"YellowStone": The TV series that Captures the American Paradox
The 4 season tv series centers around the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch, the biggest private cattle ranch in the United States. Held by 6th generation Dutton cattle ranching family, the patriarch John Dutton played by Kevin Costner, has to contend with scrupulous & powerful enemies trying to take their land; developers, fellow ranchers, rightwing militiamen, public corporations, bandits, government officials, and Indian tribes trying to reclaim their land. This is coupled with the complicated family drama of the next generation trying to seek the approval of the patriarch. It’s a great story about a man fighting his damndest to hold on to a fast disappearing way of life in the face of progress, moneyed interests and the outside world. A continual, intense, external pressure being brought to bear on their land and world.
As Adrian Horton points out in the Guardian:
“Yellowstone is the show of what historian Patrick Wyman has called the American Gentry – the class of land and business-owning local elites in smaller markets across the country, whose politics tend to skew conservative and whose influence tends to go under-covered in comparison to flashy oligarchs, billionaires and those whose wealth isn’t tied to a specific place.”
It signifies the way of life in America that is disappearing, one where loyalty, honor and your word matters. “Riding for the Brand” means you live “ride or die”, you will do anything for your crew or tribe. This show also signifies the eternal American battle to conquer nature; empire building and the very violent nature of America and American society. America has been at war internally and externally pretty much since its establishment in 1776. I am late to this show in 2022 but I also see it as an analogy for how an empire is held. Something that gerontocratic America is trying to do now (poorly i might add) all across the world in the face of rising powers in China, Turkey, Russia & Iran. It’s done ruthlessly, violently and with both legal means through the stock market and M&A and extra-legal means through kidnapping, blackmail and straight up killing & execution.
Coming from Canada, it’s also been my first hand experience of the intensely ruthless nature of the business & working world in America.
There is a great quote from Season 3 from the Dutton's big corporate enemy, Market Equities CEO Willa Hayes & her business partner Roarke at hedge fund Metro Capital:
Willa: “They are playing a zero sum game. They are doing it with my F–ing career.
Roarke: “Don’t feel much like a land deal in Montana, does it?”
Willa: “No, it feels like an oil deal in Yemen. And from now on that’s how we treat it.”
Things get pretty brutal pretty fast. It’s such an American approach to things. More is the solution: when you are up against someone powerful or rich, you have to become even more powerful or richer. Overwhelm them with firepower.
Yet, what is so strange to me is that this show is not more popular everywhere in America and this is reflective of the divide in our country, both in technology access and our cultural interests. There have been on average 11M viewers of each episode, numbers not seen since the 2010s GOTR & The Walking Dead. At the same time, this show is almost unknown on the liberal east and west coasts. One big reason is the technology divide, this show is mainly on cable only, which serves most of the midwest and south. Ie. red states, while most of the coasts use some streaming service like Netflix, HBO or Disney+.
I love Yellowstone as the themes it exemplifies are powerful. “Progression,evolution and pragmatism versus tradition, nostalgia & romanticism.” (Source: Looper). The forces that drive many societies but ones that seem behind the big divide in American culture right now. This show is worth watching to understand the American psyche, the American culture and mentality. The incredible level of unrelenting competition that can come from anywhere & everywhere. The ruthlessness needed to win. The highly individualistic nature of people here. The importance of family and legacy. The fact that you grow or you die.
If you want to understand the cultural zeitgeist right now in the USA, this is the show to watch. America is a strange but very interesting place to be right now, that’s for sure.