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Americans Are Cowboys

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You really can't get more American than that.

"See? You can tell he's American from his blond hair and cowboy hat!"
JesuOtaku on a side character from Digimon Tamers

Americans who tend to forget that the rest of the world exists often, when they remember, stereotype everyone else by their headgear. They will indicate that a character is Mexican by simply slapping a sombrero on their head, giving a Russian character an ushanka, a French one a beret, a Brit a bowler hat, an Irish a green top hat, an East or Southeast Asian a rice hat, a South Asian or Middle Easterner a turban, and a Native American either a feathered headband or full-on feathered headdress. So what, one might wonder, is the stereotypical hat that other countries associate with America? Well as it turns out, a cowboy hat.

In foreign media, Americans are often portrayed either as cowboys or dressed so similarly to an archtypical cowboy that it makes no difference. Expect a ten-gallon hat, button-up shirt, jeans, boots and maybe a vest, poncho or duster for good measure. Apparently in Eagleland, The Wild West never quite ended. Might be a trigger-happy Gun Nut too.

This is a case of Small Reference Pools, where America has become so synonymous with cowboy culture that people overseas use it to characterize the entire country. This is, of course, partially Truth in Television: The Western is a distinctly American genre (unless it's a Canadian Western), and a lot of stereotypical cowboy traits are also stereotypes of Americans as a whole. Plus, cowboy fashion and culture is still idealized in certain parts of America, particularly in rural areas (especially in western states), and in Country Music. In fact, Americans from these regions are frequently stereotyped this way by other Americans; what this trope categorizes as a stereotypical American would, for example, be recognized by most actual Americans specifically as a stereotypical Texan or more broadly as a stereotypical southerner.

