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Tony Grist

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Billy The Kid [Jun. 27th, 2011|12:22 pm]
Tony Grist
The only existing photograph of Billy the Kid just sold for $2.3 million. Way over estimate. Well of course it did!  The auctioneers needn't be so surprised. It may only be a battered tin-type, but it's the single most iconic picture to have come down to us from the Old West. Billy is wearing a top hat on the back of his head- and is grinning at the camera- something 19th century sitters hardly ever do. Never was there a jauntier pose. This is what it looks like to be young and free and not to give a damn.

[User Picture]From: idahoswede
2011-06-27 11:26 am (UTC)
Nothing like a happy, carefree young sociopath.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-06-27 11:47 am (UTC)
Yeah, I'm sure he was a nasty piece of work, but "This is the West, Sir, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend."
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[User Picture]From: veronikos
2011-06-27 03:36 pm (UTC)
He confirms one of my adages: Never trust a man with a weak chin.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-06-27 04:06 pm (UTC)
You're right of course.

But it's a very big jaw.
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2011-06-28 10:47 am (UTC)
This reminds me of your Sarah Palin post, from some years back.

I see a tintype of a psychopathic murderer, one of the more infamous in US history, bought for an obscene sum of money by one of our billionaire robber barons. That like beheld like and coveted this thing so greatly is hardly surprising. That this insight was lost on British stenographers is also unsurprising.

Not quite coincidentally, the Kochs are the money and power behind Palin's tits, the ones that you Brits find so curiously captivating, as well as a multi-state initiative these days to destroy trade unions, the right to collective bargaining, and anything else that benefits the working class and poor at the expense of the wealthy elite.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-06-28 01:00 pm (UTC)
The report I saw didn't name the buyer. I'm sorry it was that sonofabitch Koch. It would have been good if it had gone to a museum.

Billy may have been a psychopath, but, but, but- if you'd grown up as I did watching westerns, you'd know there was more to him than that. You ever seen Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid- The one with the soundtrack by Bob Dylan?

There's guns across the river aimin' at ya
Lawman on your trail, he'd like to catch ya
Bounty hunters, too, they'd like to get ya
Billy, they don't like you to be so free.

It seems odd to me that all the responses I've had to this post are from Americans who think Billy was a bad thing- and here am I- a Brit- sort of standing up for him- or at least for what he stands for in the myth of the Old West.
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2011-06-29 11:21 am (UTC)
It seems odd to me that all the responses I've had to this post are from Americans who think Billy was a bad thing- and here am I- a Brit- sort of standing up for him- or at least for what he stands for in the myth of the Old West.
Precisely why this one reminded me of your Sarah Palin post. As I recall, you explained her alleged popularity in similar terms.

Part of the difficulty is that the western, as a genre, died in my lifetime. Some say it died with Mel Brooks's, Blazing Saddles. If that wasn't the exact moment, it will do.

Another factor is that I grew up learning the truth of the Old West, such as the fact that many cowboys were black and sheriffs never carried six guns, at least not in town. The reality portrayed in westerns never was. I have always known that Billy was a buck-toothed killer and not a hero by any stretch of the imagination. About the only one of his kind that survived with his heroism intact was Butch Cassidy.

But perhaps the biggest difficulty I have is that I invariably associate westerns and western imagery with the worst sort of American chauvinism, exceptionalism, and reactionary politics. John Wayne, at least as he appeared on the silver screen, is upheld by conservatives as the quintessential Real American™, not in some symbolic sense, but as an actual ideal to be emulated on every level, from one's private life to foreign relations. Ronald Reagan, the malicious, gibbering old fool, is an obvious example of how such imagery is exploited for the most deplorable political ends. George W Bush is another.

And on a personal note, this is exactly why I love Blazing Saddles so, especially after we elected a black man to the highest executive office of the land. In it's way, it was far more honest about America than all the other westerns combined.
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