American Authenticity and the Modern Western, 1962-1984

Timothy Hughes

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The West has long been conceived in American culture as the site of an elusive ideal of authenticity. This thesis aims to define the concept of American Authenticity as a political philosophy, affective current, and ‘structure of feeling’ which finds expression within the Hollywood western, in order to conduct a cultural history and immanent critique of the genre during its most vibrant and conflicted period. Focussing predominantly on post-classical or revisionist westerns from the genre’s modernist moment in the late studio era to its precipitous decline at the end of the so-called Hollywood Renaissance, this thesis argues that shifting notions of authenticity offer a key to understanding the relation between a diverse body of generic texts, their immediate contemporary social, cultural and political contexts, and longstanding traditions in American intellectual culture. Tracing the origins of American Authenticity back to the transcendentalists in American literature, this thesis argues that during intense periods of modernisation or historical crisis American culture becomes preoccupied with ideas of authenticity, normally located in the West and in the past, as an effect of contemporary anxieties. This thesis uses the western boom of the Hollywood Renaissance in the 1960s and 1970s to explore shifting notions of authenticity in American culture across this period: from the civil rights movement and the early New Left, to the popular counterculture, to the traumatic events at the end of the 1960s, and the aftermath of the 1970s. Analysing some of the period’s most important and widely discussed films alongside minor or neglected works, this thesis goes on to examine the decline of the genre in the late 1970s alongside the fundamental challenges posed to traditional ideas of authenticity in postmodernism.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Langford, Barry, Supervisor
  • Merck, Mandy, Advisor
Award date16 May 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016


  • Film
  • Genre
  • Authenticity
  • Western
  • Politics
  • Philosophy
  • Counterculture
  • Postmodernism
  • Ideology
  • Transcendentalism
  • John Ford
  • Sam Peckinpah
  • Arthur Penn
  • Dennis Hopper
  • Wilderness
  • Rodeo
  • Violence
  • New West
  • 1960s
  • 1970s
  • New Left
  • Henry David Thoreau
  • Theodor W. Adorno

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