More on The Electric Horseman

The Players

Ampco: fabricator of illusions. For Ampco, the world is a giant market in which products are more like reflections of people's fantasies. What they often reflect are precisely the values that are being lost, such as  heroism, nature, and sincerity. Through the Ampcos of the world, the movie tells us, values aren't merely being destroyed, as Boorstin predicted; they are also being re-invented, turned into fictions.

Ampco also embodies another trend: for its executives, entertainment, advertising and cover-up all blend together. They sell stories and images and forms of public theater as fantasies for entertainment; and they use these same tools as forms of deception and manipulation to sell other things, including their lies. All of it is blended together in an unholy mix of high-tech theater and, ultimately, all of its embodies the larger illusion, which is the false sense of life, embodied in an ideology of endless consumption and entertainment that is conveyed to audiences.

Sonny Steele: celebrity suffering image strain; simulation-buster; hero who escapes from a realm of illusion. He says "no" to being turned into an image.

Hallie Martin, the television reporter: simulation-buster and fabricator of simulations; con artist and truthteller; witness and message bearer. Her role is to learn to grow beyond her role as a fabricator of simulations and develop a respect for something authentic. Like the horse, she is, to some degree, set free. (At two points she falls and is slightly injured, so she is identified with the injured horse.) As she and Steele trek through the back country, she undergoes a degree of regression and depends on his assistance. She also sheds her camera and the tough exterior that hides her vulnerability and compassion.

The audience depicted in the movie: supporters of the simulation fabricators and then the simulation-busters. Willing to be led. Decent at heart.

The movie: a complex, story-based, simulation, created to appeal to audiences and push a political agenda. The movie is a lot like the reporter: it is a simulation-buster and fabricator of simulations, pushing an anti-corporate message.

Me: Conveying an image of myself as simulation- and meta-simulation-buster who is interested in revealing nuance and complexity, and willing to discuss unpleasant truths in an effort to help liberate the reader. In the image of myself I convey, I am sympathetic to the movie but aware of its own complicity in what it shows, just as the movie is sympathetic to the reporter, while showing her own complicity. I am my own character, conveyed in words, in the unfolding story line of this web site, which aspires to help us all see through the realm of deception that is contemporary culture.

You: If I succeeded in my essay, you identify to a fair degree with me and my point of view.

Symbolism in the Movie:

Mythic archetypes embodied in Sonny Steele:

  • Adam, with Eve in tow, escapes from a false Eden into the world of nature where he will have work to survive. Our electric Adam (if the movie were made today, he would be an electronic horseman) has to exile himself from false paradise to end his exile from his authentic self. The return to nature is also a return to his own true human nature.
  • Moses, leading us out of slavery.
  • Christ, crucified, suffering, for the sins of the audience, nailed to a horse, with a crown of lights strung on his body. Steele is a  modest version of a redeemer figure, come to show us the truth and save us from ourselves.

Psychoanalytic symbolism:

The child (Sonny Steele) escapes from the illusions and inducements created by a venal and controlling father (Hunt Sears), to create his own , more authentic, life.


One of many depictions of corporate America as a villain and deceiver. Similar to The China Syndrome, also starring Jane Fonda, in which the truth about the misuse of nuclear energy is revealed to the public by a crusading reporter who links up with a reluctant whistle-blower from inside the system. Also similar to the movie directed by Redford, Quiz Show, about the game show scandal of the 1950s in which it was revealed that what the public believed were actual contests were theatrical simulations. (If memory serves me correctly, that movie also found itself stuck in its own contradictions, and generating some controversy, since it made changes to make the story more interesting, thereby creating a false depiction about the evils of false depictions.) Also some similarities to the earlier and more realistic 1972 movie, The Candidate, in which Redford plays a Kennedyesque candidate who allows himself to be turned into an image by a consultant.

Domains of Meaning Found in the Movie:

  • The movie uses various sensory manipulations, including simulations and film images;
  • The movie tells the following kinds of stories: a social conflict story; quest adventure; romantic comedy (happy ending); irony (the lovers don't stay together at the end to procreate and found a better society). The movie depicts two kinds of societies and two ways of life in conflict.
  • The movie makes claims about morality in which it depicts things as good or bad. Frequently, it idealizes or demonizes what it portrays.
  • The movie includes psychoanalytic, mythic and ideological subtexts.
  • The movie evokes emotions and psychological actions in the audience that include:
           * identification with the hero and victim;
           * hatred directed at those who abuse power;
           * soft melting feelings evoked by expressions of                 tenderness;
            * a sense of relief and exhilaration over an escape from danger and a newfound freedom;
            * a sense of gloating over victory and a feeling of mocking disdain toward the corporate executives who try to claim at the end that they side with Steele and wait for him at the wrong location, where they mistakenly believe he will release the horse.
            * a sense of hope because good wins out:
            * a sense of wistful regret that the lovers won't stay together in the end.
    The movie brings these together in the end: it dissipates our sense of hate by turning the corporate villains into defeated fools, and dissolves it into the good feeling created by the escape; the sense of newfound freedom; and the victory of good. Thus, fear and hate are turned into hope,  which is given a bittersweet feel to it by the fact that the lovers won't stay together at the end.
  • The movie is a form of action intended to sell itself at the box office and proselytize.

The Electric Horseman portrays these domains of meaning in its subject and it is made up of these domains of meaning. It is one of many examples of the way the creations of popular culture now take popular culture as their subject.

---- Ken Sanes