The American cowboy myth dies hard. While classic cowboy movies have not been produced in a long time, the cowboy persona has a way of re-inventing itself as action heroes or high-tech warriors. Good and evil is still portrayed in a simplistic, one-dimensional way. Violent means always justify ends; in fact our 21st century heroes are violent in a way that might make the original cowboy blush. Violence defines the characters to the point where they are essentially caricatures, lacking depth, nuance, or humanity. Plots become tedious and predictable.
What I find most troublesome about the cowboy myth, however, is how it still helps perpetuate excessive individualism, at the expense of human connection and community. The end of the movie would most likely find our cowboy riding off into the sunset, alone. Friends and family would encumber the next adventure, and he (almost always a he) has no need of that stuff anyhow.
Embedded in our national psyche is the notion that our most self-actualized individuals have transcended relationship, subtly but powerfully equating affiliation with deficiency. It ignores the fact that, as individuals, we are as strong and fulfilled as our human connections. And it clearly undermines strong families and communities.
Anyone who decries an erosion of “family values” and in need of a culprit should seriously think cowboy.