Trying Hard to Look like Gary Cooper; or, The Virginian and the Average Joe

Cecil B. DeMille once said that the Virginian was the ideal American–“short on speech and  long on action.”

Owen Wister’s 1902 fictional cowboy hero and DeMille’s 1929 Coop-starring western was a classic early twentieth-century success story. He got the girl, killed the bad man, made the West safe for suburban houses, and became master of his own destiny–and the man looked smashing with a holster, thanks to Gary Cooper (talk about one tall glass of handsome).

Wister’s 1902 book sold 300,000 copies in its first year alone. Guess his hero kind of struck a chord, and some things never change. One hundred years later, all we have to do is hustle and have a handsome/beautiful significant other, get a short ‘n’ sweet motto (“You’re fired!”), and people will excuse anything, even a wack comb-over like Mr. Trump’s.

Don’t get me wrong: The Virginian is emulation worthy.  I mean, it’s a good thing this guy was fictional or he would have torn one hundred ligaments or had a nervous breakdown if he got  A instead of an A+ on his spelling test.

The Virginian could rope a steer, ride a bucking bronco, fool an Eastern dude, spin a story, charm a proud schoolmarm into hugging his knees (see above photo if you don’t believe me), survive a bullet in the back, read a Shakespeare play and parse it to its essentials, and shoot straight.

He’s also a working guy, a blue-collar Joe the Plumber–a cowhand. He’s salt of the earth; he tells off-color jokes and just wants a home, a devoted wife, and kids. Not so far from us average Joes and Josephines. So maybe we too can achieve Virginian-style success (home, love, and satisfaction)! Right? Right?!

Not so fast. Owen Wister didn’t plan on just anyone being like his hero. Not only can the Virginian do EVERYTHING better than anyone else, he is a member of an aristocracy by birth (a Virginian, which back then meant someone who had old-school $$$ growing up) and a meritocracy by skill (which you could argue was honed by elbow grease and practice but we know better–the guy was freaking supernatural with guns and women).

Looks like if you don’t have money or over-the-top excellent skillz, you’re out of luck. Have a nice life, bucko.

Until now! [cue triumphant music] It IS possible to be like the Virginian–the hero who said what he meant and meant what he said. That or just act like you do. Here: a how-to.

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