See Eagleland when talking about personality, and an "Ugly American" Stereotype may combine both by wearing a cowboy hat abroad. Wearing a Flag on Your Head is another stereotypical American fashion, though it's by no means restricted to them. When talking about hair/eye colors, see Phenotype Stereotype. Sexy cowboy and cowgirl costumes may be a part of a Gorgeous Gaijin. If the character identifies more for being a Texan than an American, see Everything Is Big in Texas.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Invoked in The 100 Girlfriends Who Really, Really, Really, Really, Really Love You. Girlfriend #13, the protagonist's teacher Nadeshiko Yamato, is a reverse Occidental Otaku (i.e. ethnically Japanese but pretending to be an American) who calls herself "Naddy" and wears cowboy getup almost all the time. Some English translations also give her a southern US accent.
  • Fumio's grandfather in Saitama Chainsaw Shoujo was a Texan bounty-hunter who wears a cowboy hat and frilled buckskin vest.
  • In Midori Days, when Lucy's friend Daniel shows up to try and bring her back to America, he's dressed in...well, typical cowboy attire.
  • Melody Honey, a reoccuring character in both Arcade Gamer Fubuki and Sgt. Frog, is a busty blonde model/pop idol/pro gamer who usually dresses in a skimpy cow-girl outfit.
  • Jack King and the Texas Mack from Getter Robo. Also his tribute in Gekiganger 3, Cowboy Johnny and the Texas Robo.
  • Cathy in RahXephon.
  • Reina Gorn in The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is a scientist from the United States who is almost always seen wearing a cowboy hat.
  • Terryman and Terry the Kid from Kinnikuman and Ultimate Muscle. They're also from Texas, and specialize in appropriately-flavored moves, like the Calf Branding.
    • Terryman himself is based on legendary professional wrestler (and Texan) Terry Funk, who did actually dress in a cowboy hat and a poncho for years, making this a Justified Trope in his case.
    • Averted with Specialman (a gridiron football player) and Pentagon (a masked luchadore, but one with eagle wings).
  • In Mobile Fighter G Gundam, America's Gundam Maxter is a Boxer Surfer Football Player Cowboy. In the reimagined Choukyuu! G Gundam manga, its Mid-Season Upgrade Max Revolver ditches all those motifs except for the Cowboy one.
  • Jackie Gudelhian from Future GPX Cyber Formula. He wears a cowboy hat, likes rodeo riding and he's from Kentucky. He is even nicknamed the "High-tech Cowboy''.
  • A character from Digimon Tamers who shows up only briefly via video link is a computer programmer and friend of the 'Monster Makers' who originally coded the Digimon is blond and wears a stetson. The dub even adds a Texan drawl to him.
  • Averted with America in Hetalia: Axis Powers. The one time he does dress up as a cowboy, it's justified as other characters dress up in national costumes as well.
  • The American Pretty Cure in HappinessCharge Pretty Cure! are cowgirls (except the one who is a Native American).
  • Sega Genesis from the Sega Hard Girls franchise provides the trope image. As the Sega Mega Drive was released in the U.S. as the Sega Genesis and both consoles are represented by separate characters in the series, "Genny" (pronounced "Jennie") is a transfer student who comes to Japan after having studied in the U.S. Being the American console, naturally she wears cowboy attire from head-to-toe along with a bandana halter top with the design of the American flag on it, with shades of black from the console she's based off of. She also has a loud, rude but charismatic personality, based on the console's aggressive marketing campaign in the U.S.
  • Usually averted in Case Closed. There are several types of Americans in that series, ranging from blondes to black-haired American or dark-skinned or black people. However, there was one time where Conan distinguishes the Brittish James Black from a similar looking Texas-native American (portrayed with a cowboy hat) through their different accents. Said American had a strong Southern accent.
  • Averted in Magic Knight Rayearth. Autozam represents the United States of America. Yet none of the characters from Autozam are cowboys. Some do wear green berets. And their leader is styled to resemble a bald eagle.
  • Averted in Blue Exorcist. Lightning (a Texan no less!) is the first explicitly American character to appear, but he doesn't look or act like a cowboy. He does sometimes wear a poncho, but thats about it.
  • Colt, one of the four principle characters in Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs is a hotshot pilot, and an American. You can tell he's American by his cowboy hat.
  • JACK in Cat Planet Cuties is a character meant to be an American stereotype, that includes being a cowboy. She wears a cowboy hat, wears almost nothing, is often seen eating fast food, and drives a Corvette Stingray.
  • In the Samurai Pizza Cats episode where they travel to New York City, Speedy's American counterpart is named "The Sundance Kid" and is dressed like Clint Eastwoods's famous "The Man With No Name" character, who wore a cowboy hat with a poncho. Although his combat uniform is a baseball player he still retains elements of this because he uses twin revolvers as his weapon of choice.

