Yellowstone is the most popular American TV show, but its viewers are always the least diverse (Horton, 2022). What could be more American and populist than a show about a white male patriarch rancher, John Dutton (Kevin Costner), who leads his family (and all Montanans, as their governor) in a fight against coastal elites, environmentalists (those horrible people), and big city tourists?
Yellowstone is full of clichés that are meant to be easy for its audience to understand. Taylor Sheridan, the show’s creator, makes sure that the show’s messages don’t make people feel too confused if they start to notice how often the show’s events and ideas are different from reality and history and don’t show what happens when people break the law in the real world. Here are some of the show’s recurring ideas and plots.
Patriarchy and toxic masculinity are not extinct because women can perform tasks more effectively.
When you read the comments on websites about the show, it’s clear that Beth Dutton, played by Kelly Reilly, is a character that people have strong feelings about. She is smart, hot, and a “badass.” When she was 17, she broke the patriarchal code and went to bars without an ID.
She knows that sexism can be used as a weapon: “You can be a victim of it or you can use it to your advantage.” She is tougher, meaner, and more physically aggressive than almost everyone (read: every man) in the Yellowstone universe, and she shows it often. I guess that because she is a woman, her violence is supposed to be new or more acceptable.
Beth never learned to be in charge of herself because she was raised by a rich man. So many different things are said about this point that I sometimes wonder if the writers are as crazy as Beth. John Dutton tells his daughter in one episode, “Impulse control. Find some.” In the very next episode, Beth beats John’s girlfriend Summer to a bloody pulp, but John Dutton stays out of it.
Even though he knows what’s going on and is just inside the house at the time, the grand patriarch is not in this scene. Wouldn’t patriarchy require him to keep Beth in line and keep his lover safe from Beth’s expected violence? No, because Beth is such a toxically masculine character on this show, and she uses violence and instant payback in such a pure way, that everyone else is just a pretender to the throne.
Summer, a cartoonish caricature of those rude, Know-It-All, Feminist, Vegetarian Elites, “got what she deserved” for being rude and preaching at the dinner table about how bad it is to raise animals for meat. Even at a dinner party where you are a guest, no vegetarian I know (and I know a few) would say that. Because people have manners and not just people from Montana.
Also, why does Summer keep getting hit in the face if she has “9 Years of Jujitsu”? Summer’s face is cut and bruised, and it looks like it might start bleeding again at any moment. Beth’s face barely shows any signs of their brutal punching match in the next episode, except for a slight change in color under her left eye.
Summer’s face is messed up by Beth’s violence and is a toxically masculine (and Proto-Fascist) subject’s wet dream, so much so that it happens in multiple episodes.
And you think you’re a bad parent! (and boyfriend). The last thing John Dutton says about her daughter beating up his girlfriend is that he “envies” Beth. That’s a problem because it reinforces an old and dangerous idea that violence is the best way to solve problems.
The Protagonists Are Distinguished By Their Narcissism!
“It’s a woman’s job to give a man perspective,” she says at the beginning of the sixth episode of Season 5. This shows how self-centered and rude Beth is. John Dutton just tried to show his daughter Beth how beautiful a mountain view was, but Beth ruined the moment by saying, “It’s the same view as from the porch, just from a different angle.” The more we look into Beth’s mind, the more disturbing it becomes.
She tells him, “I didn’t think this was pretty. When I have the whole place to myself, I get it. I don’t show other people what I think is beautiful.” That is, for something to be beautiful, she must be the only one who has it, and she won’t give it to anyone else.
In Beth’s case, the “Perspective” she gives isn’t broader, more inclusive, or helpful. It’s pure selfishness and narcissism gone bad. But this kind of over-the-top individualism is still a big part of the show, and Sheridan wouldn’t change a formula that brought in 12.5 million more viewers for the November 2022 premiere.
From the poison tree, the poison apple doesn’t fall. John Dutton tells Beth and his adopted son, the state’s attorney, Jamie, in the limo, “Everything I do as governor will be for the ranch.” This is after he has given several stirring and politically effective speeches and won the state’s highest office. There is nothing but self-interest. No empathy, no service, and no community. All of it is for himself.
Also, the main characters shown know where all the bodies are buried because they killed and buried them all themselves. We are seeing the worst kind of psychopathy. I can’t support people who don’t care about other people but have a lot of skill when it comes to branding, killing and betraying them. Yes, a hot “Y” brand is used to mark all the hands at the ranch. This sounds more like a cult or modern slavery than a loving family.
We’re Going To Have a Party As If It’s 1959 (or 1859)!
“This ranch hasn’t changed in a hundred years or a thousand years,” says an indigenous woman who used to teach history at the university but now doesn’t know better because of the lazy writing in Season 5. Before the first Dutton came to the land, let’s say 200 years ago, the native people who lived there had a very different relationship with the land and how it was used.
But that isn’t mentioned in the show. Instead, the indigenous woman tells viewers a made-up, nostalgic, and whitewashed version of history, giving it the appearance of being true when it has none. The claim that the land hasn’t changed in a thousand years is a huge lie that pulls a more critical reader right out of the story.
It’s kind of like checking your Twitter feed: it might be scary or a hot mess, but it’s good to keep an eye on the populist, revisionist fiction, and “own-the-libs” complaints that are being tweeted and fed into the cultural zeitgeist. No, it’s not evolved or new for a woman to beat up their brother or their father’s lover because they say something she doesn’t like.
No, it’s not cool that she does it every week and gets away with it. No, Native Americans are not the enemy of nature and the main people who want to use land in the U.S., even when they are written as the bad guys.
Yellowstone is dangerously far from reality in many ways, but it seems to be pitched perfectly to a loyal audience because of how popular it is. All I ask is that people don’t forget it’s a story and not something to copy. Don’t think, “They really tell it like it is on this show” or “That’s how it’s done” after someone is beaten up or hit in the head with a bottle.
Violence in social and family relationships shouldn’t be made to seem romantic or normal to viewers, because they might start to think it’s a good way to act. When Beth and the rest of the Dutton cult break the law every week and get away with it, that’s a sick fantasy that no one should try to reach.