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The Wild Humanity

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The Wild Humanity

From Captain America to Sherlock Holmes, fiction provides people with an outlet of escapism as well as demonstrates familiar hero narratives. A particular genre that stands out is the wild west. Within this genre you have the tried and true clichés, the hooker with a heart of gold, the heroic yet mysterious gunfighter, the spineless townsfolk, the town drunk, the list goes on and on. What separates the western genre is a display of its black and white lines of good vs. evil, that depicts society as a rough untamed area. Regardless of the location most western towns depict the law as an abstract set of rules, set on a code of morality and honor. Through morality, or lack thereof, you have outlaws and gangs that breed fear to get what they want. On film we only see outlaws depicted as the embodiment of evil who get off on taking advantage of the lack of a system, while the gunslingers are depicted as heroic saviors of justice and honor in American society. People aren't born inherently good or evil, it could even be argued that there is no such thing as evil as exhibited by psychologist Philip Zambardo's infamous Stanford Experiment.

In the summer of 1971, University of Stanford professor Philip Zambardo conducted what was to be a two week experiment, involving twenty-four middle-class students, that would depict the personality traits demonstrated by prisoners and guards. The study was held in the basement of Jordan Hall at the University of Stanford. A flip of the coin decided who would depict the prisoner and who would be a guard. The experiment began by having the Stanford police round up the prisoners, who were then physically and verbally humiliated by the guards. This degradation took place in order for the guards to have a functional simulation of a prison and have superiority over the inmates as soon as they arrived.

Like the outlaws of the wild west the guards had no specific training on how to act. They were free to do whatever they found necessary to maintain their vision of law and order. And like the bandits of the movies these guards were decked out in matching uniforms trading in the black cowboy hats and uniforms for khaki uniforms and mirrored sunglasses. The sunglasses, like the black cowboy hat allowed the guards to maintain a sense of strength over the inmates preventing the inmates to see them as a figure looking into them. In less than a day the guards had already established a set of dominance over the prisoners. They exhibited this by constantly waking up the sleeping captives with whistles and forcing them to perform pushups. What to keep in mind is that these guards were like any student seen on a typical college campus, and within days they turned from ordinary men into sadistic egocentric human beings.

What wasn't depicted in the western films of yesteryear was the background of the villains. Like the guards at Stanford, the outlaws of the Old West are taking advantage of the power they have. In reality there is no good/evil, people are acting based on emotion. One thing the outlaws do to gain power is through intimidation of others. Dehumanization is one of the acts that transforms people from everyday citizens into perpetrators of immorality. This dehumanization is exhibited in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance when Liberty Valance trips and demands Rance Stoddard to pick up the steak for no other purpose than to belittle him, because he can get away with it.

By the time the second day rolled around the prisoners were already sick of the experiment. They removed their appointed numbers from their uniforms and barricaded themselves in their cells. These actions frustrated and angered the guards. They saw it as the prisoners trying to take power over them. This is seen in Red River when Dunson is told by the Mexicans that he doesn't own the land, to which he responds by killing them. The guards diffuse the rebellion by treating force with force. The guards shot at the prisoners with a fire extinguisher freezing anyone in its way. The guards soon stripped the prisoners naked and forced the ringleaders into solitary confinement.

To combat the possibility of a future rebellion the guards switched tactics from physical to a psychological resentment. This began by giving special treatment to certain prisoners. Allowing some of the prisoners were given their clothes and beds back, they were also allowed to eat special food and bathe. The idea behind this was to create resentment among the prisoners. This psychological treatment is used by Frank Miller and his gang in the 1952 classic High Noon. Miller and his gang brought a certain kind of business to the New Mexico Territory. These privileges worked out for the bar and hotels where gambling



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