    Comic Books 
  • Tintin in America had many Americans dressed as either Chicago mobsters in the city or cowboys in the country. Somewhat justified, as the cowboy era was not long dead.
  • Brat Pack: Kid Vicious' weapons and patriotic attire have a cowboy vibe.
  • In Camelot 3000, the American president dresses like a cowboy and packs a pair of six-shooters - an obvious reference to Ronald Reagan.
  • In one of Arthur Szyk's Anti-Fascist propaganda posters, America is depicted as a Gary Cooper-ish cowboy about to be stabbed in the back by a Yellow Peril Imperial Japan, distracting him with an olive branch as he does so.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • Flushed Away features an obnoxious American tourist with a cowboy hat and Texas drawl.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Casino Royale (1967) depicts the American army as composed of cowboys and Indians.
  • Lampshaded in The Hunt for Red October.
    [Ramius notes Mancuso's sidearm and comments in Russian to Borodin that Mancuso is a "buckaroo"; Ryan laughs]
    Capt. Bart Mancuso: What's so funny?
    Jack Ryan: Ah, the Captain seems to think you're some kind of... cowboy.
  • In the Mexican film Santa Claus (1959) (the one riffed by Mystery Science Theater 3000), the children from the USA are wearing cowboy outfits.
  • Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. When Dr. Evil calls up the United Nations Secret Meeting Room to give his ultimatum, many of the occupants are dressed in costumes indicating their native countries (two Japanese are dressed as a geisha and a sumo wrestler, a British representative is wearing a Beefeater costume, a Spaniard is dressed as a matador, etc.). One of the characters (presumably an American) is dressed as a cowboy.
  • One old Jackie Chan film featured him traveling to America and fighting a bunch of hairy, obese, slovenly cowboys who rolled around in mud. Knowing how this trope usually connects with reality, it was probably supposed to be set in Chicago or uptown Manhattan.
  • The German Big Bad of the first Die Hard film mocks John McClane as being a "cowboy" several times throughout the movie, hence McClane's "Yippie ki yay, motherfucker" Catchphrase.
  • In Die Hard 2, when the terrorists want to make a demonstration, they intentionally crash an airplane from British Airways. When they contact the plane's crew, the leader adopts a "cowboy" accent to keep the crew from suspecting anything wrong.
  • In the movie adaption of The Golden Compass, Lee Scoresby wears a cowboy hat to compliment his Texan drawl. The only difference being that he's not actually American - Texas is a separate sovereign nation in this universe.
  • The American characters in The Mummy (1999) (save for main character Rick O'Connell) are all very cowboy-esque, wearing cowboy hats, riding horses and being very fond of shooting guns.
  • In the early Russian Film The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks, the titular American capitalist is (naturally) accompanied on his trip to Russia by his faithful manservant, Cowboy Jeddy. Jeddy's duties seem to consist mostly of trick shooting.
  • Major Kong of Dr. Strangelove, who wears a cowboy hat on duty, speaks with a Texan accent, and, of course, rides the bomb. Also, his actor, Slim Pickens.
  • In An American Werewolf in London, the ominous British townsfolk in the Slaughtered Lamb pub make lots of cowboy jokes when they find themselves joined by a pair of American tourists.
  • When the American astronauts destroy the Russian MIR station in Armageddon (1998), the Russian cosmonaut complains that he told them not to touch anything, "but you're bunch of cowboys!"
  • In The Man from U.N.C.L.E., set in the 1960s, American protagonist Napoleon Solo calls Ilya Kuryakin "the Red Peril". Ilya responds by calling Napoleon "cowboy".
  • The 1971 film adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory depicted Mike Teavee, who's obsessed with watching violent westerns on television, as a loudmouthed American kid who dresses like a cowboy.
  • In Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the Statesmen are the American equivalent of Kingsmen and are all cowboys named after liquor, favor revolvers and even use technologically-enhanced lassos as weapons. Their style of dress is much more like a real modern cowboy's, favoring Carhartt jackets and denim over the usual, more stereotypical garb.
  • Bram Stoker's Dracula: As in the original novel, the only American in the story, Quincey, is a cattle rancher from Texas who dresses in Western attire and carries a large bowie knife to formal parties.
  • In Bohemian Rhapsody, while Queen is performing "Fat Bottomed Girls" during the USA tour, Freddie adds the line "Ride them Cowboys!" after "Get on your bikes and ride!".
  • Justified in Hidalgo since Frank Hopkins is an actual cowboy from the halcyon days of The Wild West, and even performed for Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild Wild West travelling show. Throughout the film, almost everyone in the race addresses him as "Cowboy" to the point of it becoming a Running Gag.

