Is Yellowstone A “Fictional” Pressure Release Valve Meant To Mesmerize And Pacify Its Audience, Or Something More?

by Travis Mateer?

I didn’t watch the season 5 premier of Yellowstone on Sunday to be entertained. Since I’m at the ground-level of this modern myth-making effort by Taylor Sheridan, I watched to see how his cognitive assault on the soft targets known as “the audience” is progressing. Spoilers ahead.

The idea of what “progress” means is taken up by then candidate for Governor, John Dutton (Kevin Costner), near the end of season 4, in an episode titled Keep the Wolves Close. Here’s the speech taken from the transcript (emphasis mine):

You don’t see it on your way to work, in the fields, or on the mountain, but there’s a war being waged against our way of life. They’ll tell you all the reasons – why our way of life … are bad for this country, bad for our future. How it’s immoral that you live here, work here, grow their food here. They will tell it so much you might even start to believe it yourself. Question what you do and who you are. They’ll tell you that the land’s only hope is for them to be its steward. The ugly truth is they want the land, and if they get it, it will never look like our land again. That is progress in today’s terms, so if it’s progress you seek, do not vote for me. I am the opposite of progress. I am the wall that it bashes against, and I will not be the one who breaks.

To understand the NON-fiction implications of what’s being said here, one must look PAST the emotions stirred by the content to understand that, yes, there IS a war being waged, and it’s a factional war between pockets of wealth with this show as an actual weapon being deployed. My evidence? Keep your eye on the wolves, both real and fictional, because that’s part of it.

Before we get to the wolves, we must recall the unsexy topic of media tax credits sought by the film industry in the 2021 legislative session. Specifically, recall that the 10 million dollar tax credit CAP was going to be jacked up to $250 million, but in the end, it was raised to just $12 million. The disappointment rippling in the media seemed palpable at the time. From the link:

The cap placed on tax credits offered to film productions in Montana was increased this legislative session, but not by much, and officials say it’s a surprise.

The state capped the credits at $10 million just before the 2021 legislative session.

House Bill 340 aimed to increase the cap to nearly $250 million, but in the end the legislature capped it at $12 million.

With only a $2 million increase, officials tell us they don’t believe it will have much benefit for the film industry to grow in Montana.

I remember seeing this reported at the time and thinking our Governor, who is from the east coast and NOT popular with the media because of sometimes mauling them, was being savvy by NOT financially empowering these already powerful storytellers and their abilities to use fictional narratives to their advantage (in more ways than a passive audience will ever realize).

Was I right? If the dead wolves mean what I think they mean, then yes, I was right.

On Sunday night one of the sub-plots of the premier involves John Dutton’s ranch-hands shooting wolves threatening the herd. The problem? They turn out to be collared wolves from “the park”, meaning Yellowstone National Park. Here’s the dialogue from the transcript:

Oh, f*ck.

Uh, these wolves are from the park.


What do we do?

If those radio collars are motionless for twelve hours they send out a distress signal, then there’s Game Wardens standing in this field in the morning and you and I are on the f*cking news tomorrow night.

So what do we do?

We gotta get these collars off and keep them moving until I figure this out.

So what you wanna do is jog them around in a f*cking circle?

These wolves have f*cking Facebook pages. People walk around in t-shirts with their pictures on them. People find out that we k*ll them, on the Governor’s ranch?

We have tags. It’s legal.

Son of a bitch.

This exchange takes on much more significance when you know, like many in Montana know, that our Governor was cited for shooting a wolf because he hadn’t taken some education course. And when did this happen? February of 2021, near the end of the legislative session. Wow. From the link (Washington Post):

In February, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) was visiting a sprawling ranch owned by Robert E. Smith, a donor who directs the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting Group, when he trapped and killed a wolf native to Yellowstone National Park.

Under Montana law, it was legal to kill the wolf because it had wandered about 10 miles outside its protected habitat in the national park.

