The clip below is the trailer for a movie, The Code of the West: Alive and Well in Wyoming, that appears to be part documentary, part travel/tourism advertising, and part morality play. It emphasizes the moral superiority of a simple, truly “American” life lived in the great outdoors:

The clip is a great example of the way we socially construct both places and times.  Wyoming, a stand in here for “The Old West,” is mythologized as a place where people haven’t changed much.  Just as they were in the old days, they are steadfast, hard-working, and follow an impeccable honor code.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t great people in Wyoming, but it’s always wrong to say that something is always true (see what I did there?).  Further, today it is likely that many people work indoors in blue and white collar jobs and have little time to soak in the big sky that supposedly inspires such wholehearted goodness.  But the “idea” of Wyoming nonetheless privileges the cowboys (however many are left) over the office jocks.

Further, as Rachel at The Feminist Agenda writes “omit[s] a huge chunk of history”:

In cowboy country, there was one group of people with whom we never honored our word or felt bound by a firm handshake. If your skin was brown, all bets were off. We would make agreements with you, sealed by a handshake and a written contract, which we would disregard the minute it became convenient for us. Our word was worthless if your skin was brown and your culture didn’t look like ours.

Of course Rachel makes the same mistake here that the film makes:  There were (white) cowboys who would honor a handshaking with an American Indian.  We shouldn’t demonize the past/a people any more than should romanticize it/them.  Still, Rachel’s point stands: in the big scheme of things, the new Americans were not honorable by any measure.

The fact that the romanticization of The Old West wins out over its demonization is part of the larger revisionist history that the United States encourages (in school, in politics, and in popular culture).  There is what power looks like: to the victors go control over the narrative.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.