One of my readers commented on the Electric Cowboy trip the PBR is on, compared to the WNFR, and that jogged my memory. In 2009 I wrote this piece called “Electric Horseman.” I think I sent it to Randy Bernard. (Note how friggin’ psychic I was to talk about Kiss, half-dressed bimbos, riders obscured by logos, etc.):
ELECTRIC HORSEMAN 2009
Gimme back my cowboys!
Ever since bull riding eclipsed bronc riding as the high-adrenalin smash of the rodeo world, the PBR has lost its mind. They’ve turned bull riding into a garish circus, because they haven’t got the imagination to figure out how to give bull riding more visibility and more credibility as a sport, boost prize money, and get retired riders into the sports announcer pipeline. Didn’t they see The Electric Horseman? How far away are we from seeing riders wearing flashing lights? When do we start painting the bulls with Day-Glo?
It’s sickening, and I’m pissed off. I’ve been watching rodeos long enough to remember Hawkeye’s flying dismount. I’m happy to see the prize money shooting up–though there’s still a bizarre gap between first and second place, and the rest of the guys don’t get squat, even at a big event like Tulsa. To quote Hattie McDaniel in Gone With The Wind, “It ain’t fittin’, it ain’t fittin’, it ain’t fittin’!” Any guy who places ought to take home some cash–and have his expenses (including medical!) covered.
Look: if rodeo fans loved the sport when it was strictly a local affair, with no television cameras around, then more people can become fans as they see more rodeos televised. BUT NOT THE WAY IT’S GOING.
Bull riders are now the rock stars of the rodeo world; you can hardly catch any bronc riders on TV any more. Even more sickening is how crass and commercialized the events have become. Not the cowboys, the bulls, the “clowns,” or the ex-bull rider announcers—heck, nobody knows more about bull riding than Ty Murray; I’ll listen to him any time.
Traditional rodeo sponsors like chewing tobacco manufacturers (no, I don’t approve; I’m just sayin’) and small all-terrain vehicles–even tractors by John Deere– have been replaced by Jack Daniels, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and major corporate sponsors. Cowboys are wearing logos all over. Tickets for the Madison Square Garden event cost as much as going to see Bruce Springsteen. Adriano Moraes arrived at the Tulsa event in a stretch limo. Commentators like ex-bull rider Cody Lambert are bracketed by that smarmy, overblown commercial voiceover guy who specializes in “dangerous.” You know his sound: Monster Trucks, WWF, American Gladiator…shlock city. And now he’s hyping bul riding–as if they it’s not exciting enough! Gee, why don’t they just flash “Applause” signs as soon as a rider gets into the chute?
The Tulsa event was an SFX circus: giant sculpted bull heads belching flames, magnesium flashpots exploding all over the arena, riders being introduced on mechanized podium risers amid light shows, positioned head-to-head like deadly rivals, that phony amped-up announcer voice and nasty, steroidal music echoing in the arena. I almost expected Kiss to suddenly appear and burst into a chorus of “I wanna rock and roll all night…” Bite my tongue! Betcha anything the PBR latches onto the half-time show idea, and pretty soon we’ll have our rodeos interrupted by half-naked “cowgirl” cheerleaders and crappy rock bands posing as gunslingers.
And now the broadcasters are abusing instant replay–always the worst wrecks, the most brutal injuries–repeated over and over and over like someone’s got their finger jammed on the “Play” button: Robson being knocked unconscious, J.B. Mauney getting hung up in the bull rope and dragged all over creation like a rag doll, a rank bull stomping on and breaking Adriano’s leg… Sadistic, voyeuristic sensationalism. Guys get killed doing this–is that what they’re looking forward to broadcasting? A real live snuff film?
Witness the first episode of In Harm’s Way, a reality TV snoopfest that profiles the most dangerous jobs: the camera followed JB Mauney around after he’d been bucked off (kind of a risk, if you ask me). We got half a dozen gory closeups of Adriano’s smashed, bloody leg, and the rodeo doc stitching up the gruesome hole. Even the camera angle on the slick host (an ex-Survivor castaway) was a manipulative cliché: shot from the ground up to make him look rangy–you know, like a cowboy.
I’m p.o.’ed because if things keep on the way they’re headed, bull riding will become trivialized as an “Xtreme sport,” instead of the traditional art it is. Beer-drinkin’ couch potatoes will start wearing fringed chaps, cowboy boots with raked bulldog heels, and jackets with “Moraes” emblazoned on the back.
And then I won’t want to watch any more.