There was always one minor mystery that nagged at me, though—why there had been such a craze for westerns during the 1950s. Hollywood produced more than 1,000 western movies during that decade.1,2
But it was the abundance of Westerns on television that puzzled me most. In 1959 alone, 30 westerns were featured in prime-time. …
Why so many westerns? I didn’t believe it was from public demand, because, as I pointed out in my post on the “Golden Age,” it has really always been agendas that have driven network programming, not “public opinion.” …
I believe the basic purpose of the westerns craze was to de-sensitize the public to killing, to weaken respect for the Sixth Commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” Killing was made laudable. Of course, in the film or TV show, the killing would be made to look justifiable. And there is no question that, in real life, weapons sometimes have to be used in self-defense. Let’s just say the westerns went way overboard. Not that there wasn’t real lawlessness in the Old West, but this made it the perfect venue for dramatization of violence.
There were other genres, of course, that included killing, such as police shows, but on TV I think westerns won the body count prize.
During the sixties, westerns largely fell out of vogue. By 1969, by my count, the number had dropped from 30 to 6. Westerns had served their purpose, and the networks shifted from attacking the Sixth Commandment to the Seventh—“Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery”—as the “new morality” of the “swinging sixties” was to be normalized for the public.