  • Conversational Troping between Tommy and Tuppence in Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime, where Tuppence is describing her fantasy of meeting a dashing romantic American man who has lived in the wilds and can rope wild steer, and Tommy sarcastically asks if he's also wearing chaps and a ten-gallon hat.
  • In Dracula the one American character, Quincey Morris, is a wealthy Texas cattle rancher who carries a large bowie knife. In one moment, Morris leaves a meeting with other heroes where they're trying to figure out how to cope with vampires; a few seconds later, bullets come flying through the window.
    Quincey: I'm sorry, I thought I saw a bat out there.
  • Played with and ultimately subverted in the case of Robert Tendyke in the German horror-fantasy-occasionally-SF series Professor Zamorra. The man owns a US-based megacorp (one that's usually depicted as at least reasonably ethical at that), is fond of dressing like a cowboy to the point of cliche, still has more than enough time to spare to play quasi-professional 'adventurer' even when he's not already involved in the latest case of the title character...and eventually turns out to have been born some four centuries ago as the long-estranged son of the demon Asmodis and an unfortunate Roma woman of very European extraction. The "cowboy" act is just a deliberate part of his modern-day identity.
  • In one of the Otto Stahl novels, our German anti-hero is being trained to impersonate a US soldier prior to the Battle of the Bulge. His instructor apparently believes this trope and encourages Stahl to adopt a hip-swinging saunter, causing Stahl to gripe that he feels like a male prostitute selling his ass on the Reeperbahn.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, where young Indy is imprisoned in a maximum security German P.O.W. prison during World War I, he is approched by two Russian prisoners who ask him if he is a cowboy since "All Americans are cowboys", when Indy asks them to clarify, they ask him if he knows how to use the lasso which Indy replies he does, prompting an overjoyed "A COWBOY!" reaction in them. Because, it turned out that they had been crafting a rope from all the strings of the mail envelopes for the purpose of escaping.
  • The first Doctor Who with a US setting was "The Gunfighters", which saw the First Doctor, Steven and Dodo mixing it up with Wyatt Earp and Johnny Ringo.
  • Sky is under this impression in The Sarah Jane Adventures. Justified in that she is younger than she looks and has been watching Toy Story.
  • Dad's Army. Walmington-on-Sea is hosting the first US troops on British soil, so Captain Mainwaring asks Sgt Wilson how he should greet them. Wilson suggests, "Howdy partner, put it there" while offering to shake hands. Mainwaring scoffs at this, saying he's been watching too many cowboy movies. This becomes the inevitable Brick Joke when the American captain enters and holds out his hand to Mainwaring. "Howdy partner, put it there!"
  • Ninja Sentai Kakuranger featured Jiraiya, the Japanese-American Black Ranger. When not transformed, he wore a cowboy outfit, dual six-shooters and all.
  • Shuriken Sentai Ninninger ramps it up further with Kinji Takigawa aka StarNinger, who not only wears a cowboy outfit when unmorphed but his Ranger form has a built-in cowboy hat and poncho and his mecha is modeled on a bison (but he's still played by a Japanese actor}. His American counterpart Levi was made a country-western singer in order to justify the outfit.
  • In Penny Dreadful, the lone American main character is introduced as a professional sharpshooter at a Wild West show in Victorian England.
  • In The League, Taco landed a role on an Algerian soap opera called Sands of Passion as Buck, an American pastiche and self-described "rapper-slash-cowboy-slash-cautionary tale" dressed like a cowboy and whose catchphrase is “Bang bang, what’s the hang?”
  • In True Blood, Japanese businessman Gus has his US office in Dallas. In an attempt to "fit in", he dresses like a cowboy businessman and speaks in a ridiculously fake Texan accent. The other characters would often look at him in such a way that he was trying way too hard.
  • Discussed on NCIS between Gibbs and a visiting officer from the British Royal Marines.
    Brit: You Americans really are like John Wayne, aren't you?
    Gibbs: Gary Cooper.

  • The late Mexican composer of songs for children, Francisco Gabilondo Soler Cri-Cri:
    • In his song "El Ratón Vaquero" (The Cowboy Mouse), which also has Gratuitous English in its lyrics.
    • Not to mention the song was a giant Take That! against Walt Disney, since Disney tried to destroy Soler's reputation because Soler refused to sell the rights of his songs to him.
  • "My Name is Potato" from Rita Pavone.
    "Sure! I'm an AMERICAN potato!"
  • The name of the Finnish novelty band Leningrad Cowboys refers to the fact that they pretend to be Russian and play American rock and roll.

  • In Diner, the only American customer among the multinational group is Buck the Texan.

  • In episode three of Mystery Show, a German chef recalls arriving in Texas and being very disappointed not to be met by someone on horseback.

  • Prevalent enough in Germany back when The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny was first produced that a production note specifically insisted "Wildwest- und Cowboy-Romantik" was to be averted.
  • Michael Flatley's Feet of Flames has a few cowboys to represent America's involvement is WWII.

