Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Men in Hats

A&E's Longmire. Warner Bros. Television Entertainment/Ursula Coyote©2012 WBEI. 

If you watch a great deal of television (if you’re reading this blog, then I assume you do), you’ve probably noticed a trend of late: There are a lot of men in hats. And I don’t mean some character trying to look hip by wearing an ill-fitting straw fedora. I am talking about characters who wouldn’t be the same without their hats; the hats are an extension – or perhaps a reflection – of who they are. Such accouterment helps viewers get into the story – and certainly helps the actors get into character. I’m rarely seen without some sort of chapeau, so this is a trend I can get behind.

Allow me to run down a list of some of the shows to which I am referring: Longmire (A&E), Dallas (TNT), Vegas (CBS, premieres Sept. 25), Justified (FX), Hell on Wheels (AMC), and Copper (BBC America). Granted, most of these programs are period dramas, reflecting times in which few men left their homes without a hat. Still, I think there is a deeper issue here than simply the idea of producing a TV show set in the Old West (Hell on Wheels) or Civil War-era New York (Copper).

These shows are reminders that America used to have ideals about working hard, living off the land, and actually producing tangible goods. The work was tough, but the men were tougher. Men wore hats more so out of need rather than want of being fashionable. They were outdoors all day – rain or shine – getting things done. Hats provided protection from the elements. Most of us today work in office buildings, sitting in front of computer screens. No hat is required for that!

Sure, we’re looking at our history through a romanticized lens. Everything wasn’t rosy, and these shows reflect that in many ways. But even today, you can look at a character on TV, or a man on the street for that matter, and know his character based solely on his choice of hat. One glance at Robert Taylor as Sheriff Walt Longmire, and you know he’s a gritty, no-nonsense lawman. There’s a heavy burden on this man’s soul, and that brown wool hat is the only thing keeping him from falling apart.

I don’t lament progress, and I don’t hate my desk job. I don’t wish to live in another era. But like the producers and viewers of these TV shows (I particularly enjoy Longmire and Hell on Wheels), I enjoy escaping into a world where the good guys wear hats – cowboy hats.