Why Don’t Intellectuals Go To The Rodeo?

EDIT: I’ve been getting quite the response to this post (which is great!) but I wanted to insert one note before I continue to moderate comments. If you’re visiting my blog for the first time, do please take a look at my information page first. My own background is from the rural South, and I started this blog for rural culture and rural rights, especially Appalachian and Southern economic/ environmental oppression. I am an intellectual (if by that you mean kinda dorky and quiet), but even my college thesis was about rural-urban interactions and power dynamics.

So please, don’t mis-read this post as an attack on the rodeo. I had a great time! And I met some great people (and yes, I did talk to the “locals” –although the majority of the crowd was certainly not from Cheyenne, so I’d say we were all visitors in one way or another).

This is meant to be a sensitive, but also fair, exploration of the question that was in my head all weekend: why don’t I see more people with tattoos and shaved heads at the rodeo? I’m also trying to imply that urbanites and intellectuals go to the rodeo– because as far as I’m concerned, the more diversity in a crowd, the better the communal dehydration.


So I’ve been trying to re-hydrate all week after drinking nothing but beer this past weekend. I don’t mean that I chose to drink beer all weekend; I mean there was no available beverages except beer (and soda, which I don’t drink). At one point, I tried sipping water from the campground bathrooms. (Not recommended, for the record.)

Where did I experience this marathon dehydration, you ask?

…That would be the Frontier Days Rodeo, in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Which I guess means that I’m really west of the Mississippi now.

Still, my colleagues and I definitely stood out of the crowd: one of us with tattoos down her arms, and another one with a shaved head… The two men in our group, on the other hand, tried to embrace the weekend with plaid shirts and cowboy hats (with only moderate success). You can distinguish the urban and East Coast men from the cowboys and ranchers because their buzz-cuts are neatly shaped at the back of the neck. (I noticed this sitting at the back of the bus ride from the camp ground). When it comes to “reading” other people’s appearances, little things like that are just as significant as tattoos and shaved heads.

Stamped For Entry

The general atmosphere of Frontier Days is basically that of a state fair (same grease-soaked food, same vomit-inducing rides) but it all revolves around the rodeo stadium– and of course the evening country concerts. The majority of the day-crowd is definitely nuclear families, who have all somehow managed to produce exactly one son and one daughter.

The night crowd is… well, let’s just say that one of my colleagues had his foot peed on.

You can identify the real cowboys because their shirts are tucked in. Their jeans are stiff and pressed, and they have this kind of awkward silence about them, like they’d rather not be in a crowd. Everybody is sunburnt, but the cowboys have this terra cotta skin that looks like decades of layered sunburns. Also, their belt buckles are big.

One of my colleagues informed me that “buckle bunnies” are the cowboy-version of groupies. I’m not sure whether he was lying or not.

Anyways. I spent the weekend wondering why urban-liberal-intellectuals (ULI’s) never appreciate events like this. It’s more than pretension or animal-rights politics; I think there’s a genuine discomfort with some basic cultural element of state fairs, rodeos, and theme parks. David Foster Wallace wrote an essay called “Getting Away From Already Pretty Much Being Away From It All,” where he basically stumbles around the Illinois State Fair in a totally overwhelmed haze.

Here’s my tentative hypothesis

I think urban liberals don’t like these events because they function as a perfect metaphor for all of the large-scale violence that we experience on a national and cultural level. A little too perfect a metaphor, maybe.

Because in fact, going to the rodeo is basically a stadium of people getting off on violence. This is true of most spectator sports, but at the rodeo there is a more obvious gladiatorial element: the entertainment relies quite literally on watching one living being dominating another. And if you don’t think that this mirrors larger forms of violence, just wait till you walk outside the stadium and see the family leading a group of boys, each carrying a full-size, blow-up AK-47. Ah, the innocence of childhood. What is most warfare, really, except one nation roping another into submission?

There are a few events where cowboys team up to rope a calf or a colt or something. They’re kind of like allied forces in domination! Familiar? I like the actual bull riding the best, because it seems the most evenly-matched. Check out this guy getting trampled. High entertainment, for sure!

Perhaps the presence of t-shirts that say something like “Welcome to America. Now Speak English” are a better example of the way that these events revolve around an “us versus them” mentality. Which is ironic, because these events are supposed to be communal events. Foster Wallace talks about this too, in the aforementioned essay about the Illinois State Fair: “The state fair is rural Illinois’ moment of maximum community, but even at a Fair whose whole raison is ‘For-Us’, Us‘s entail Thems, apparently.” In that essay, he’s talking about the tension between agricultural folk and the family crowd, and ag-folk’s outright distain for the carnies. At the Frontier Days rodeo, patriotism was the thread that linked all these metaphors together: whether it was the American flag-patterned prizes, or the cowboy who received the biggest applause for serving in Iraq.

Anyways, it seemed pretty clear that these elements worked together towards a common cultural theme: violence against thems. And this includes the way that many ULI’s stereotype obese Midwesterners (the primary fault in DFW’s otherwise-brilliant essay), or blame conservative ranchers for miscellaneous political ailments. Because, despite the uncomfortable and unhealthy culture of Frontier Days, I think cowboys themselves have a hell of a healthier relationship to animals than suburban PETA activists who refuse to acknowledge the complexity of the human-animal relationship. They do respect those bulls, for sure.

(…Not that I think cowboys are living great lives– check out this crazy fucking horse!)

A Beautiful Wyoming Sunset


I’m working on a long essay about Frontier Days for print publication, so this post is a preliminary and abbreviated version of that. Mostly it’s just a summary of my thesis.


91 Responses to “Why Don’t Intellectuals Go To The Rodeo?”

  1. 1 Raul July 30, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    You brought up some very interesting points that I have never thought of before…hmmm…now the thought of going to the rodeo takes on a whole different meaning…


  2. 2 Naomi July 30, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    I think an intellectual just went to the rodeo!

    Here where I live in CA, the rodeo is part of the county fair. Ours is not large, but has a nice location on the beach. We get rock and roll and country bands, and others of different flavors. There are commercial booths of local companies, and others which follow the fair circuits. There are rides and sweet foods, and some surprisingly delicious food booths, from Mexican to Japanese.

    Besides rides, music, and food, our fair has a Youth Building where kids can display their works, one for handicrafts such as canning and quilting, another for fine arts, one for photography, 4H animals, spinning demonstrations and contests by the local weaving guild, beer brewing contests, local agricultural organizations and forestry service, rodeo, carriage driving with horses, gardening demos, and lots of other things.

    I enjoy going to the fair. There are parts which don’t appeal to me or my husband, but it is an annual trek of which we never tire. We see people we know, we watch things we normally don’t see, and enjoy a sense of the talents and diversity in our county. Fireworks at the end of the day, seen from the ferris wheel, are an enjoyable experience.

    As far as the rodeo – well, I don’t rope cattle, and don’t think I could. I cannot throw a lariat, but appreciate the skill it takes, and the fact that it is a working tool, as is a spinning wheel. Low technology requiring skill and mastery. I think hunting with a boomerang for lunch would be an awesome talent to have if it meant survival. I get my food from the market, grow some of my own – but truly do appreciate the skills of a harder life in less technological times.

