Whilst waiting for the projector to warm up at the start of a lecture, my mind wandered to Young Guns (Christopher Cain, 1988) and Young Guns 2 (Geoff Murphy, 1990). Both of these films are amongst my favourites, owing to my soft spot for Westerns, but that moment was the first time I found how relevant it was to my latest studies.
Both Young Guns and Young Guns 2 makes frequent allusions to the notion of fame; its construction, its representation in the media, the reaction of the masses, etc. This struck me as very interesting! And a part of me greatly wishes that I could delve further into this academically, but I doubt that my current scheduling will allow me the time. So I am settling on a very brief blog entry. It is very much an ‘off the top of my head’ and a train a thought entry, as opposed to anything academically justified or eloquent.
The construction of William Bonney’s fame is only planted as a small seed in the first film. (You may know William as ‘Billy the Kid’, portrayed here by Emilio Estevez). The newspaper pegs him as the ‘leader’ of the Lincoln County Regulators, whilst also giving him full credit for all those killed by the gang when in reality he is merely their newest and most disliked member. His face is attributed to the name of Richard ‘Dick’ Brewer (Charlie Sheen), the real gang leader, however, this is corrected in later issues to his real identity (and new nickname as ‘The Kid’) after Dick’s death.
It is in Young Guns II that the obsession with Billy’s fame, both in how others see him and how he see’s himself, holds such prophetic similarities to the contemporary media culture. The film being made in the 1990′s, amidst this culture, is definitely one of the most influencing factors. Frequent allusions are made to how widespread his name has become, even before modern advancements in print media. Doc (Keifer Sutherland) tells of how the children of New York imitate him in the streets after reading romanticised versions of his misdeeds in “those damn five cent books.”
A modern-day representation of the ‘fan’ is also introduced into the gang in the shape of “fourteen and a half” year old, Tommy. He has grown up reading about Billy in the news and travels from Pennsylvania on an orphan train just to have the chance to ride with his hero, Billy. The press has created an idolised version of Billy as the roguish hero who breaks the law in the quest for justice, which Tommy eagerly laps up. I find this possesses many similarities to the construction of, for example, One Direction as the charming, down-to-earth, British lads and the reception of this image with their overwhelmingly large fan base.
Billy is also very reluctant to run and hide in New Mexico, even though his life (and the lives of his gang) depend on it. He finally discloses this as being because he would be “just another gringo… the same as being dead.” He often refers to himself as a “known man”, claiming that Pat Garrett (a friend turned ‘traitor’ Sheriff) is only hunting him in an attempt to also become a “known man”. The glamour of riding into a town and being instantly known, revered, admired and, to some degree, fear is exactly what feeds, this representation of, Billy’s ego to the point of him being unable to revert back to his life before.
All in all, I find this fascinating. If ever an opportunity to write more academically on these films arises then I am definitely jumping at that chance!