Almost as long as the Western has existed as a genre in film there has been a subgenre ofWestern parodies: from as far back as the 1920s with Buster Keaton, continuing down to the present with Jackie Chan, the Western has been a target of parody and a rich source for comedy. Comedy relies, to a large extent, on the reversal of expectations; because of the familiarity of the highly codified conventions of the Western, it becomes a prime target. Parodies subvert the conventions of the Western in ways that breathe new life into the genre. While the Western parody mocks established formulas of the genre, it ultimately reinforces them through its acceptance of a shared set of codes. Moreover, as a survey of representative parodies will demonstrate, Western parodies also reflect the periods in which they are made.
Most scholars agree that the Western, in its most basic definition, is set on the American frontier sometime between the mid-1800s and the early 1900s. It typically is serious, often quite somber, and involves some kind of clearly defined dramatic conflict between the forces of good and evil, man and nature, or law and anarchy. The genre is composed of a complex set of codes and images, including the lonesome hero, moral justice enforced by violence, the coming of the railroad, the shoot-out, the open prairie, hats, horses, cowboys, and guns. Even though the Western parody does not reflect the prevailing dramatic mood of the Western, it does adhere to the genre's setting and incorporates its codes and images for comedic and parodic purposes.
Right-. Kid Shelleen (Lee Marvin) from Cat Ballou.
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