I’ve got a question for you, friends: did any of you read the profile of fellow cowgirl-blogger
Rhee Ree Drummond, a.k.a the Pioneer Woman, in The New Yorker this week? (Sorry, folks: it’s for subscribers only.) And if you did, did any of you find author Amanda Fortini’s surprise and dismay that the Pioneer Woman is (in her personal judgment) all hat and very little cattle a little naive, or even a bit simple-minded? Now, click on this link to the Pioneer Woman–and you tell me if you’re surprised that the woman is on a book tour.
Fortini implies that it’s very suspicious that Drummond, now living on an actual ranch with actual cattle and even an actual cowboy husband and a ranch hand in Oklahoma and homeschooling four actual children, has a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Southern California. I guess their ranch isn’t ranch-y enough for her:
The two main rooms of the Drummonds’ seventies-era two-story wooden house form a kind of central artery where nearly all activity, except sleeping and ranching, takes place. The blond-wood kitchen has a large breakfast bar that wraps around a Viking Range, as well as two stainless-steel Bosch dishwashers. The room opens into a den with soaring ceilings, where a colossal flat-screen television faces a prodigious brown tweed sectional couch. Pretty much everything in the Drummond house is supersized.
The author suggests that it’s somehow unseemly that Drummond has a comfortable modern home, an expensive camera, that she’s very businesslike about her blogging, that she has published a cookbook and a memoir, and that she was on a publicity tour for her memoir this winter. Because cowgirls in Oklahoma shouldn’t have college degrees? They shouldn’t make bank on a humble blog? They shouldn’t go on book tours? (Does this seem condescending to the rest of you yet?) Alas, Fortini finds Drummond inauthentic, as though cowgirl personae on the internets are the most obvious place to go searching for authenticity:
As the canny author of her own persona, Drummond surely realizes that she must encourage the fantasy that she has created. To remain interesting, her life must be aspirational. She is who her readers would be if they had more time, more money, a quiet life in the country, a professional teeth-bleaching, or the support of a laconic cowboy husband. Drummond, however, would never admit as much. She said she highlights her shortcomings in her blog and doesn’t present herself “as any model of perfection.” “My Lord!” she told me. “I’ve always just thought that that was reserved for Martha Stewart.”
Amanda, please! Come on down to the anxious bench, honey. We need to have a little chat.
I know a little bit more about American history than I do about ranching, riding fences, roping ‘em up, gelding, branding, or just about any other cowgirl-like activity. And yet I play one on the internets–how come? Well, friends, the truth is that all cowgirls througout American history have been more about show biz than anything else, and I’m a little surprised that that news has taken the entire twentieth century to get back to New York. Who’s the most famous cowgirl in U.S. history–Annie Oakley? Why is she famous–for all of the cattle drives she led? Hardly! She’s famous because of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show! She was an actual sharp-shooter, but she was born (and buried) in Ohio.
Now, we all know that there were and still are all sorts of gals who worked with large animals in the American West. Many of them even wear big hats and snappy boots, not as a fashion statement, but because of the protection from sun and horse manure that they offer, respectively. But the role of cowgirl was mostly a fiction from the very start, born in the minds of genius hucksters like Buffalo Bill. (Only dudes and rubes wouldn’t have caught onto that by now.)
Have you ever heard of the expression “to have been buffaloed?” Well, now perhaps you’ll appreciate a little bit more about where that might have come from. Sure, the Pioneer Woman is fake, but that don’t make
Rhee Ree Drummond a phony, if you follow. But, I guess those of us who eke out a living by writing in “flyover country” just don’t deserve to have an audience for our work. We in the West especially have to be authentic to some dude fantasy about pitchin’ hay, droppin’ our g’s, and bein’ rode hard and put away wet. We don’t deserve book contracts or book tours or appearances on the Today Show. Apparently, that’s only for folks who write for the New Yorker and such–the kind of people no one expects to be authentic.