“Electric Horseman” – A rant from 2009

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manufacturers (no, I don’t approve; I’m just sayin’) and small all-terrain vehicles–even tractors by John Deere– have been replaced by Jack Daniels, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and major corporate sponsors.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.



About Bull Riding Marketing

Creative services, marketing and public relations professional from entertainment industry background. Published in magazines and newspapers worldwide. I believe bull riders are the new rock stars.
This entry was posted in Built Ford Tough Series, Bull Riding, cowboys, PBR and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to “Electric Horseman” – A rant from 2009

  1. Esther says:

    I believe the PBR says ‘This is not a rodeo!’

    It claims it is “America’s original extreme sport’ right on its facebook page.
    Extreme sport: 1) activity perceived as having a high level of inherent danger. 2) A leisure or recreation activity where the most likely outcome of a mismanaged accident or mistake is death. Sounds like bull riding to me. Snowboarding, skateboarding, motocross, etc. aren’t trivial sports, especially to the younger generations.

    Bull riding may be an ‘art’ now, but not originally. Slade Long tweeted ‘I’m fairly certain the men who started the sport were drunk and gambling in a pasture.’ I read that rodeos started when cowboys used their skills of riding horses and roping cattle in a competition. Bull riding was started as an event for the cowboys who weren’t very adept in those skills. Probably neither is true, but still funny.

    Pyrotechnics are prevalent in almost all sports, NFL, NBA, MLB, even the CBR. Most fans love it, even the flaming bull heads. When they weren’t at the event I went to last year I heard several people asking where they were. Even Pearl de Vere missed them.

    If bull riders are the new rock stars, then the rock star production is going to be part of the package. Rock stars aren’t just up on stage singing, it’s a highly theatrical show. Although I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

    Here it is four years later, nothing much has changed and you’re still watching.


    • I don’t know why the PBR ever abandoned that slogan; it’s much better than “Buckle up!” I’m always using it when people call bull riding a rodeo. I’m curious as to when the PBR first put up its Facebook page, and when they started calling bull riding an extreme sport.
      Love Slade Long’s theory about the origin of the sport– never heard that one. It makes total sense.
      I never enjoyed explosions at rock concerts, and I’ve been to more than I can count. Now that I think about it, most of the best bands didn’t use explosions. I did like the flame-snorting bull heads, though– they were hilarious (but at the same time, embarrassing).
      I doubt the PRCA or CBR will go as hog wild with the glitz as the PBR did. A lot of fans want the focus to be on the rides, not the hoopla. And yes, I’m still watching, because there are almost no alternatives where I live, and the PBR has some great bull riders.


      • Esther says:

        Back in 2009, in response to a question the PBR asked, I wrote in a letter something along the lines of “bull riders are like extreme sport athletes, in that they both are risk-taking, put-it-all-on-the-line type guys. Bull riding could probably be called America’s original extreme sport.” It was shortly thereafter that I saw the PBR use that phrase. I just stated watching in 2009, so they could have already been using it, but in my mind I take credit for it (heh heh). Just to clarify, I mean ‘extreme’ as in snowboarding, skateboarding, freesking, etc., not ‘Xtreme’ as in Xtreme Fighting.


      • It figures! They steal ideas from women and don’t even say thanks, let alone pay us for great marketing advice. (But they paid a marketing firm god knows what to poll panels of people in NYC and other places, to tell them everything they need to know for marketing.) We must’ve been on the same wavelength in 2009; I don’t recall them using the idea of extreme sports in 2008. “The toughest sport on earth” showed up in 2009, I think. I was talking about skateboarding and snowboarding, too; anytime they do something resembling the crassness of the WWE, I cringe. We and who knows how many other people (probably mostly women) should take credit for the half of their marketing strategy that makes sense and doesn’t offend people.


  2. Trying to be a fan says:

    Wow. You predicted the future in you 2009 “rant”.


    • Yup; I’m usually psychic and ahead of the curve, which really bums me out sometimes. Few people want to listen at the time (they think I must be crazy), then years later someone does whatever it was, capitalizes on it, and if they happen to know me, they get amnesia about where they got the idea. My worst moment was that in college, I came up with the idea for a “record player” that would do exactly what a CD player, invented decades later, now does. If only I were a sound engineer, I could’ve made the thing and become rich enough to buy chute side seats. 🙂


  3. BullT says:

    So, where can I buy that Moraes jacket??


    • Alas, it’s fictional– just like any tee shirt, hoodie, tour jacket or hat with any other Brazilian rider on it. MARKET NICHE!!! Hey, Shaw– are there any entrepreneurial souls out there who want to give it a shot? (And get shot by the PBR, which probably owns the rights to every rider’s image in perpetuity.) I wonder if riders hold the rights to their own images, or if the “licensing” is a 360 degree deal, like in the music business: We own you body and soul, and anything that comes out of you? I wonder if a rider could be sued by the PBR for letting some person or entity use his own image? John Fogerty was sued for “plagiarizing” himself– it can’t get any stranger than that.


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