Cowboys represent a golden age in American history. Sure, life was tough. But it was also good. You had to work hard to make a living, but you could also sleep under an open sky and live your life exactly how you wanted to. The only rules that mattered were those of honor and respect. Men removed hats in the presence of women and a handshake meant a promise you kept for a lifetime.
Aliens, on the other hand, represent something bigger, vaster. There’s the penultimate question of whether or not we’re alone in the universe. The unrestricted idea of dreams gone wild. The sky isn’t your limit, the whole universe is. Spaceships. Galaxies. Life on other planets.
So what in God’s name do these two things have in common?
Well, you might be surprised. But, first, let’s take a look at a couple of example of when cowboys and aliens meet face to face.
We’ll start with the really obvious one, the movie Cowboys & Aliens (I did a review of it in January). I didn’t particularly like this film, but I didn’t hate it either. It had an interesting concept, but the actual storyline just sort of fell flat for me. The basic idea, if you’re unaware, is that in 1873 a spaceship lands to take over the world (they’re always doing that, aren’t they going to learn?). The cowboys and local Arizona natives are all that can stand up against them.
Next up, we’ve got Firefly, which takes everything that is awesome about cowboys and everything that is awesome about space, and mashes them together into the perfect recipe for a television show. The premise is that there is a band of misfits traveling through space aboard the ship named Serenity. Sometimes they do honest work, and sometimes they don’t. But it seems as if they’re always running from somebody.
Lastly, there’s Doctor Who. The Doctor deals with aliens far more often than he deals with cowboys, but in the upcoming season 7 trailer we get glimpses of a cowboy-centric episode titled “A Town Called Mercy.” The Doctor flies around in his TARDIS throughout time and space, going on adventures and saving our planet more times than we could possibly count. One of the characters, River Song, has a very cowboy-esque feel about her. On top of that, this new Wild West episode will seemingly have the perfect balance of guns, leather, and people with weird things on their faces.
These three examples are certainly not the only ones that exist out there, they’re just the ones that I happen to be most familiar with. We’ve been mashing these two seemingly opposite genres together for years. But why? Is it because they’re so completely different that it’s interesting to see what would happen when we put the two together? It’s possible, but chew on this:
How exactly are they different?
Okay, cowboys are from Earth and aliens are from outer space. One is human and the other is probably an interesting shade of green. Cowboys spend their days on ranches looking over their livestock, while aliens (usually) spend their days trying to invade our planet.
But I think these two types of beings are more similar than we give them credit for. Stories of cowboys and stories of aliens both revolve around the unknown. For cowboys, the unknown was the Wild West. It was uncharted territory. Same with space. It represents the unknown. It’s uncharted territory.
Cowboys invaded the west and took land from natives, just like aliens often take over whole planets. Men in the west often captured and tortured locals for information. Sound familiar? Aliens have their infamous laboratories where they supposedly probe and dissect human beings in order to learn more about us.
There are countless stories of “pale faces” and local tribes meeting. Sometimes they fight and sometimes they learn that they’re not so different. The same could be said for any alien landing on our planet for the first time. There’s an opportunity there, between both groups, to learn and grow from their experiences.
And what do stories about the Wild West and stories about space travel teach us? That there’s more out there than we know. That good and evil exist. That honorable and decent beings will always come out on top.
So, are cowboys and aliens really that different after all?
Can you think of any other ways in which these two seemingly different things are similar? Are there any other genres or types of characters that are at odds with each other that you would like to see in a single story? My first thought was Disney princesses and vampires – that would be interesting!