Is western culture too tough to die?
Tourism in Tombstone Arizona has seen a significant decrease within the last decade. According to Robert Carreira, director for the Center of Economic Research at Cochise College, there were 45,790 visits to the Tombstone Courthouse. Last year that number dropped to 42,549 (7.08 percent decrease). In the past decade, the peak year was 2005, which saw 59,330 visitors.
Carreira said there were many reasons for this decline in visitation, one being the decline in activity at Fort Huachuca. The second reason is a general disinterest in of the history of the American Wild West.
“In the past, there were many more military and civilian personnel on temporary duty to the fort, which provided a steady flow of day visitors,” Carreira said. “Yet another factor is the ebb and flow of interest in the history of the American West, especially in pop culture. The movie ‘Tombstone’ gave a tremendous boost to tourism in the city, but that movie was a couple decades ago and the effect has worn off considerably.”
The frontier town isn’t the only one losing the lure of Western culture. The film industry is seeing less and less feature films from the Western genre. Dr. Bradley Schauer, associate professor at the School of Theater, Film and Television at the University of Arizona, attributes this to a cultural as well as population shift in America
If you look at trends, most of the popular television shows in the 50s and 60s were Westerns in terms of dramas. You had shows like Bonanza that ran for 20 years,” Schauer said. “It was popular up until the 1950s and 60s. I think the main thing that changed honestly was increased urbanization of the United States. Most people in the United States are living in a city now so you don’t have that same sense that you did earlier that there’s still this frontier for you to explore.”
The younger generation is used to comic book heroes rather than action heroes. Schauer says that kids would rather see movies about Marvel comic book characters and crime.
“Westerns are technologically primitive to where we are today. Students have an aversion to them because they seem like they aren’t relevant.”
Tucson has always been a destination for filming Westerns.
Shelli Hall, director of the Tucson Film Office, says projects definitely come in an ebb and flow.
“It’s a classic American genre that comes and goes. It’s part of our history,” Hall said.
Hall explained that there haven’t been many major studio Westerns filmed in Tucson in the past couple of years. A lot of this is due to a lack of tax incentives for filming in Arizona.
“We’re getting mostly commercials, non-fiction and reality television series, music videos and smaller independent productions like the soon to be released western, ‘Hot Bath An’ A Stiff Drink’ and its sequel,” Hall said.
Hall explained there have been two independent westerns filmed in Tucson within the last two years, which has brought in $5 million in terms of jobs to the Tucson economy. The popular Bill O’Reilly series “Legends and Lies” also filmed in Tucson two months ago.
Commercials and advertisements are the marketing strategy that Tombstone is using to draw in more young tourists.
Kenn Barrett, a member of the Tombstone Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, says all you have to do is look on the street to realize most visitors are senior citizens.
“There’s not denying that the generation that grew up watching westerns on tv is more interested,” Barrett said. To attract visitors, Barrett said they put out “tv commercials in Tucson and we have a package on Cox Cable.”
As for the town of Tombstone, everything is still functioning on a day-to-day basis despite tourism woes.
“Some stores are doing very well, some have been here for years and years. Some open and then close,” Barrett said. “Sometimes it’s the marble theory: there’s only so many marbles to spend and people spend it in some places more than others.”
Liza Rubin is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here for high-resolution photos.