The conventional American Western was typically straightforward in its depiction of good and bad. The good cowboys wore white hats, shot straight, and practiced a sort of chivalric gallantry that in a different century Don Quixote attempted to recover. The bad cowboys wore black hats, were lousy shots, and were cheats—often shrewd, lewd, and cynical ones.
Yet, there was always a subgenre of the Western that amalgamated the good and the bad within the same cowboy or bandido and the occasional cowgirl or bandida. And of course, in both the literary and historical interpretation of noncowboy bandits who struggled against authority, good-bad has been the gold standard. Even Robin Hood, often the good-good exception, has been depicted as a good-bad character, as in Robin and Marian (1976), starring Sean Connery as Robin, whose wanderlust drove Maid Marian first to desperation, then to a nunnery, and finally to mercy killing.
The most interesting characters of popular culture have customarily been the good-bad ones, and a frequent observation by both analysts and aficionados over 100 years and more of Westerns and other genres such as the detective film is that many of its "heroes" are good and bad. The good-bad protagonist emerged from the earliest days of the Western, as seen in the Broncho Billy films and the works of William S. Hart. In fact, four years before his appearance as Zorro (1920), Douglas Fairbanks Sr. starred in a film that highlighted good-bad in its title, The Good Bad Man (1916).
Evaluation of protagonists in accordance with the good-bad paradigm (which is explored in much greater detail in our book) is quite useful for the entire project inasmuch as we are dealing with noble bandidas and bandidos, the very semantics of which embraces the novelty and paradox of characters that are simultaneously good and bad. St. Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, in his De Civitate Dei (City of God, 4.4) has an interesting insight into banditry from the point of view of what we might in current parlance call the discipline of political economy.
Take away justice, then, and what are governments but great bandit bands? And after all, what are bands of bandits but small states? The gang itself consists of men, it is directed by the authority of the chief, it is bound together by a pact of mutual support, and the loot is divided in accordance with an agreed law. If, as a result of the recruitment of desperadoes, this evil grows to such an extent that it takes control of a territory, establishes bases, occupies cities and subjugates peoples, then it assumes the name of a government, the more openly because this is now plainly applicable: not because the robbers have renounced their rapacity, but because they are no longer at risk of punishment.