1923, which premiered on Sunday in the US, is the latest addition to a television empire so enormous it has a name, the Taylor Sheridan universe – or more simply, the “Taylorverse”. Once a struggling actor, Sheridan turned to writing films with acclaimed screenplays that merged action and complex characters in Sicario (2015) and Hell or High Water (2016), and later wrote and directed Wind River (2017). But the old-fashioned Yellowstone, which he co-created, was a popular success that changed everything for him. Sheridan has since created 1923 and an earlier Dutton origin series, 1883, as part of a reported $200 million contract with Paramount for multiple shows. They include the current Tulsa King, with Sylvester Stallone, and The Mayor of Kingstown with Jeremy Renner, and two upcoming series, the contemporary Yellowstone spinoff 6666 and the CIA drama Lioness with Zoe Saldana.

What are the Taylorverse’s politics?

The three Dutton family series are a phenomenon partly because of their singular, retro vision. Sheridan’s shows embrace the heroic myth of the Old West and of American individualism, reinventing it for today’s increasingly divided country. It is a paradoxical vision. The shows have always acknowledged that white settlers usurped the land, tragically robbing and mistreating the Native Americans. At the same time, the series’ message seems to be: Hey, the Duttons own it now, and they’re in no hurry to give it back. The Dutton heroes speak most directly to those conservatives who want to return to a glorified past, when patriarchs ruled and the government left them to their own devices. But the shows are elusive enough culturally, and entertaining enough as drama, to reach liberal viewers, too.

Sheridan has said that his series are not, as they are often called, Republican.”red-state shows” – yet while they do avoid overt political statements, his claim is disingenuous. With Yellowstone’s emphatic idea that the country was better in the past, its politics quickly became a flashpoint, a central part of the cultural conversation about the show. John Dutton is constantly battling the Native Americans and big corporations that want to take over his ranch. He rails against the government, city dwellers and environmentalists. In the current season, the show’s fifth, he has become Montana’s governor, running on the promise, “I am the opposite of progress. I am the wall it bashes against”. Governor Dutton’s political party is never acknowledged one way or another, but if that message isn’t conservative (with a small c), nothing is. As the sociologist and cultural critic Tressie McMillan Cottom said in a discussion with Vulture about the show, “Yellowstone is a powerful cultural object in large part because it does not feel like a political object to millions of people”. And just last week, The New York Times bluntly called the show “a mirror for American politics”. The article that followed was a focus group with what the paper calls “superfans” from across the political spectrum about the show’s appeal. The feature itself is an indication of how central Yellowstone has become culturally, even though the results are disappointing, with bland answers that praise the series for “authenticity” and for the Dutton family’s tight bond.

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By NFO

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