From The Desk of Culture: A Cordial Invitation to Meet Here Every Week


Hello there, pleased to meet you.  My name is Joseph Shelton but feel free to call me Joe.   I sometimes write, and, god help me, I’m hopelessly addicted to stories – hearing them, telling them, retelling the ones I’ve heard -- I’ve had the good fortune of meeting many of you and hearing your stories when I clerked at Movie Lovers, your friendly local movie rental store that offers conversation while you rent, something you will never get by streaming from Netflix. I also penned a weekly column that appeared in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle in which I offered opinions, only occasionally warranted, of new movies.  If I’ve already met you there, then howdy, good to see you again.  How have you been?


At any rate, I’m not sure what life would be like without the stories we tell, the ones we share with each other, in which the lines between fact and fiction are very often blurred.


With regular installments here, I’ll be venturing further afield into that rich intersection of arts and culture high and low, sacred and profane.  At 28 I’m sort of an elderly millennial, and maybe that’ll mean I have some kind of reasonably unique perspective, although maybe that’s just the millennial self-absorption you’ve heard so much about.  

At any rate, I’m not sure what life would be like without the stories we tell, the ones we share with each other, in which the lines between fact and fiction are very often blurred.  But thankfully human life, as it is currently lived in the Treasure State, is ridden with them.  There are those—many of them from out of state— who might think that Montana is poorer than some states when it comes to its resource of fodder for stories.  These folks are wrong, considering the motherlode of writing talent that has emerged. If you have never taken a moment to Google important writers who have lived or passed through our state, do so now.  Or I’ll save you the effort and a by no means exhaustive list: Dashiell Hammett, Jack Kerouac, Jeannette Rankin, Norman Maclean, James Welch, Wallace Stegner, Rudyard Kipling, Richard Brautigan, Richard Hugo, B.M. Bower, John Steinbeck, Theodore Roosevelt, Dorothy Johnson, Ivan Doig, K. Ross Toole,  A.B. Guthrie, and Robert Pirsig, among others . Surprised?  Not me!  I think that Montana’s most enduring resource might not be something entirely physical.  It’s more likely to be some spirit of the place that begins with nature, proceeds up through us, and into the Big Sky (henceforth BS).

Regardless, it is good for stories.

There are, certainly, some things of which Montana doesn’t have as much as other states.  If your thing is oceanic mollusks, we’ve only got a few of those here, either prehistoric and in fossil form, potentially uncovered by Jack Horner, or they’re taking shape of unwanted invasive species recolonizing our waters and extirpating the natives, which has become a recurrent theme.

If its tropical climes you’re after, Montana and Bozeman may fail you there too, although some of the recent temperatures have certainly felt pretty hot to me, if not quite equatorial.  Someday, maybe we’ll start growing wine?

But let’s return to stories.  It might seem like our narrative is narrower than other states because we have so many fewer people.  The population density of Montana in 2010 was only 6.8 people for square mile, a statistic that suggests you could walk for a while in any given direction and probably only meet six whole people and most of another one.  For reference, the average population density of the United States is 87.4 people per square mile.  To yours truly, that sounds like a bit of a clamor.  

I would opine that the aforementioned 6.8 people are some of the most interesting you’re likely to find in these United States, but maybe that’s biased.  I would also aver that most of them are very cultured people, however the word “culture” strikes you. Folks who have seen a good portion of the world, and have something interesting to say about it.  Many of them are widely read, cosmopolitan in their sensibilities if not metropolitan in their choice of places to live.  Like it or not, the rest of the world is “discovering” Bozeman and most of those 6.8 are clustering along the foothills of our Northern Rockies from the Yellowstone boundary northward to border with Canada. Meantime, corners of rural eastern Montana continue to empty out, save for the boom of itinerant laborers swamping the Bakken.

Frankly, we don’t need outsiders to tell our stories for us. We don’t need New Yorkers to distill the essence of who we are.  We don’t need interlopers to remind us that this has been a great place to be (and long before they arrived).  Which isn’t to offend any of you interlopers that may be reading.  I’m pleased to meet you, too.  

So good, I’m pleased that we’ve met. I guess that means we’re not strangers anymore.  And since I’ve revealed the bare facts of my crippling addiction, there’s no need to be coy.  I’m going to work through that addiction in a way that might prove fruitful or at least entertaining for both of us.  I’m going to write about films, music, television and books from the perspective of one of those 6.8 people.   Some of them will have been made in Montana, but it is certain that all of them will be experienced in Montana.  

Sometimes I’ll like the film, album, episode etc., and sometimes I reckon I won’t.  In either case, I’ll try to tell you why I think so.  Your part of the bargain is to either agree or disagree and try to enjoy yourself or fire back if the urge strikes you. Let’s argue about it.

Maybe you’re as addicted to storytelling as I am. Let’s swap tales and meet back here regularly.  Like many other natural resources, stories can be recycled, and should be.  

And if, on your way, you meet another of the 6.8 people in your mile, see if they want to come along for the ride.  They’re welcome, too.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Joseph Shelton is a freelance writer working on his Masters in English Literature at Montana State University.  The only thing better than watching movies, he avers, is arguing about them with like- or unlike-minded folks; drop him a line and tell him just how wrong he is.