  3. 3 Christine July 30, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    I think I qualify as a suburban, moderate, intellectual. I love going to the rodeo. Is it a little violent? Yes. Does the animal lover in me cringe? Hmmm, yes and no. Is it a celebration of Americana and a particular time in our nation’s past (and present)? Yes. Is it a reminder that there is still a huge portion of our population making their living by working with animals and in the world of ag? Yup.

    I understand your perspective, however I imagine that the typical American ranch-hand would find the average city-dwellers fair/community event to be an uncomfortable and unhealthy celebration of tacit compliance to a particular set of societal norms.

    Your description of what a “real cowboy” looks like – spot on!

    Excellent post – look forward to reading more.

  4. 4 thejamminjabber July 30, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Ride hard, Professor Cowboy, ride hard… πŸ™‚

  5. 5 Postmanisms July 30, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    Like DFW, I go to rodeos, state fairs, really any hick American festival I can find. And then I basically feel the same way DFW did, over-saturated on American kitsch and hostility. I think in his case (and in mine), it’s pure sensory revulsion, as when he goes to the dessert judging and then (jokes?) that he ends up in the emergency room. Like the cruise ship essay, he wants to experience Carnival America, but the experience wears him down. Where Hunter S. Thompson slipped into hallucinogenic manias, DFW collapsed inward. Love your thoughtful, engaging writing.

    Bryan Johnson
    Co-Editor, Postmanisms

  6. 6 Handsome Matt July 30, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    Being a midwesterner myself, and having been to a few rodeos bullrides, and state fairs, and being an intellectual I’d like to address one point if I may:

    You talk about Us’s and thems and how “violent” they are. The rodeo attenders “violence” towards the thems is reactionary if it’s violence at all. PETA went after the rodeos first, ULI’s stereotyped midwesterners, Obama claimed they were “ignorant” and “clinging to their guns and bibles.”

    What I think is so difficult for ULI’s to understand about the people who attend these events, is the sense of pride they have. ULI’s are a disillusioned and skeptical group who don’t believe that anything is right or good anymore; they exist in this constantly shifting landscape of relativism. Here come the Midwesterners with their crazy love for America, belt buckles, hunting, patriotism, trucks, and a morality based in absolutes.

    The two can’t mesh very well.

  7. 7 CrystalSpins July 30, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    Did you actually talk to the locals at Frontier Days — based on this post it seems to me that you didn’t. I respect you trying to develop insight on your own, but you could have gained a lot more knowledge if you had actually spoken to the people who it seems you were judging.

    And Football is much more obviously war than the rodeo is. It is all about one group (of men) attempting to gain the ground of another group through strategic use of force.

    Furthermore, if you think a bull vs. a man is a fair fight you are insane! The bull clearly has the upper hand. That’s why it is such a feat to stay on it for a mere 8 seconds.

    I appreciate the small amount of insight you found at this event, but please, do not make any broad sweeping decisions (or any more broad sweeping statements) about these people who you were clearly looking down on the entire time you were there.

    And, if your tour of the west includes Rapid City South Dakota I would be happy to discuss this with you in person. I’d like to hear more of your perspective and hopefully get a chance to share more of mine. And there are a lot of places here that serve beverages other than beer and soda. E-mail me.

  8. 8 TheIntentionalSage July 30, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    I wonder if ‘this’ kind of entertainment is from the days before ‘this’ time. That is to say, it has carried over from previous generations out of sheer luck, not because it is really the ‘entertainment’ of this decade and decades to come.

    For instance, think back to the ‘gladiators’ (not American Gladiators, the gladiators that fought and killed people [sometimes animals]). We don’t see this kind of ‘entertainment’ anymore.

    This makes me wonder if ‘rodeos’ will start to die out (maybe they already are?) and get to the point where there are no more rodeos around the world anymore.

    That’s a nice thought, eh?

    With Love and Gratitude,

    The Intentional Sage

  9. 9 onsundaymorning July 30, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    I had to reread the line about the blow-up AK-47 several times before it full sunk into my brain. That is the point where I would have left. It saddens me that these are the values that some are taught at a very young age.

  10. 10 JamesBrett July 30, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    intellectuals don’t go to the rodeo because there’s no free wi-fi or coffee.

    but i swear… you put goatees and smart glasses on a few of those rodeo clowns, and have them pass out starbucks while people use free wi-fi to blog and try their hardest to make facebook an academic and intellectual place… and you’d have a hipster intellectual crowd at every rodeo on either side of the mississippi.

  11. 11 Kara July 30, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    I like your assessment. And I like to envision the crowd you describe yourself in mixing with the crowd I can picture all too well at Frontier Days. I’m not sure your analysis captures every reason for the discomfort, but it at least touches on some of my reasons for it. Well put!

    I guess I’m not really a ULI, as I grew up being a smart kid who was not from but lived in Idaho. I’m now a little more urban and a little more intellectual, but going to the rodeo brings back old discomfort. The rodeo (there’s a big ol’ one in my Idaho hometown) reminds me of what an odd fit I was (and my family was) in our surroundings. I loved the natural beauty around me and the outdoors was perfect for hiking and skiing. But I didn’t hunt, I didn’t ride horses, and I definitely did not like the rodeo. I thought, as you mention, that it was mean to the animals. That made me different in a way I didn’t really want to overcome.

    I, too, prefer the bull-riding at the rodeo (and I’ve only been to two in my life). Strangely, I was just talking to my mom about this: we concur that it’s not as mean to the bulls. That event is more of an equal–if not unequal in favor of the bull–match up.

    Thanks for posting about this truly cross-cultural experience!

  12. 12 Ahna Rebekah Hendrix July 30, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Great post! I love both rodeos and Wyoming!

    Growing up I went to quite a few rodeos with the families of my friends, and I think my father might have taken us once because my siblings and I annoyed him to death about it (imagine a proud Puerto Rican man at a southern rodeo…hah).

    I always enjoyed rodeos and still do. The straw beneath your feet, the smells of manure and oats and the crazy raw energy in the air. I think they are a part of real America ~ the America before technology which all things existed in open fields and sent by message through friends.

    That is probably what I love so much about Wyoming. I lived in two places in WY, a ski town (you can probably guess) and the second a tiny town outside of Cody where the population was 350. They had one gas station and five bars and you were no longer at the top of the food chain when you left your house.

    I loved it.

    Rodeos are a part of old America…and I wish more Americans would experience them.

  13. 13 Laura Fry July 30, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    I live in Cody, Wyoming and I see urban intellectuals from across the world go to the local rodeo almost every day through the summer. I’m a moderate/liberal former city-dweller with a master’s degree, and I moved to Cody a year and a half ago. While I agree with some of your points, after living for a while in small town Wyoming I’ve observed how utterly untrue many urban-rural stereotypes can be.

    Wyoming is a land of contradictions. While it’s an extraordinarily conservative state where people enjoy rodeo events like calf roping (which I find hard to watch), as you observed the people here tend to have a genuine respect for animals–both wild and domesticated. People here have long preferred locally-raised free-range meat and poltry, before “organic” food became mainstream in the rest of the country. Sure, hunting is big here too, but the hunting system helps keep the deer and elk from becoming overpopulated and dying from a lack of natural resources. While Wyoming is the land of Dick Cheney and oil drilling, many people here–regardless of their politics–strongly support measures to protect the land and the natural resources in this state. It’s not simply a culture of violence and domination. Hell, people in cities experience FAR more violent crime than we do here.