    Video Games 
  • The American Bomberman in Super Bomberman 3 is dressed like a cowboy.
  • The primary love interest, and thus the most promoted character, in Sakura Wars V: So Long, My Love is Gemini Sunrise - Texan samurai cowgirl. That said, the game takes place in New York City, with the other American characters fitting much more into the category of "city-folk".
  • Implied in Shiren the Wanderer, with one NPC named "Foreign Vagabond" who wears a combination of cowboy gear and Braids, Beads and Buckskins.
  • Tina from Dead or Alive had a sexed-up cowgirl outfit in the first game, and her dad Bass has a full cowboy getup as his default costume in the second. They're both American, in case you couldn't tell.
  • In Street Fighter IV, Ken, an "America the Beautiful"-style Eaglelander, wears cowboy gear as one of his alternate costumes. Even though he's probably from California.
  • Pokémon Black and White: As Unova is based off America, male Pokémon Rangers are this. Clay, however, is a subversion, as he's an immigrant from the Pokémon world equivalent of Japan.
  • Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire play this straight; Aarune is dressed and speaks like a stereotypical cowboy despite hailing from Unova, the equivalent of the New York/New Jersey area.
  • A recurring theme in the Command & Conquer: Red Alert Series, especially as later games began undercutting America Saves the Day. Exceptionally Texan General Coville from RA2 kicked it off, but it became all too apparent in RA3 (listen especially to the Century Bomber...). Two of the Allied combat tracks are actually called "American Cowboys" and "How The West Was Won".
  • Johnny from Guilty Gear. American? Check. Massive cowboy hat? Check. Iaijutsu Practitioner? Hmm, that's new.
  • A rare western example from Blizzard Entertainment's Overwatch.
    • McCree is one of two actually, three American characters in a game starring a Multinational Team. He also looks and acts like a cowboy, complete with the iconic hat and a six shooter. He even says "It's high noon" when activating his ultimate. Keep in mind that this game takes place in the future.
    • And now one of McCree's former gang members, Ashe, joins the cast. She too is sporting the classic outlaw look, complete with a lever action Winchester and a sawed off shotgun.
  • In Alpha Protocol, this is referenced. Hong Shi mentions that he doesn't want to banter with an "American cowboy," and one of Grigori's complaints about American agents is that when they're not too uptight, they're "too much cowboy!"

    Western Animation 
  • Bounced around in Danger Mouse. In one episode set in America, the only American DM meets is a cowboy. In another set in New York, there's no Wild West theme or cowboys at all (though there is a King Kong Shout-Out).
  • Clay from Xiaolin Showdown. Probably justified in that he came from a cattle ranch in Texas.
  • One episode of King of the Hill had Hank forced to act like a stereotypical cowboy, including wearing cowboy boots, hat and driving a Cadillac El Dorado convertible, in an effort to appeal to a potential customer who believed that this was the way all Texans behaved. Eventually Hank gets fed up and tells the customer that if all he cares about is "cowboy bullshit" he can go with Thaterton, but if he wants the job done right to stick with Strickland. The customer goes with Thaterton.
  • Hank from Thomas & Friends, due to him being built in the United States instead of England like most of the other locomotives, speaks in a Texan accent, while the real locomotive class he was based on was from Pennsylvania.
  • Roswell from Generator Rex has a cowboy hat and talks like a cowboy.
  • One TV Funhouse animated segment from SNL dealt with a Chinese cartoon about heroically doped-up figure skaters. The American competitor is portrayed a gawky hick in full cowboy garb who can only say the word "Golly!"
  • Sandy Cheeks from SpongeBob SquarePants is the only character who is explicitly identified as American (more specifically, she's from Texas) and she plays every cowboy cliche in the book straight as an arrow.

