1. Recognizing that a key ingredient of the musical construction of production music maleness is "gunfighter music" opens a fascinating hermeneutic window on corporate culture. The "gunslinger" or "cowboy" archetype appears repeatedly in American business folklore, usually associated with the most macho, high-risk sectors of the financial world (currency and stock speculation, real estate), and with the high-pressure worlds of sales and marketing. The tendency for businessmen to see themselves as Wild West figures is most intense when the economy is booming. The late 1960s saw Wall Street overrun by so-called "go-go gunslingers"—stockbrokers who displayed a "steady hand" and an "iron nerve" when picking high-risk investments. But the true heyday of cowboy capitalism was ushered in by the rise of Texas oil money and the ascension to power of Ronald Reagan, the paradigmatic "man on horseback," in 1980—the same year the first industrial tracks began appearing in the production music library of a new company called Network Music.

  2. One example can stand in for literally hundreds. (Search the business publications in the Lexis-Nexis database back through the 1980s with the keywords "cowboy" and "gunslinger" and you can read for weeks.)

    Russ Fraser chain-smokes Marlboros. He keeps a cactus plant in his Wall Street office and quarterhorses on his Wyoming dude ranch. Most days, he wears Western riding boots under his suit pants and sports a brass-buckled gunslinger's belt.

    "I guess there’s a pattern here," Mr. Fraser says, between drags on his cigarette. "I’ve always wanted to be a cowboy." Truth be told, the 48-year-old president of Fitch Investors Service Inc. bears little resemblance to John Wayne or William Bonney. But if cowboys are measured by their bravado, neither the Duke nor Billy the Kid can hold a candle to Mr. Fraser.

  3. As head of an investor group that took over 76-year-old Fitch in April, the tough-talking executive boasts that he can turn the sleepy Manhattan company into the country's dominant bond-rating agency.3

  4. It is not immediately obvious why a man who rates bonds for a living should play the desperado with such desperate urgency. As Marshall McLuhan complained in 1951, at the height of the Western’s popularity, "The public has never been home on the range, and the frontier disappeared before this generation was born. It lives in a crowded, peppy, optimistic world of bustle and systematic change. Why should it be obsessed with an archaic past in which there was no commerce, no routine, no change?"4 That the cowboy, an itinerant laborer in a pre-, even anti-capitalist milieu, should become an avatar of go-go American capitalism, is an irony noted by many cultural historians.

  5. But as McLuhan goes on to point out, the class position of the historical cowboy is of little import; what is important is the lessons in masculine deportment taught by his celluloid reflection:

  6. Even a casual glance at horse-opera heroes suggests that they share with the ideal businessman and the athlete certain qualities of muscular asceticism and harshness. The puritanical rigor of the celluloid frontier appeals to those who have espoused other kinds of rigor in their business and social lives. So the cowboy is as non-erotic as the hard-driving executive.5

  7. McLuhan’s insight has become the dominant mode for reading Westerns as cultural practice. Jane Tompkins, in her key feminist study of the genre, West of Everything, puts it categorically: "what is most interesting about Westerns … is their relation to gender, and especially the way they create a model for men who came of age in the twentieth century."6 If Western movies are, as Lee Clark Mitchell argues, fundamentally about the process of "making the man," then when a producer grabs a Network Music industrial track that captures the feel of a Hollywood Western, the muscular sound of men becoming men, and when he slaps it into a business presentation, is he just producing another slide show? Or does he have a hand in the larger and ongoing project of producing and reproducing the masculine subject?




  8. This is, admittedly, pretty speculative stuff. Does the fact that "industrial," the musical style which represents business to itself, shares key features with the soundtrack of a famous Western film really imply that the men who deliver and listen to business presentations that incorporate industrial tracks are somehow seeing themselves as heroes in a Western? Well, luckily enough, I can show you that at least one popular guide to effective business presentation makes the connection almost spookily explicit.

  9. Consider this cartoon: Harold, a mild-mannered software salesman, is being coached by Sally, a communication expert, through the preparations for a crucial presentation. She needs him to understand that every business presentation must use what she calls the "Win-Story Format," in which "a heroic figure, with a little help, overcomes enormous odds." (View cartoon) She’s able to get him clued in by asking him to recall his favorite movie, which is, of course, The Magnificent Seven. Harold is ready to go, ready to present himself, inspire others, and make the sale, as soon as he realizes that all business presentations must have the structure of The Magnificent Seven: they must tell the tale of the (masculine) hero. (Sally's attempt to argue The Wizard of Oz as a female "hero-story" is a clever piece of political correctness, but ultimately unconvincing.)

  10. Is there any question as to what kind of music Harold will need to underscore his corporate swagger? With musical compadres like Williams, Bernstein, Copland, Korngold, and Strauss, the corporate cowboy can ride tall in the saddle all the way to the last industrial roundup.  Move 'em out!

    Robert Fink
    University of California, Los Angeles

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3. Gary Belsky, "Maverick Fitch takes aim; Bond-rating firm shoots to challenge S&P and Moody's", Crain’s New York Business (Oct 16, 1989), 1.

4. Marshall McLuhan, The Mechanical Bride, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1967), 156.

5. McLuhan, 157.

6. Jane Tompkins, West of Everything, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 17.




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Robert Fink:
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