They still make Westerns because the harsh, unforgiving West of the 19th century was a land of stark moral choices. 3:10 to Yuma is just the latest example.
It’s not just horses and gunplay that make Westerns so appealing, it’s the fact that characters can be so easily thrust into scenarios where clearly identifiable Right and Wrong share the stage with Life and Death. The thematic context is so well defined that the characters don’t even need names. Now one can certainly argue that once upon a time in the West — the real West — there were large swaths of grey hanging over the moral landscape. There were pale riders as well as white hats and black hats, and many lawmen had been outlaws of some stripe earlier in life (generally in a different state). The stereotypical duel at high noon between young guns is largely a creation of Hollywood.
But it’s an effective creation. Should Dan Evans take a fistful of dollars and go home, or should he do the right thing and put Ben Wade on the train to Yuma? If lawmen, purported upholders of the law, walk away from their sworn duty, what duty remains for unsworn citizens like Dan? Why are outlaws like Ben always depicted more sympathetically than either the lawmen or the average citizens scurrying around the boardwalks? What will they write on your tombstone? “Got Ben Wade on the 3:10 to Yuma.” Or not. Stark choices.
So what’s the Mo app? The LDS lifestyle necessarily presents clear moral choices. Don’t drink. Go on a mission. Plop down in a pew every Sunday. And so forth. I don’t get the impression that many other denominations enforce such clear expectations. I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with a warm and fuzzy “love your neighbor” sermon, but no one calls you at the end of the month to ask you whether you loved your neighbor or not. Home teaching, on the other hand, creates a record. Either you did or you didn’t. Like Westerns, Mormonism presents clear choices that define one’s life.