Buffalo Bill and Disney Essay

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Buffalo Bill and Disney

More than seventy years after Buffalo Bill “taught” the history of the West to a curious nation, Disneyland embarked on a strikingly similar course. Relying on creative marketing, star appeal, the American fascination with all things western, and, most important, an exceedingly glib portrayal of history, Disneyland in a strange way completed the story that Buffalo Bill started in 1883. Although the eras, to be sure, were decidedly different, history was delivered in exactly the same way.
The west is an idea that has always fascinated the American people. Buffalo Bill was the first to understand the salability of this concept with his endearing, albeit distorted road show of the late 19th and early 20th
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In one year alone, 1899, the show covered 11,000 miles in two hundred days, giving 341 performances in 132 cities. The show was enormously successful and profoundly powerful as a shaping force in the way America saw the west.
The problem, of course, is that the show did more than entertain—it also became a sort of travelling museum and the definitive word on a vital period of America’s past. What lessons, exactly, did the show teach and whose values did the Buffalo Bill show endorse? The program of the show, a website notes, “presented itself as a source of knowledge, authority, and authenticity about the west.” (http://xroads.virginia.edu) This mixing of fantasy with reality, of myth and history, belied the official sounding nature of the show and its program, not to mention the visual nature of the presentation, which must have seemed real. The blending of fact and fiction, not surprisingly, carried over to Cody himself, as many became confused with him and the character of Buffalo Bill. More important to history, though, the stereotype of the American Indian was reinforced, night after night, as Buffalo Bill and his cast of nearly 500 actors played out scene after scene where the Indian was nothing more than a mounted warrior destined to lose to the American individual, taming the frontier, as it were,…

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