Cowboys, Kentucky and Keeping the Feels Alive


There’s nothing quite like losing yourself in a television series.

If I’m honest with myself, it’s probably one of my guilty pleasures, one that I no doubt share with many of my fellow gen-y folk.  Watching episode on episode of a show, not noticing the hours fly by, absorbed in the story lines of fictional characters, caring more about their fate than sometimes the fates and futures of those around us.

It is how I would give my brain a rest between exams, and in some ways unfortunately, has replaced a love of fiction books.  Why, I’m not sure: the transition has been slow and insidious, until I only recently realised I had spent the same number of hours watching TV as I would previously have spent hungrily consuming the worlds of Tamora Pierce, Joe Abercrombie and Duncan Lay.

That being said, my writing this reflection was prompted by the emotional and yet fitting season finale of a favourite series of mine, Justified.

It isn’t quite a mainstream classic like Game of Thrones, which I refuse to watch on principle (the abundance of nudity and gratuitous violence grates on my soul).  Justified was introduced to me by a geologist on a rig in Western Queensland on an unsuspecting day-shift.

“It’s pretty good. It’s addictive…"

I was sceptical, but it didn’t take long. It took one episode in fact, and I was hooked.

Justified is the story of a cowboy lawman, Deputy US Marshall Raylan Givens and his long time battle with outlaw Boyd Crowder.

The world of Eastern Kentucky is foreign to me, but Justified brought it alive. Perhaps the representation of Harlan County is as accurate as The Wire’s of Baltimore, but the characters were just as complex, real and courageously human.  Boyd was a outlaw in every sense of the word yet somehow, we were given glimpses into his humanity, as much as we despised it. Raylan was a lawman who was perhaps the mirror image of Boyd, but on the right side of the tracks and we saw him grapple with his instinct, and what was ‘right'.  The various other Marshals, the villains, the well meaning town folk and of course the steel of Ava Crowder, Rayland’s original lover and Boyd’s finance - and shooter - weaved a tapestry that made us feel like a thread in the story; made us feel like we could belong.

The amazing thing about TV is that right now, moments after shedding a single tear at the season (and series) finale, my emotions are wrought and raw.  Yet, I will look back on this in days, weeks, months and think gosh! How invested was I! How was it that I spent so much time watching this when I could have been doing something productive? Why did I care so much about a world which does not even exist?

I guess that’s not the point. The beauty in well made pop culture, well made film and ultimately, well made art is that it gives us the space to feel. We are given permission to see and experience what we don’t yet have the language for through the world of someone else. It can hold up a mirror to who we are as a society, give us the opportunity to dissect human interaction, figure out who is still holding the reigns of societal power. It can be used to shape minds and expectations, introduce ideas and challenge them, entertain, embolden, embattle, envelope. It can be anything we want it to be I guess...

What I took away from Justified is this: for some, human life is cheap.

Some people are lucky, some make it through.

Others, most others, don’t fare so well, and past success is never quite a guarantee of the same in the future.

Some folk are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and some are victim of the lottery of birth.

Others make the circumstances of their birth moot through their choices, but that is a courage not many are even shown how to muster.

Trust is a beautiful, rare and incredibly fragile thing: if it were tangible it would be the film that makes up a butterfly’s wings. Pierce it and the film curls all the way back. Each piece requires painstaking, careful unfurling to even begin to resemble its original form and even then...

Ultimately, even nemesis share a common humanity.  For Boyd and Raylan, it was digging coal when they were pups. Here in the real world, it is up to us to find that binding force between each other.  For if we don’t, there is no way out.

In the deep, dark hills of Eastern Kentucky, 

That’s the place where I trace my bloodline,

And it’s there I read on hillside gravestone.

You’ll never leave Harlan alive...