    To be sure, you will encounter close-minded people wherever you go, and I’ve seen a good share of cringe-inducing bumber stickers here (“Yellowstone Wolves-Smoke a Pack a Day”). But I’ve found Cody to be a more diverse and open-minded place than I was expecting when I accepted a job here. The wild-west-kitsch culture here is always entertaining, and I’ve had a great time going to the rodeo (minus the rodeo clown acts). The land here is beautiful and vast, and I know I’ll miss it dearly when (or if) I move back to a city.

    Where will you be publishing your essay about Frontier Days? I’d be interested to read it. Good post, and keep looking past the stereotypes.

  14. 14 Sven Nomadsson July 30, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    I think you answer your questions in the very title of your post. You’re talking about Intellectuals and Rodeos. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, rather it’s simply a matter that one is of the body and the other the mind.

    A rodeo is stimulation for those that attend it. There’s nothing to say the people aren’t smart, intelligent, wise, or in-fact well educated. To work with live stock in America, these days you need a university education.

    The difference being that a rodeo allows for the test of skills rather than merely sitting around watching Jeopardy! would for an “intellectual.”

    You speak of the rodeo like it’s some barbaric past time, when in fact some of the great minds of every generation have been subject to a whimsy which draws them to sports. David Foster Wallace himself would write about Tennis as if it were some Olympian achievement with demi-gods battling it out for a place besides Zeus. Ernest Hemingway wrote “Death in the Afternoon”, a superb look at Bullfighting in Spain, and still others will attend schools/universities that are proud of the intellectuals they produce, yet the Ivy League did not gain its name from studious work but rather their sports teams.

    If you want to look at why intellectuals don’t attend, then it’s really more a matter of comparing demographics for various areas. Rodeos tend not to be in urban centers, where you claim that these intellectuals are, though there are many universities in the boonies. You also ascribe to intellectuals a mode of dress that would enable them to stand out from the crowd, which they may in fact not want or be comfortable with.

    Just because someone has a degree or two doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy the smell of manure or a corn-dog or elephant ears.

  15. 15 Alex July 30, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    I read your article by chance and it’s very interesting to me because I come from the wealthiest part of Brazil, where in the countryside there is a huge “agro-culture” and rodeos as well, but there they are just trying to mimic America. Same behaviors, symbols and attitude, but not the ideology behind it which is something they just don’t know and they will never really understand. Not that they care, of course. They even try to stage some patriotism, but it just doesn’t work. Religion does – they pray before it officially starts. Cowboys there worship the Virgin Mary. Unlike it is in America, God and country are not so closely related.
    We also get this PETA-like activism from people who never attend this kind of event (susally urban vegans – a new religion) but in the end, everybody and everything is just fake – every little aspect of it, and it was really interesting to compare the real thing with the fake thing in a deeper way.

  16. 16 ceciliagalia July 30, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    Rodeo is for everybody love fair, animals, eat and listen country music.Cecilia

  17. 17 lifeintheboomerlane July 30, 2010 at 5:06 pm

    My good friends, two urban liberal intellectuals, are leaving tomorrow for Colorado, with their two kids in tow. They will attend a big rodeo and they are very excited. I’m looking forward to the photos and the stories!

  18. 18 notesfromrumbleycottage July 30, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    Maybe the odd fit has to do with the juxtaposition of different viewpoints. If you assume that the cowboys and ag families are more in-touch with our position to nature, then perhaps the urban crowd is more in-touch with globalization and how isolationist thinking just doesn’t work.

    What may gall an urbanite about those tee-shirts is the total lack of understanding of how our world is so interconnected. Keeping an isloationist view doesn’t jibe in a country that no longer makes the majority of goods it buys in stores.

  19. 19 Cole July 30, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    Re: Alex

    Thanks for an interesting perspective! Even though the US often seems more secular, I would say that the rodeo is one place where religion is still very visible. Whether or not it’s based on actual personal beliefs is not for me to judge– but it’s certainly visible on a public scale.

    Also, “urban vegans – a new religion” …that’s so true, haha. I suppose we all have our religions

  20. 20 jbabb July 30, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head. At the risk of sounding horribly egotistical, I’d like to add another fear that I experience at the rodeo as a ULI.

    I hate to admit this, but I used to pretend that I was somehow different and better than some of the cowboys at the rodeo. The gladiatorial events and inherently violent nature of the place (inflatable AK-47s, etc.) seemed barbaric to me, and I liked to think I was different, more sophisticated, by telling myself I didn’t indulge in these violent behaviors.

    …But when I actually visited the rodeo, I found myself cheering for the bull, and actually enjoying the violence; I genuinely have a fun time. The distinction between myself as a ULI and the cowboys around me faded; I cheered with the crowd. Afterward, my own indulgence in enjoying violence seemed to conflict with my previous opinion of rodeo barbarism.

    I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling a touch of cognitive dissonance in visiting (and enjoying) the rodeo. ULI or not, I don’t think the majority of people are comfortable regularly questioning their own beliefs and assumptions; visiting the rodeo as a ULI may just force you to do that.

  21. 21 Liz July 30, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    Found you on freshly pressed, and have been stumbling around your blog all morning… I looooove it! You seem to have a truly open mind and a healthy skepticism of everything. Every point of view has it’s drawbacks, and I wish more people would realize that. How refreshing to read…. from one farmer to another! I’m subscribed.

  22. 22 Cole July 30, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    Re: Sven Nomadsson

    I certainly didn’t mean to portray the rodeo as a barbaric past– that wasn’t my impression at all! My own background is in farming and rural areas, so I absolutely respect the physicality of the rodeo.

    I also didn’t mean to imply that rodeo-attendees were uneducated– merely that they’re not of the “liberal-urban-educated” demographic. I do think you’re right about geography playing a role– and yet the vast majority of the crowd had traveled quite a ways to Frontier Days, so why hadn’t many people traveled from cities?

    Of course I’m making some generalizations, and that can always cause some problems. But there are some widespread differences between areas– and statistically, urban populations are more liberal, and more educated, generally because universities tend to be in urban areas. So when a farm kid decides to go to college, he has to move to a city– and therefore becomes part of the urban demographic. It’s not a healthy thing, and part of my blog is trying to break down those social rules that force rural kids to “become urban” (if that’s even possible, haha) in order to get any respect, or power, from society.

    I love your final thought, though– that’s pretty much a perfect description of why I started this blog two years ago πŸ™‚ I like to have a degree and my hands in the dirt.

  23. 23 Cole July 30, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Re: Laura Fry

    Thanks for your comment– I’m glad to hear that you see a more diverse crowd at the rodeo! If you get a chance to read my update to this post, you’ll see that I tried to fill in some gaps about my own background, and my angle on the essay. I’m from a rural area in the South, and my undergraduate thesis was on rural-urban interactions and power dynamics; I started this blog in order to break down those very stereotypes. This essay is meant to examine what kinds of impressions and differences lead us to create those stereotypes, and prevent us from mingling more often.

