Exploring “The West”

“The West”

An exploration by David Behar

http://electricliterature.com/2011/04/electric-literature-5/

 

The main idea of Carson Mell’s “The West” is that if there is an exploitation opportunity for personal gain, it will be done.

The written portion of the work starts in a restaurant with Horselover talking about his father’s friend’s cattle ranch in Guadalajara. He goes on to discuss how the quality of the meat was graded based on the number of vampire bat bites because the bats knew which cows were the healthiest. Then when the time for auction came, the bites were counted and the cows were assigned a grade based on the number of bites. Horselover says this technique worked until ranchers started using ice picks to inflict holes in the cattle that resembled bites.

The video portion of the work is a fifty-four second animation of the last sentence in the piece, “Worked well enough until some ranchers started to get creative with their ice picks.” The video shows the top half of a rancher standing in his field looking at a cow with bats flying around in the night sky. The video then ends with a scene of the rancher tapping the tip of an ice pick. The audio portion is sounds of bugs, bats, and other nature noises one might hear when standing in a field at night.

One way in which “The West” is successful is the tone. Throughout the writing, there is a sense of calm with both the language and action. When Horselover is speaking, he is cleaning his rings with a napkin. That action combined with the storytelling sets a mellow mood. There is no sense of agitation or disruption at any point of the writing. The video portion of the piece accompanies the writing well by having a similar calm tone, but with a small sense of uneasiness to it. The assorted nature sounds, bats quietly screeching, and the rancher being perfectly silent all comes together to successfully enhance the tone of the writing. When the animation pans to the ice pick, the viewer immediately gets a sense of the true devious nature of the rancher. If the writing had been more jarring, this would not hit as hard, but because the tone is so calm, it leaves a greater impact.

The strongest sentence in the piece is, “Worked well enough until some ranchers started to get creative with their ice picks.” The diction gives a clear sense of Horselover’s character by starting the sentence with “worked.” The author wrote the sentence in such a manner to keep the calm tone of the piece while conveying a more serious message. It doesn’t disrupt the reading or come off as unnatural in any way. Keeping consistent with the overall tone of the writing.

I learned from the story that video can effectively complement, and even enhance, written work without overpowering it if properly used. The video portion of “The West” adds another dimension to Horselover’s story and demonstrates directly what he was trying to say. The animation also adds more mood and gets the reader/viewer more involved in the story. I also learned that a lot of meaning can come from a small work. While the story is about ranchers trying to get the most money for their cattle by deceiving buyers, it speaks on a deeper level when extended to all aspects of human nature. In any industry, or even situation, there will always be those people who fight the system to get more than their fair share, no matter what the cost to others.

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