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Cowboys and Indians: Perceptions of Western Films Among American Indians and Anglos

JoEllen Shively
American Sociological Review
Vol. 57, No. 6 (Dec., 1992), pp. 725-734
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2096119
Page Count: 10
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Cowboys and Indians: Perceptions of Western Films Among American Indians and Anglos
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Abstract

I examine sociological models of how people use and interpret cultural materials. My focus is on how minorities participate in and rework the central myths of the dominant culture. After viewing a Western film, matched groups of American Indian and Anglo males answered written questionnaires and participated in focus-group interviews. American Indians and Anglos both liked the film, but for different reasons. Indians perceived Westerns as representing a set of values about the land, autonomy, and freedom, while Anglos linked the Western myth to their own history and turned it into an affirmation of the values their ancestors strove for and imposed on the West. These results imply that the meaning imputed to cultural works varies over social space. Lack of data on audience interpretations of cultural products has rendered existing models of the cultural significance of Western films and other genres speculative.

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