    Real Life 
  • After 9/11, Saddam's administration mentioned that the "The American cowboys are reaping the fruit of their crimes against humanity."
  • Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both maintained a cowboy image, having plenty of photo-ops in cowboy hats and acting like ranch guys. While neither one ever really worked with cattle, Reagan had acted in Westerns, was quite fond of horseback riding, owned a horse named El-Alamein (likely after the World War II battle), and later became something of an Ascended Fanboy of the Western genre, buying and maintaining a working horse ranch where he cleared brush and chopped firewood himself. Bush, meanwhile, had been governor of Texas, the state most identified with cowboy imagery, and also owned a (non-working) ranch outside of Waco that, during his Presidency, almost acted as a second Camp David (it was nicknamed the "Western White House"). In his post presidency Bush (who had been born in Connecticut) sold his ranch. Make of that what you will.
  • Lyndon Johnson, the first Texan in the White House, had a cowboy image.
  • Theodore Roosevelt was a cowboy, among other things. Mark Hanna, who'd argued against kicking Roosevelt into the Vice Presidency for exactly this reason, had this to say.
    Hanna: I don't believe it! The goddamn cowboy's President!
  • There's also a second layer to this trope: In America, every white person west of the Mississippi is stereotyped as a cowboy, unless they live on the West Coast. And we do literally mean "the Coast" — inland California and eastern Oregon and Washington are as steeped in this trope as Arizona and Montana. The "Bakersfield sound" in Country Music is a prime example, having been created in the '60s by the descendants of Dust Bowl migrants to California's Central Valley. And even in the eastern US, you'll find some appropriation of cowboy iconography in the rural areas, especially in the South.
  • The term cowboy diplomacy, sometimes used by critics of certain aspects of US foreign policy.
  • A frequent complaint from American intellectuals and academics about their European (particularly French) opposite numbers is this bizarre identification of the cowboy as one of the most important things in the American psyche. One episode of This American Life includes a bit where a visitor to Germany goes into the phenomenon (and why it's stupid) in detail.
  • The reason for this stereotype seems to be that, way back when, the majority of early American entertainment media that made it to other countries had a Western theme. Westerns were hugely popular in the U.S. at the time, but they weren't exactly Slice of Life storytelling (most Americans back then didn't live on the frontier; otherwise it wouldn't have been a frontier), something many non-Americans at the time could not have known. This phenomenon predates motion pictures; Buffalo Bill's Wild West performances made many successful European tours and were perhaps many Europeans' first exposure to American culture and media (and Americans in general).
    • Karl May might have had something to do with this. [1]
  • The Frontier Thesis of Frederick Jackson Turner explained the unique American Culture (democracy, individualism, optimism, comfort with violence) as being created by Westward Expansion. His idea being that the first few centuries of American Society were defined by a continual push against the wilderness, with frontier people having to rely on each other for day-to-day survival, but gaining wealth as individuals once the area was secure (which always came eventually). Turner's influence on the study of U.S. history was massive, and his popularity helped establish the cowboy as representing the differences between the U.S. and other Anglosphere countries (or Europe).
  • The only American character seen in the It's a Small World ride at the Disney Theme Parks (not counting a lone Eskimo) for some reason actually dresses up in stereotypical cowboy garb that is found only in the last part of the ride.
    • Strangely enough, in a reversal of the trope, that is true in the American versions of the ride. "It's a Small World" in Disneyland Paris has an entire North America section with more than just cowboys (though it does have some).
  • Truth in television for tens of millions of Americans, especially those who live in the West and South. Pick up trucks of all makes are sold with cowboy imagery, the Western dominated as a genre in books, television, and movies well into the latter half of the 20th century, and American children to this day play dress-up as cowboys complete with hat and cap six-shooter. Many Americans see themselves as such, and it helps that the image of a individual who does what's right and is still tough and rugged has near universal appeal. In a recent poll of favorite actors Americans still put John Wayne at 5th, despite the handicap of having been dead since the 70s.
  • This is invoked by the American Outlaws, an organized supporters group for the United States men's and women's national soccer teams. As implied by the group's name, they use a lot of Western-inspired imagery, including members frequently attending matches wearing cowboy hats and American flag bandanas.