacceptable tendencies. Western pulp fiction reflected those views, though it became more accepting as time went on (Thompson, 2013). Country music was the same, and it also became more inclusive as time went on, integrating other cultures and ethnicities (Lewis, 2005). The increased tolerance created a more positive message, one that showed that everyone was welcome.

The rise of the new cultures allowed the West to develop new music styles and expand on old ones. Katz (2017) notes how hip-hop spreads the message that America is great and inspires people worldwide to come to the United States. It is not all positive, however; Eminem, the legendary rapper from the Midwest, has described his troubled upbringing in many songs. As Kerstetter (2012) notes, many musical pieces highlight bad neighborhoods, but overall the West is a mythical place of cultural acceptance. The general message sent by the region’s prolific artistic output is one of positivity and ambition.

Contemporary American music has shifted from the old cultural approaches that made the area appear to be the “end of the line.” The increased cultural acceptance has led to the emergence of many styles, which are influenced by a variety of worldviews. While there is a considerable body of songs highlighting hardships and inequality, the overall content of the Western musical culture is filled with optimism.


Anderson, Gary C., and Kathleen P. Chamberlain. 2009. Power and Promise: The Changing American West. London: Pearson.

Etulain, Richard W. 1994. “Magic Lands – Western Cityscapes and America Culture After 1940 – Findlay, JM.” Journal of American History 80 (4): 1521.

Etulain, Richard W. 2004. “Meeting Places, Intersections, Crossroads, and Borders: Toward a Complex Western Cultural History.” Historian 66 (3): 509-516.

Katz, Mark. 2017. “The Case for Hip-Hop Diplomacy.” American Music Review 47 (2): 1-5.

Kerstetter, Todd M. 2012. “Rock Music and the New West, 1980-2010.” Western Historical Quarterly 43 (1): 53-71.

Lewis, George H. 2005. “Dirt Roads and White Lines: Identity and Place in the Country Sound of the Other California.” Journal of Popular Culture 38 (5): 855-887.

Sánchez-Jankowski, Martín. 2018. “Gangs, Culture, and Society in the United States.” In Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs and Street Gangs: Scheming Legality, Resisting Criminalization, edited by Tereza Kuldova and Martin Sánchez-Jankowski, 25-43. Cham: Springer.

Thompson, Craig. 2013. “Feelings of Ambivalence: Pulp Westerns and Popular Culture.” Journal of the Southwest 55 (2): 175-192.

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