    I definitely hear you, re: the contradictions of living in a state like Wyoming. I think many states with agricultural populations have that same kind of complexity. People are always stereotyping the South as full of bible-thumping ‘redneck’ hunters, but in fact Southern culture contains these amazing progressive pockets, a much healthier relationship with animals (re: the hunting), and a much more “liberal” friendliness than urban areas in the Northeast.

    Wyoming certainly is a beautiful, and fascinating, state πŸ™‚ I’ll make sure to let you know where you can read the full essay!

  24. 24 Cole July 30, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Re: Kara

    Thanks for your kind words and feedback! I’m definitely not trying to discuss every single reason for that discomfort– lord, that would make a LONG post, haha.

    I think your experience captures a lot of the complexity that many comments are articulating: that even if there are overall differences between urban and rural cultures, everybody’s individual experience is so variegated and unique that there will always be more to talk about. Especially living in an age of globalization, where people are born one place, raised in another, and move to another, it’s hard to be part of any one group for your whole life.

  25. 25 Cole July 30, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    Re: JamesBrett

    Haha, I don’t think there’s anything free at the rodeo. Well, except a massive truck that they were giving away…

    I tried not to use the word hipster in this post– because not all hipsters are intellectual, and I also think that hipsters really wouldn’t attend the rodeo out of pretension and condescension. Which really isn’t worth discussing. Such is the nature of hipsters, right?

  26. 26 Laura Fry July 30, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    Ok, I feel a little sheepish for not reading your “information” before posting. I’m also constantly fascinated by the urban-rural relationship in this country–and how people on both sides are sometimes so quick to make judgements. I feel blessed to have lived in both urban and rural areas myself.

    I lived in Denver before moving to Wyoming, and let me tell you even though Denver is also in the “West” a lot of people seemed to think I was nuts for considering a move to Cody. Turned out to be the best thing I’ve done in a while!

    I’ll keep following your posts–good stuff.

  27. 27 Cole July 30, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    Re: onsundaymorning

    I really do hope that you would have stuck around!

    If I were to leave the moment that I saw something that saddened me, then I would just reinforce the distance between one culture and another. And also, would have missed the opportunity for new friends and a rockin’ good time (toy guns notwithstanding).

  28. 28 Cole July 30, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    Re: TheIntentionalSage

    While I do think the rodeo may have more of a sense of tradition than other events, I don’t like to think of it as a “remnant” from days before our time.

    After all, the hundreds of thousands of people who attend these events are not “remnants” of another time; they’re quite alive, haha, and just as present in the modern world as we are.

  29. 29 thesinglemomblog July 30, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    I am not a remnant of any kind – and I love rodeo! I also consider myself intelligent. Please! It’s ok if you don’t like something, but let others do what they want. : D

  30. 30 Cole July 30, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    Re: CrystalSpins

    I appreciate your feedback, and your willingness to continue the discussion– that’s a perfect example of why I started this blog: to bridge communications across differences, especially between urban and rural populations.

    However, I have to correct you on a few points: I did in fact talk to the “locals” at Frontier Days. Although, to be honest, it seems like the vast majority of the crowd had traveled quite a ways to get there, so I don’t know how many “real locals” were actually there. I think we were all visitors in one way or another.

    I’m sincerely sorry to have conveyed a sense of condescension to you! I was definitely not looking down on any one group– I had a great time, and I have a lot of respect for the rodeo. If you get a chance to read the edit that I updated on this post, you’ll see that I tried to explain a bit about my own rural background, and my reasons for starting this blog.

    In case you’re not subscribed to comments, I’ll forward this to your email. I appreciate your offer– perhaps I’ll have to check Rapid City out sometime πŸ™‚

  31. 31 Cole July 30, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    Re: Handsome Matt

    I like how so many commenters have chosen to use “ULI’s” as a real term, haha.

    You make a perceptive point about the sense of pride. I think ULI’s go to the rodeo, and find it hard to understand how so many people can have pride in a culture that they (the ULI’s) don’t find attractive at all. But if the urbanites are judging the culture of the rodeo as “bad” or “wrong,” I think that demonstrates that they do have a sense of right and wrong.

    I also have to respectfully disagree that PETA/ULI’s/Obama went after the midwesterners “first.” I think that’s a totally unproductive statement to assert, because it’s impossible to prove. This is a cultural difference that has historical roots– way before PETA started, or anyone had even heard of Obama.

    Also, I think it’s safe to say after 8 comments that we’re all not fans of PETA. So that’s one common ground, at least πŸ™‚

  32. 32 Cole July 30, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    Re: Postmanisms

    I’m going to approve this comment because it’s not malicious, but I’m also going to call you out on your use of the word “hick.” That’s exactly the kind of language that reinforces the mutual hostility between urban and rural cultures. Nothing personal– just want to make a point.

    Thanks very much for the compliments on my writing πŸ™‚ I think your comment is interesting because “worn down” is exactly how I feel when I hang out in “intellectual” crowds too much. So I expect it goes both ways– it’s just that only one perspective is getting published.

  33. 33 Cole July 30, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Re: Christine

    Oh, that’s so funny– I just responded to Postmanisms’ comment by saying almost exactly the same thing you did. I hope you get a chance to read the edited update on this post; it clarifies a little bit exactly what “my” perspective is.

    Thanks for your feedback!

  34. 34 Cole July 30, 2010 at 6:19 pm

    Re: Raul

    Well then, I guess my job is done here πŸ™‚

    You’ll have to let us all know how it goes, the next time you go to the rodeo!

  35. 35 Postmanisms July 30, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    I wasn’t exactly using “hick” as a pejorative, for I’m pointing right back at myself, raised on a farm, first generation college student. Point being that like DFW I am an intellectual and professional academic who still visits the outhouse, not to sneer or snark, but because I genuinely love both my rural roots and my current, more urban life. I was too casual with the folksy word, but I’m neither casual nor accepting of binaries.

  36. 36 Jeannine Rave July 31, 2010 at 12:23 am

    The only way to introduce myself is to say that I am very-seriously-dating-and enjoying an X bull rider. The most fun that I can bring to this whole writing is, both the X bull rider and I were born in 1930 and, if you are not an intellectual and your math is bad,I’ll help you out and tell you that we will both be 80 this year.

    I believe that all of the things that he has tried in life, including sky-diving (never asked about bungie-jumping) a few years in the Navy, horse ranching………etc…. yes and three wives at different times in his life has automatically made him terribly interesting to me. I believe this is true only because of the diversification.

    He has never tried to impress; everything he relays to me is simple, non-exagerated truth and his struggles, so he says, are basically just trying to be nice. Why is it that most men never seem to feel that being nice is much more important than being understood. He has never tried to clarify his need to ride bulls any more than his spending ten years in the Navy. It just seems to be a part of his life that is making his Swan-song more enjoyable. Being old myself makes me knowledgeable about the power of memories.

