I've been down this road before from the perspective of "Cowboy Art", but living here has made me consider it again from a purely academic sense of the term "cowboy" (warning some of this is repeated from a post two years ago).
What has happened to the meaning of the title – “cowboy”? Returning to the South after living along the Rocky Mountain front, I have to laugh every time I see a redneck in a cowboy outfit. In the past nine months, I have only met one person that owns a horse and that is an eleven-year-old kid. Yet every radio station is country music, faux-rodeo belt-buckles are extremely common and everyone refers to himself or herself as “country” despite not owning or working land. Maybe this whole “big hat, no ranch” mentality is still hung-over from the “urban cowboy” movement of the late seventies and early eighties.
Looking for a neo-cowboy movement (something for the 21st Century and I’m always looking to coin a phrase) – I googled “academic cowboy”, but simply turned-up physics-nerds-in-disguise. I knew that couldn’t be right; if that were true the term cowboy would now be meaningless. Not unlike the unfortunate turn the term “diva” has taken in the last few years. Thirteen year old girls running around with “diva” on their t-shirt and the current trend of pop-stars sharing a stage with the likes of Aretha Franklin or Etta James. No, I believe the title “cowboy” can still elicit a strong reaction. These days, unfortunately, the media typically latches it to George W. clearing brush at his Texas Whitehouse. Clearing brush doesn’t make Bush a cowboy… it just makes him a day laborer. This guy hasn’t even visited most of the western states for anything other than politicking (much less the glorious national parks of the west).
On another blog I found a post that likened the cowboy mentality to more of a reference of roaming than the media stereotype of dumb “George Bush-types” that only are happy when they are being destructive. Destruction didn’t build the West (well, maybe you believe it did if you were screwed out of your land). The cowboy’s need to roam and ability to adapt formed the world west of the Mississippi. Granted it wasn’t the safest place, but aren’t all vagrants viewed suspiciously for expected rowdy behavior?
So does that mean an Academic Cowboy would be interchangeable with an Academic Rebel that likes to roam around? So is it the term “cowboy” that makes it western? One rarely ever thinks of “California Cowboys”. Is the “Academic Cowboy” possible? Or is it just a new word for an old description? The Taoist concept of a “Sage” comes to mind. Endlessly roaming, no particular direction or purposes… except enlightenment, regardless of environmental intrusions. – DN