The Cowboy Apocalypse: 13 Ways of Looking at a Gun


Contributed by Ashley Bohn

Robert Ryan professor in the Humanities at Ithaca College lecture by Dr. Rachel Wagner, Associate Professor of Religion. April 11th at 4pm in Clark Lounge. Refreshments will be provided. 

We commonly think about transmedia in the form of corporately-managed story-worlds like The Matrix or Star Wars. But if we allow that other forms of myth-making can also be transmediated, then we have the tools to look at how what I call the cowboy apocalypse is relayed through film, video games, television shows as well as through rituals, live events, and scripted practices to produce an imaginary space for devoted fans who buy into its ideology. In this imagined space and time, cowboy messiahs roam a refreshed frontier, armed to the teeth, defeating evil without the need to address global risks like climate change, nuclear proliferation, or government collapse because disaster will have already occurred. As a blend of frontier mythology and end-of-the world scenarios, cowboy apocalypticism provides a simple mythic solution to complex global problems: Violently wipe the slate clean, it says, and let the survivors demonstrate their mettle on a new frontier. The cowboy messiah doesn’t save the world; he just saves his world with his ingenuity and his gun. Some people experience this myth only imaginatively, playing video games or watching films, but not living the myth in their real lives. Others take it much more seriously, seeing themselves as living embodiments of the cowboy messiah. Elizabeth K. Rosen has said that by simplifying perceived chaos into a mythic plot of good and evil, apocalypse is a “an organizing principle imposed on an overwhelming, seemingly disordered universe." The cowboy apocalypse makes just these kinds of promises for those who take it most seriously. The greatest danger, of course, is when the desire for future habitation in a post-apocalyptic frontier is used to justify violence here and now. This talk is an introduction to the topic of my new book, Cowboy Apocalypse: Media, Guns and Religion. It will center on a chapter called “13 Ways of Looking at a Gun.”  

Individuals with disabilities requiring accommodations should contact Rachel Wagner at We ask that requests for accommodations be made as soon as possible.