    I was just thinking how difficult it would be to know, with perfection, just who goes to a Rodeo, at any given time. The only one that I personally went to was in Santa Maria California well over 30 years ago and I can remember and love every moment of the experience…..heck, maybe that is why I love my bull-rider….it’s nice keeping life simple…..I feel so fortunate.

  37. 37 Skydancer (Guardian Angel) July 31, 2010 at 3:07 am

    It’s the smell. πŸ™‚ As somewhat of an urban “intellectual” myself and one who worked a couple of summers on a farm when I was in my teens, I can tell you that if you didn’t grow up around it, you never get used to it!

    And the flies.

    Well, and maybe because they don’t have any friends who go so nobody invites them.

    Plus the violence theme.

    And prejudice (on both sides).

  38. 38 CrystalSpins July 31, 2010 at 3:10 am

    Thanks for the edit…I’m glad you had a good time at the rodeo and I’ve been trying to figure out why I found your description condecending. Maybe it was just the toine. Maybe it was the conclusions you seemed to come to. If I figure it out I’ll let you know. And although I haven’t spent a lot of time in Cheyenne I’d venture to guess RC is far more urbane. It is certainly full of people with tattoos and shaved heads. It would definitely be a trip to meet you after reading your blog. Keep up the discourse!

  39. 39 Christine July 31, 2010 at 3:53 am

    I think that all in all, you sparked a really interesting and fun conversation. Sorry you had to post the edit, but I’m glad you did as it provided perspective on your viewpoint. Keep up the great blogging – this has been a great dialogue!

  40. 40 shenanitims July 31, 2010 at 4:06 am

    Interesting post. The comment about the “Welcome to America…” shirt brought back memories. I went to the Arcadian Rodeo one year after Hurricane Charlie blasted through FL, and Gov. Jeb Bush made an appearance. Funny ‘cuz everyone cheered for him, even the Hispanics in the audience that he was trying his best to deport. Yet it didn’t matter because the rodeo cures all ills.

    I’m surprised more intellectuals don’t enjoy the rodeo just for the otherness of it. I went just to find out what happens there. You know it’s full of cowboys and livestock, but what really happens? You eat salty peanuts and get yelled at by old people if you’re me.

  41. 41 annket July 31, 2010 at 4:23 am

    Sunset Wyoming Beautiful

  42. 42 Ken July 31, 2010 at 4:26 am

    I enjoyed your post and this is a fun exchange. Thank you.

    Let me say that quite a few years ago I spent part of my break between semesters of graduate school at bull riding school in California. At a ranch in what was then an area known for strawberry farms and ranches and now apparently has a lot of wine growers. Some observations: first, not only does the cowboy not dominate the bull, the comments about bull riding being something of a “fair fight” also misunderstand what is really happening.

    A successful ride involves a good performance by both the bull and the rider. You either make the eight seconds and have a “ride”, which ends at the horn, or you don’t. If you have a ride, a high score will require a good performance by the bull. Anything less than 8 seconds is zero and anything after is irrelevant. Cowboys are not built like football players (these days) or power lifters because you can’t hope to muscle the bull, rather you have to master the ability to keep yourself on the bull’s shoulders so he doesn’t have the leverage to send you flying and “read” the bull’s turns. After each day of riding we watched “the films” to study technique.

    The basic survival skill is to be able to land really hard but still get up very quickly and get away no matter how much it hurts.

    My “classmates” were interesting, serious young guys doing a variety of things to earn a living while chasing the dream. They were the kind of quiet, observant people who would notice things and tell you things about yourself that you could carry with you twenty plus years later.

  43. 43 JamesBrett July 31, 2010 at 4:49 am

    re: cole

    i’m with you that not all hipsters are intellectuals. i was just thinking not attending a rodeo might stem more from wanting to be seen in a particular light (intellectual) than actually being in that light. i was thinking more along the lines of hipsters wanting to be seen as intellectuals — condescension, i suppose… which (you say) is not worth discussing.

  44. 44 sayitinasong July 31, 2010 at 6:25 am

    I dont know what myth I am buying into, but I have such romantic notions of cowboys (and rodeos) and sunset in the big sky country….

  45. 45 Louise von Magius July 31, 2010 at 7:54 am

    Hahahahhahahaha oh so true. Very well written!

    All the best,

  46. 46 Abby July 31, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    What an interesting post! You should try being British and going to a Rodeo, or parade, or state fair, then you REALLY feel like a ‘them’! πŸ™‚

  47. 47 addofio July 31, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    Interesting discussion. I just want to add that the whole urban-rural split goes way back, likely as far back as civilization itself, so it’s hardly surprising that we have an American version of it. And it’s an open question whether it’s possible to have a strong, coherent “we” without hostility toward some “them”. Personally, I think I’m happy that not a lot of “ULI”s go to the rodeo–by definition, that would change the nature of the event. But there’s a bit of a dilemma there; on the one hand, cross-cultural communication and understanding is a Good Thing, in my view; on the other, there have to be distinct cultures in order to communicate across them. If that makes sense.

    My own background: I grew up in small town Idaho and largish-town (but definitely not urban, nor suburban) Oregon. Ended up with a PhD, teaching prospective teachers how to teach math. I’ve lived in cities, including NYC, and consider them good places to visit and have a meal, but I never want to live in one again (and luckily found a university that’s actually not in a city, in CA no less, in which to teach.) I’m definitely liberal. I went to rodeos as a child, but found them a bit boring (too long between the exciting bits). Not sure where this would put me in your classification–LI maybe, but definitely not ULI.

  48. 49 dnd July 31, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    Interesting piece. Frontier Days is great. A big part of the crowd makes the trek up from Denver (must be an intellectual or two in that crowd). The Greeley Stampede is a great time too. And if you like rodeo in the middle of the winter, the National Western Stock Show in Denver is the best. Their Mexican rodeo is spectacular.

    BTW, our current Secretary of the Interior is a cowboy (grew up on a ranch in southern Colorado) and an intellectual.

    As to how cowboys look, a rancher friend once told me the reason cowboys wear golf caps and running shoes was so you could tell them from the real estate salesmen.

  49. 50 zephyrnights July 31, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    I don’t know about y’all, but here in Texas, rodeoin’ is as serious as caring for our families and cattle. I don’t mean to sound like a redneck.

    Your post is intriguing, however, I don’t think there’s violence in rodeo, it’s quite an art and a hard one at that. And yes, not suited for anyone, you have to like it, understand it and appreciate what those cowboys and cowgirls are doing.

    As far as who attends the event, well, I’ve seen them all. from clean shaved to raggedy lookin’. Now cowboys do dress sharp, to them it’s exactly like dressing for dinner in a fancy restaurant. So there you have it.

    It’s interesting what you’ve put down here.

  50. 51 CMartin Photography July 31, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    I live in a growing town in the midwest. When I was young, (not all that long ago) the town I live in was farm country, now its a thriving suburbia next to a medium sized city. I dont travel a lot but I have had the opportunity, at times, to travel throughout this beautiful country of ours.

    One of the things I’ve loved about living where I live, and observed in my limited travels, is the diversity of our awesome country. You can be sipping coffee amongst ULI’s in the city one minute & at a rodeo having a beer with a cowboy a few hours later. The people are all so different and yet ultimately the same. Its a beautiful tapestry of personality, culture and diversity that we live in here, probably more-so than anywhere else in the world.
    It would be a beautiful world if we could all see on the outside what we’re wearing in our hearts.

