The University of Wyoming raised hackles with this fall’s new advertising slogan: “The world needs more cowboys.” Perhaps not surprising, the objection was to the use of the “stereotypical image of a cowboy” as an image identified with the university.
Faculty said the image is “racist, sexist and counterproductive to recruiting out of state students.” The stereotypical cowboy, cultural specialist Darrell Hutchinson argues, is nothing more than “a white man with a wide-brimmed hat riding the range on horseback,” a la John Wayne or the Marlboro man. He’s a symbol of white male machismo that doubtlessly reeks to the woke faculty of toxic masculinity.
University spokesman Chad Baldwin was quick to defend the slogan from accusations that it lacks the requisite diversity, explaining, “Every time that slogan is used in any of our materials, there will be an accompanying image or images that are not the traditional idea of a cowboy. . . . That’s why this campaign works — it’s the dissonance [emphasis mine] between the term ‘cowboy’ and the image that draws attention.”
According to Baldwin and other university officials, the ad campaign seeks to redefine the image of the cowboy in order to make it more inclusive. They want to bring the cowboy into the twenty-first century. According to the promo video, the University of Wyoming’s cowboys “come in every sex, shape, color, and creed.” The video shows scenes of putative students and graduates painting, crunching numbers at a whiteboard, conducting scientific research, skiing—basically engaging in every vocation under the sun except moving cattle on horseback.
Essentially, the university’s defense of their slogan rests on redefining the legendary image that gives birth to their mascot, a redefinition that sells the traditional image of the cowboy downriver in favor of a modern “cowboy” that tries to appease the politically correct sensibilities of the faculty.
This defense strikes me as wrongheaded. Firstly, while Baldwin is right to say that the modern image of the cowboy is much more diverse than the university’s critics seem to think it is, the same could be said of the traditional cowboy, who is much more than just a “white man in a wide-brimmed hat.”
Secondly, and more importantly, it is actually within the cultural capital that surrounds the traditional image of the cowboy—i.e., within the stereotype so aptly portrayed on the silver screen by John Wayne and Clint Eastwood—that the university should look to find the virtues, values, and ideals that they want to instill in their students. There is more meaning in the cowboy stereotype than university officials seem willing to own.
The faculty’s charge that cowboys lack diversity is particularly ironic because, in the pantheon of Western culture’s heroes, the cowboy is probably the least exclusive of them all. This is particularly so along the lines of race, class, and sex that identity politics prizes so much.Dr. Grewell suggests these academics should "read more and whine less" and lays out his reasons why they should "celebrate cowboys, not tear them down."
The cowboy, is, for instance, just about the only lower-class hero in Western mythos. Cowboys don’t come from the aristocracy...
Virtually every other Western mythic hero has come from the upper classes. Knights in shining armor in the Middle Ages were always aristocrats, or related thereto. Greek and Roman heroes were kings and patricians. Not so the cowboy. The cowboy is by definition salt of the earth.