But Gianforte had failed to complete the required training before setting the traps, state officials soon learned.

So, Gianforte kills a Yellowstone wolf in February–smack in the middle of legislative wrangling that includes negotiations over the size of a tax credit–and it becomes a story in the media, like Sinclair’s NBC Montana. Then, during this legislative time period, the tax credit is whacked down to a paltry $2 million increase. Very interesting.

The mesmerizing of the audience, which I reference in the title of this post, is tangentially connected to the obvious adoption of real-life incidents woven into “fictional” storylines. This blurring of realities, which I’ve mentioned before in previous posts, can be potent and disorienting when it comes to people aspiring to be something they’re not.

While it’s human nature to delude ourselves into thinking we are archetypal heroes starring in our own personal dramas, the social media factor has provided unhealthy tools for actually PROJECTING this self-delusion for the viewing pleasure of others.

Or maybe I’m reading too much into this Tik Tok image of “lolhockenwaller”

I have more than just a social media image to back up my speculation that narratives, both fictional and real, have major impacts on the psyches and institutions that comprise our criminal justice system.

For example, there are two local stories that members of law enforcement have used, over and over again, to benefit themselves in various ways. One of those stories is the miraculous discovery of a baby left in the woods by a man fucked up on meth and bath salts.

Here is a portion of that story, as reported by NBC Montana, starring Bill Burt, who failed in his recent bid to become Justice of the Peace:

Officers believe a hand of protection had to have been on the infant.

“It wasn’t just what Francis did to him — the strangulation. It wasn’t the ride through these trees and being buried. He also had extreme temperatures. There’s all kinds of birds of prey. We have fox, coyote, wolves. There are bears,” said Missoula County Sheriff’s Department Captain Bill Burt.

“It was probably 90 degrees on the side of this mountain when the baby was buried up here, underneath the sticks. At that time when we found him 12 to 13 hours later, it was probably in the low 40s. It was a huge change in temperature. He was just dressed in a baby’s onesie,” said Scholz.

While it’s fantastic this baby was found alive, the manner I’ve directly heard Bill Burt use this story–like a Zoom meeting I was participating in about homelessness and the Sheriff Office’s NON response around the Reserve Street bridge–felt manipulative. Or maybe it’s just his unresolved trauma? Is that why Burt is at the microphone to AGAIN tell this story?

Or maybe members of the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office like to cling to the idea of finding people because they did such a PISS-POOR job of finding Rebekah Barsotti after she went missing on July 20th, 2021.

The other story that has benefited people like our recently reelected County Attorney (because no one ran against her) is the dismemberment case, a ghastly crime that Pabst was using to pitch vicarious trauma support for prosecutors (a real need) before the final sentencing took place.

Here’s a screenshot from an MTPR piece about Pabst’s work:

One of the people in this image is someone I know from my time working at the homeless shelter in Missoula, and now I have a better idea why she isn’t calling me back about my concerns with Pabst’s office.

Another interesting fictional echo I’ll make note of before wrapping this post up is the skirmish between Kayce Dutton and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. While the fictional narrative focuses on horses and borders, the real life conflict between Cascade County Sheriff, Jesse Slaugher, and Canadian agents is something I just referenced in Sunday’s post about the Federal Bureau of Intimidation.

Isn’t this interesting? I think it’s interesting, and I’m happy to share these insights with you, dear readers, at NO cost. Currently I rely on generosity via the donation button, which you can find at my about page.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned, there is definitely more to come!

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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2 Responses to Is Yellowstone A “Fictional” Pressure Release Valve Meant To Mesmerize And Pacify Its Audience, Or Something More?

  1. Interesting timing, the video at the end of the following Missoulian article details a “recovery” of a wolf collar in the Yellowstone river, almost the EXACT storyline from Yellowstone’s premier:

  2. Pingback: Mill Levy Mailer Propaganda Gets Jurisdictional Pinball Treatment From Conflicted Officials, And Other Stories | Zoom Chron Blog

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