    BTW, Love the sunset picture, its awesome!

  51. 52 agentontheloose July 31, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    Very interesting. I think what you’re really getting at is the slow but steady mixing of the masses. A sort of intellectual gentrification. That what seems to be at the heart of the rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh and so many others. Ultimately cultures clash. Not that the new one wants to take over the old. But, the old wants to preserve rituals and power structures that have out lasted their usefulness.

    I’m a cowboy, tattoos and all. I like the rodeo, I like the trail, but I have no use for pressed jeans and big belt buckles. Actually, working with horses everyday I can tell you those things are for show. Real cowboys wouldn’t bother pressing jeans and know that big belt buckles provide too many opportunities to hurt the animals.

    Don’t feel sorry for the animals. A horse that has a job is a happy horse. If you want to feel sorry for violence against animals used for our amusement, go to the race track. They use them up, drug them up and put them in huge danger on a daily basis. Over 750 of them die each year in races. Can’t say that about rodeo.

    There are no intellectuals or dullards around animals. They know better. They are primal and know whether you mean them harm or not as soon as they meet you. People do the us or them thing to each other. Look deeper for your story. You’ve hit it, but not square on the head.

  52. 53 Cole July 31, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    You’re very right about the history behind this debate. My undergraduate thesis was on urban-rural interactions, and I was definitely overwhelmed at all the history behind this cultural split. Of course, the rise of suburbia created a whole new set of questions…

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment! It’s been great to connect with other “rural intellectuals” (RI’s?) through this post πŸ™‚

  53. 54 Roee P-ong July 31, 2010 at 8:39 pm


  54. 55 Cole July 31, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    Re: dnd

    I would LOVE to attend the Nat. Western Stock Show– thanks for the heads up! I think having a legitimate stock show along with the rodeo makes so much more sense. It actually acknowledges with the historical reason for ranching in the first place, whereas at Frontier Days, it felt to me like there was nothing except entertainment. Also, stock shows make me nostalgic for the state fairs of my childhood πŸ™‚

    Also, good point about Salazar. Although, I would say he’s more of a cowboy and a politician, which isn’t always the same thing as being an intellectual. (Not to say that politicians aren’t intellectual, of course; only that they have other main priorities besides book-learnin’)

  55. 56 Cole July 31, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    Re: zephyrnights

    Thanks very much for your comment! You’re absolutely right; you will appreciate any event a lot more when you know what’s going on. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most urban intellectuals probably don’t know what the cowboys and cowgirls are doing– and without that knowledge, the rodeo seems very violent.

    That’s partly why I brought up the bit about respecting cowboys more than PETA: because however violent it seems, rodeo culture definitely has more respect for cattle than PETA members.. who just want to snuggle with the cows, I guess.

    I appreciate that cowboys dress sharp at the rodeo– they certainly looked better than my male companions! Ha.

  56. 57 Cole July 31, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    Re: agentontheloose

    Thanks very much for your comment; I appreciate the feedback, and it made me smile to read a comment with some first-hand trail experience. And don’t worry, I didn’t spend the whole time feeling sorry for the animals (except maybe for the team-roping, which was definitely impressive but still kind of uncomfortable for some reason). I was mostly drinking beers and talking to the guy behind me about the difference between horse and bull riding. I totally agree with you that the racetrack has far more mistreatment and violence– and ironically, that’s the one that our culture considers a more “intellectual” event! But that’s exactly why I wouldn’t have wanted to write an essay about the racetrack: because it’s so clearly a negative event. It doesn’t raise the same sorts of complex cultural questions that I’m interested in.

    I haven’t worked on the trail, but I’ve definitely worked on farms– and I totally agree with your point about having a real intelligence around animals. My post wasn’t meant to question anybody’s intelligence; I was more referring to academic intellectuals. I should have called them “indoor city people,” maybe.

    Have you read “Close Range: Wyoming Stories” by Annie Proulx? She has some excellent (sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking) descriptions about the relationship between rodeo cowboys and ranch/trail cowboys. Definitely check it out, if you’re interested!

  57. 58 lookingforsomethingtofind July 31, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    I’m a northeaster, a New Yorker no less, raised in one of those urban intellectual liberal families, I was always a bit conservative (I loved war reenactment, patriotism, rode horses, cleaned ’em and took a summer job clearing brush) My uncle lives way down south, and in visiting, I really saw the difference. Mind you I know the south isn’t the West, but it’s closer to the West than the north.

    There is the northeastern and urban sort of angry, dismissal we feel for those who grew up in rural situations, and aren’t like us.Now this isn’t all of us but I think more than just plain “urban”. I suppose the feeling is mutual, but I think on our end (the uli) for a good amount of people, it’s more deep seated, sort of like an angry dog isn’t always a loud dog. They are very welcoming people, and like some comments have been saying the scary redneck isn’t really all that true. Anyway very interesting post.

  58. 59 Ikah July 31, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    What stands out to me in this post is the connection between tattoos+shaved heads and being an intellectual.

    My dad is one of the most brilliant men I have ever met. He wears plaid because its affordable. His wife cuts his hair. He has sewn all the jeans he now wears. (He had the time one summer years ago.) Looking at him you’d think he was poor, but its very much the opposite. When he worked in Wyoming he adopted a cowboy hat and mustache for a small while just to feel a little bit western. It was amusing to him.

    Majority of people I meet with tattoos usually have them for superficial reasons and they create some sort of lifestyle that is no different than the rodeo bunch to me. How does a little song bird, anchors, stars or cherries mean anything significant besides being trendy? Don’t get me wrong, I love tattoos and I have a shaved head. Ultimately my head is shaved because I can’t be bothered with hair. I don’t think it makes me an intellectual. I look very stupid with it.

    To me, an intellectual isn’t someone with framed pieces of paper or falls under a certain appearance. It is someone with an independent mind.

    I think you were right though to say that they probably don’t go because of a genuine discomfort. Most brilliant people I have met don’t feel comfortable in social settings. I hope I didn’t seem bitchy in the above statements, this post was a good read and I will be back again.

  59. 60 lifeaftereighty.wordpresss.com August 1, 2010 at 1:13 am

    Thanks for that summary line.

    I’m from the midwest. Rodeos are one of the very FEW remaining events where young men (boys, even) have a chance to prove that they are men.

    I think that the lack of such opportunities is the weakest link in our society today. Men don’t know what’s expected of them.

    Nobody is trying to conquer the bull … but simply to hold their own against one. I think it’s beautiful and progressivd. It gives me goosebumps.

  60. 61 vineetbantu August 1, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    so true man,,,,,,,,,,its very good thought…….

  61. 62 evenieh August 1, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Good post because it’s hard to defend your point of view and easy for people to strike back…but I think violence is not what ULIs don’t like the most in these rodeo fairs. I am a ULI but a french one: I’d love to go to a rodeo fight, but hate to see a corrida which is pure violence compare to roping cattle. Have anyone been at a corrida before?
    By the way JamesBrett insight, some ULI don’t gombecause there’s no free wi-fi!

  62. 63 Cole August 1, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Re: Ikah

    You make some very good points– thanks for your feedback! You’re right that I skipped a few logical steps in the connection between appearance and intellectual. When I was writing this, I was picturing the very specific type of tattooed appearance that my acquaintance had– very hip, dyed black hair, super pale skin. She definitely stood out in the crowd. I should have clarified, because of course there are many different tattoo cultures (I actually did a semester project on tattoos in college, so I really have no excuse).

    Thanks for pointing that out, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

  63. 64 johnjacobh August 1, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    With all due respect, your commentary is a CLASSIC version of the attack by the Children Of Cain on all things they do not understand or approve.

    You are a “child of the rural South” and went to your first rodeo in Wyoming which had no barrel racing but did feature a cowboy who peed on your associate’s shoes? (Flip flops? Definitely not boots!)

    If you are a “child of the rural South” and want to defend rural values why not explore your own backyard?

    Link Here:


    The Southern Rodeo Association (SRA) was founded in 1954 as a non-profit organization and was incorporated on April 27, 1959. The SRA boasts of being the oldest rodeo association east of the Mississippi River. Members of the association come from as far north as Canada, as far south as Florida and as far west as Oklahoma.

    The top 12 contestants in Bareback Riding, Saddle Bronc Riding, Bull Riding, Calf Roping, Steer Wrestling, Team Roping, Cowgirls Barrel Racing and Breakaway Roping qualify for the Southern Finals Rodeo (SFR) each year. There are some particularly gifted competitors that win in two or more events. These are the athletes that strive for the most coveted of all titles, the “All Around Champion Cowboy and Cowgirl”

    The SRA is constantly growing in membership and now sanctions rodeos all over the eastern seaboard. However, the Southern Rodeo Association remains proud of its “Southern Roots”.


  64. 65 Cole August 1, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Re: evenieh

    Thanks for your comment– there have a been a few comments that have brought an international lens to this, which is excellent.

    Agentontheloose brought up a similar point: there are plenty of events, like the racetrack, where ULI’s are definitely attracted to the violence. I think the rodeo is distinct because it combines an event that looks very violent with a lot of visual cues (like the guns and the t-shirts) that clearly connect the violence in the stadium to national mentalities of violence.

  65. 66 Cole August 1, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Re: jbabb

    Thanks very much for sharing your experience! That’s a perfect example of the implied conclusion that I was trying to make– that ULI’s SHOULD go to the rodeo. Being in an unfamiliar situation is always a bit humbling.

  66. 67 Cole August 1, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Thanks for your kind words! I’m glad you’ve enjoyed stumbling around my blog– it’s not always consistent, but I’ve been pleased with the general place that this digital exploration is going πŸ™‚

  67. 68 Cole August 1, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    Hi Johnjacobh–

    Thanks for your comment, and for pointing me towards the Southern Rodeo Association. I’ll have to check it out the next time I visit home. However, my rural background is also heavily rooted in Appalachia (Southwest Virginia), and rodeos aren’t really big there. I don’t think it’s healthy at all to accuse people of not being “genuinely” from a certain background. Besides, rodeos did start in the Western US, so I’m not sure why it’s a bad thing to have gone to my first rodeo in Wyoming…

    Also, I think you misunderstood my anecdote– it wasn’t a cowboy who peed on my friend’s foot (although that would have been a crazy story). I was describing the “night crowd,” in contrast to the more family-oriented “day crowd.” This incident happened at the Brooks and Dunn concert, and it was another concert-goer who was the culprit…

  68. 69 nick August 1, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    why wouldn’t they ? even horses go there.

  69. 70 oldairhead August 1, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    The title of this blog is “Why Don’t Intellectuals Go To The Rodeo?”. You then start off your post with “I think urban liberals don’t like these events because”. You seem to link intellectual with the urban liberal as though they were synonymous while at the same time implying that conservative or rural types are not intellectual. Let me assure you that there are just as many “urban liberal” morons as there are “rural conservative” morons. Like most liberal types your attitude seems to be elitist and the tone of the article seems to belittle other rodeo fans who attended the event.

    Statements you make such as; “the rodeo is basically a stadium of people getting off on violence”, ignores the history of the sport. Rodeo is no more violent or combative than soccer, basketball, racing or most other sports. It is a game played by a set of rules by skillful participants with a certain element of luck. It seems that because the sport is not played with a ball you just don’t understand it.

    Hey, just because I don’t understand the tatooed skinhead thing it doesn’t want to make you call you a moron.

    Rural Conservative Intellectual

  70. 71 Digital Photo Restoration August 1, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experience at the rodeo. I went to one in Denver, Colorado years ago.

  71. 72 duckyinfo August 1, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    Reading your piece made me think of a segment on The Moth, where a black comedian from Harlem spoke about his experience in going to a rodeo in Oregon. (I think the link is here but couldn’t decipher if this was the true archive: http://www.prx.org/pieces/37744-moth-radio-hour-2) I won’t spoil the speech he gives, but it’s a story that ends not the way you think it would at first.

    I do like your input at the end about how people usually associated with violent occupations — cowboys, ranchers, hunters, farmers, etc. — have a better respect for animals and nature. For the most part that observation is true. I know hunters who take the animal’s welfare seriously. They won’t take the shot unless they know they can have a clean kill, and if the animal is only wounded and runs off they will spend the time it takes to track the animal and end it’s misery as quickly as possible. Luckily it’s not many people who treat hunting as though it’s a video game, and people in the know wouldn’t call those guys hunters.

    Like everything the world is more complicated than just the stereotype. Glad I found your blog. I’ll be visiting to see what else you write.

  72. 73 Theoracleofd August 1, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    This is one of the most interesting blogs I have discovered recently. Rodeos . County fairs. ULI’s and the urban-rura culture clash. Wow, there are many truly interesting observations. I tried to be an intellectual once (started my career at ano ad agency in NYC), my entire life has been devided between urban and country living from a small rural town in Western PA to Pittsburgh to Chillicothe Ohio and now in Cleveland. Try spending some time on the streets of inner city Cleveland for for a little raw taste of urban life. Dead center in the middle is an an intellectual buffet – world class art museum and orchestra, Case Western Reserve University, theater district and no lack of cages, bistros and WiFi.

    Which brings me back to this mental Jeckyl & Hyde battle that has been raging for 50+ years. I have just returned from the Bedford County Fair in central Pennsylvania.Bedford is on the PA-Maryland line about two hours north of Washington D.C.. (Another nest of ULI’s) Well, Thursday night was rodeo night, bull riding, clown and all. Standing room only I may add.

    It’s far stretch from Frontier Days, but cultural clash is there too. Five miles away is the recently refurbished OMNI Bedford Springs Hotel. As a $350 a night resort, it’s upscale guests now curiously mingle among the local rural-ag fairgoers with a slight air of superiority. The local folks that I know are warm-hearted, genuine people with earth smarts just trying to do the best they can to get by in an area that is also part of Appalachia. There is a slight scent of resentment (and a chuckle) when travelers off the Turnpike visit “see how the country folk live”.

    The resort will change the area and the culture over time. Tourists with money will do that. the town now has attracted urbanites from D.C., Philadelphia and NY to open antique shops, book stores and yes, even a Starbuck’s – like coffee shop with a barista and WI-FI.

    The rodeo was great. The hot sausage sandwich and elephant ears were diet killers, and the ring toss at the carney stalls were all part of the experience that runs across every county fair and country festival across America. Now that I’m back in Cleveland for just a day, I’m ready to go back. Can’t get that Leonard Skynard song out of my head either!

  73. 74 gerryrosser August 1, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    I don’t go to rodeos because I’m simply uninterested in the stuff they do.

  74. 75 scandalousmuffin August 2, 2010 at 2:02 am

    You should read, “I almost saw this girl get killed” in the autobiographical series of memiors Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris.

  75. 76 dhex August 2, 2010 at 2:35 am

    why don’t I see more people with tattoos and shaved heads at the rodeo?

    for the same reason you don’t see a lot of cowboys at a black metal show in brooklyn?

  76. 77 andrea August 2, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    i would rather boxing, cage fighting, animal racing and such “entertainment” die out long before rodeos… just a thought.

  77. 78 administrator August 2, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    This is a very controversial topic. Those many comments prove it. Spectator sports which involve animals and violence are fascinating in an odd way. It’s often a question of deeply rooted traditions and habits that those events are still existing. But habits are not always good. We ( http://transatlanticdiablog.wordpress.com/) like to look at both sides of the Atlantic and compare: Catalonia, a part of Spain, recently banned bullfighting. I think in some ways it’s similar to rodeo.

  78. 79 Cole August 2, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Re: Andrea

    Thanks for your comment; it’s good to think about this event in perspective, as some other comments have done as well. Although, I hope I didn’t sound like I want the rodeo would die out! That’s not my hope at all– I’m excited to see how these traditions will change with each generation.

  79. 80 Cole August 2, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    Re: dhex

    Nice comparison, but I do think there’s a difference. People travel from all over the country to attend the rodeo– and the rodeo also has a high level of nationalism, which would imply that many different Americans might attend. Whereas a black metal or death metal show is going to be far less advertised, has a smaller attendance, and doesn’t claim to represent any national culture.

  80. 81 Cole August 2, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    re: Duckyinfo

    Thanks for your kind words and for the link! I’ll make sure to check it out later this afternoon.

  81. 82 Cole August 2, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    Re: oldairhead

    Thanks for your comment. You’re right to jump on that logical link that I make between intellectuals and urban liberals. However, statistically, urban areas are significantly more liberal than rural areas, and they also have completed more levels of formal academic education (which is the type of intellectualism that I’m referring to– not intelligence).

    I actually had a conversation at the rodeo about whether it was the same as other sports like basketball and soccer. I definitely agree that they are both operating on the same logic– however, that wasn’t within the scope of this post (remember, this is premature/edited version of a longer piece!).

    And don’t worry, I know that there are plenty of urban liberal “morons.” I started this blog primarily because I was so frustrated at the ignorance and closed-mindedness of many of my urban peers. However, I’m not referring to actual intelligence in this post; I’m referring to academic, book-reading, philosophy-quoting “intellectualism,” which totally different than intelligence.

  82. 83 Cole August 2, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    Re: Theoracleofd

    Thanks for sharing your experience– I actually went to college in Ohio and have some friends from Cleveland, so I’ve gotten a chance to explore the interesting mix (or segregation) that occurs there. My theory is that many states with large urban-rural clashes are states with clear geographical divides. So states like Colorado have two totally different cultures, depending on which side of the Rockies you’re on. And with states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, or Virginia, there’s a huge difference between the urban “east coasty” cities, and the parts of the state in Appalachia.

    Thanks for your compliments! I hope you enjoy other posts on this blog as well πŸ™‚

  83. 85 tsactuo August 2, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    As an urban academic/creative who’s been living the rural life for ten years and has a two permanent rodeos within twenty miles of his house, I can give one explanation as to why more urban intellectual liberals don’t attend rodeos.

    I took my sons to the rodeo when they were four years old, just after we moved out here. It was an area attraction and inexpensive, and so we went. We had a ball. I was picking up some classes prior to a run at graduate school at the time, and when I went back to school the following Monday I told folks about the rodeo and the fun. Some thought it was quaint. Some thought it was funny. Some thought it was stupid. Some found it interesting. All but one, my advisor, openly wondered why I would want to be around “those people”. When I asked what they meant, it came down to stereotyping. Republicans. Hicks. Rednecks. Illiterates. Racists. Homophobes. Holy Rollers. Married cousins. Those were the people I was told attended rodeos. I didn’t know how to respond, and so I didn’t. My advisor grew up on a farm and attended rodeos. He thought it was grand I took my kids to one. When I mentioned what some of his other students and colleagues had to say about it, he grimaced and said it was unfortunate.

    Rodeos have an image, one that doesn’t necessarily appeal to the urban, the liberal, or academics.

  84. 86 myrada.com August 3, 2010 at 3:39 am

    Since the material used to create these hats have been completely sealed, which were used to collect rain water during long journeys and the water was later used for drinking.
    Cowboy hats for men are used by people, even large cities has made a fashion statement. However, if a storm is to find a city that protects the head from the rain.

  85. 87 barnyard bookworm August 4, 2010 at 4:07 am

    Nice post. I grew up basically living at rodeos and being babysat by rodeo clowns and toothless bull riders, yet I’ve never been to a rodeo in my adult life. I agree that it’s mostly because of the cultural tension and the “Us vs Them” that has made me hesitant to revisit my old stomping grounds. Which is especially tragic since I’m a farmer. (Well, most rodeo goers wouldn’t call me a farmer since I run a small sustainable, organic farm…)

    I suggest checking out the short documentary The Wildest Show in the South: The Angola Prison Rodeo (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0240216/ or http://angolarodeo.com/).

  86. 88 kvgb August 6, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    great post will read more. Not that it matters, but I recently moved south and live about ten minutes from a permenant rodeo, its a weekly sunday ritual now.

  87. 89 thoughtbasket August 6, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    Interesting, thoughtful and sensitive post. Here in San Francisco we have the Cow Palace (www.cowpalace.com), which hosts both the body art expo and the Grand National Rodeo, one of the biggest of the year, featuring a cattle drive up city streets. But in 20 years of living here I have never known a single person who has actually gone to see the rodeo.

    Why? Probably some hipster/intellectual snobbishness and probably some general discomfort with the Other, in the sense that to urban dwellers, farm and ranch people are sort of alien. Plus maybe we just don’t understand the rodeo, which makes it seem more violent than it really is, at least based on some of the comments above. In the same way, I find soccer boring, because I know nothing about it and don’t see the strategies or complexities, but I can watch a baseball game for hours.

  88. 90 pseudohaikumary August 11, 2010 at 1:51 am

    I used to live in the Southwest and I’d go to the rodeo at least once a year. Wonderful experience. Although I never did figure out why they were chasing that cow…


  1. 1 Top Posts of 2010 « The Orchard Trackback on December 31, 2010 at 4:28 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Art adventures, literary hangovers, rural politics and other songs worth sharing.

Flickr Photos

Recent Tweets


%d bloggers like this: