A new generation of anxious millennial cowboys has been quietly revitalizing the country lifestyle in their own image, abandoning negative attitudes put on them by society, building strength, creating community, and waiting for their time to shine. Like for “Hangman” Adam Page, that time is now.
Note: Greyson Peltier’s columns feature social analysis and discuss the fight to Change The World, through the lens of kayfabe. Strong language may be used.
When I first started to get into Hangman’s story, I was intrigued and mildly confused by the cowboy aspect of his story. Some of his opponents in AEW, such as his Full Gear opponent Kenny Omega, have sought to delegitimize this aspect of his identity as he (intentionally) does not align with the common conceptualization of a cowboy. However, the Anxious Millennial Cowboy title is more than just a funny lower third; it is an indicator of a subtle social movement among young people adopting their own version of a country lifestyle. The desire for the slowed-down, simple life has never been greater among the workers who make up the majority of the workforce but have little to show for their years of effort. As they leave urban areas to new locales or even those they may have grown up in by necessity of economic realities, permitted by the shift to remote work caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, or a desire to get away from the excesses of what has been termed “late-stage capitalism,” they bring their DIY ethos and apply a different set of principles to the traditions of the past.
Anxious Millennial Cowboys In Our Midst
CBS News recently reported on Millennials leaving professional jobs to work on farms as one of the more extreme changes in the current trend of realigning career priorities. Even with the difficulties and adjustments necessitated by this life, these workers find it better than the flashy world they left. On TikTok, commune and farm lifestyles have been promoted by various influencers seeking a desire to return to nature and to work on their anxieties. Punk fashion designer Madeline Pendleton once stated that punks’ goals eventually turn them into farmers. Much of this sentiment aligns with Hangman’s “In The Woods” Being The Elite (BTE) segments during lockdown.
Also, a new movement of more progressive country folk has emerged online under the hashtags #Yallidarity and #Yallternative, with a dual focus on the needs of the working class American that has been lacking in progressive organizing but gainfully exploited for conservatives’ electoral victory and working with the country lifestyle and aesthetic instead of favoring the ways of coastal elites that can be viewed as exclusionary. However, ideologies of this group generally considerably intersect with the coastal, urban leftists many rural residents have been ignored by, a brilliant showing of the power of diversity of tactics in the face of unique populations. This has coincided with a new form of country music reflecting these priorities. As an outspoken punk rock kid, prior to being touched by these ideas (and the Anxious Millennial Cowboy playlist), I never thought I would be listening to as much country music as I do now or having random dreams about horses, farms, and miscellaneous cowboy shit. But I am still not quite a fan of the typical country music played on the radio. Some have a described a significant amount of pop country as being “bro country music,” with tropes that can be viewed as misogynistic and catering to “frat bros.” To the contrary, artists like Orville Peck, Colter Wall, and Pawns or Kings that call back to the forgotten radical aspects of classic country lyrics from artists like Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Jr., and Woody Guthrie has been slowly gaining steam.
Cowboy Shit Defined
As I mentioned in my previous article on Page, his conceptualization of the cowboy departs significantly and decidedly from the current conventional narrative and its implicit ideologies. It’s not even about the aesthetic or lifestyle in and of itself, as the powerful Fight for the Fallen entrance exhorts “you don’t need a hat to be a cowboy.” It is about creating community, finding good friends, nurturing family, the fight to find yourself, and “leaving your frontier better than you found it.” These are the very principles that young people have been thirsting for and galloping through the frontier literally and figuratively in search of.
“...and they’ll stand by their partners and challenge those those who have it all, and they’ll keep riding until they find their peace.”
Much of the AEW narrative, from Page’s leave to welcome a new child to his family, to CM Punk’s 7-year departure from the sport, to Jon Moxley now entering addiction treatment, has centered around the ability to have a time of coming away. This is further elucidated in his “Cowboy Shit” promo after winning the Ladder Match. He asserts that he still believes now, as he did when AEW was founded, that we “could change the world“ but laments that “the world has changed us,” and him specifically, causing him to lose his confidence.
This is reminiscent of his BTE Monologue segment where he discussed how the “world conditioned (him) to believe“ he was “the bad guy” when it was never his choice to begin with. He continues by explaining with a preacher-like zeal his Cowboy Shit process of working hard with the opportunity he was given as a tag team champion, leaving old friends and failures in the past, defending those who stuck their neck out for him, making difficult choices that align with his values, like taking time off for the birth of his new son during one of the hottest periods of his career, then lastly rejecting what the world has put into him as incorrect beliefs about himself to finally believe in himself. In line with the anxious reluctance of many millennials, Page acknowledged the support of the community of fans chanting “Cowboy Shit,” over and above his self-doubt, and decided to finally muster the courage to “pick up the phone” to return to attain “the one thing that has eluded me all this time.“ While still demonstrating his signature humility by saying he could not predict the outcome of Full Gear, this journey has enabled him to now give everything, his body, blood, sweat, and tears, for his goal of being World Champion.
”When you fall off, you get back up, you get back on the horse, you keep riding, blazing on ahead, because to me that’s Cowboy Shit!” - Adam Page
We Still Want That Title
Though some will choose to permanently join a new society they have built for themselves and like-minded people, many have chosen this unique cowboy path as a way to find their peace and come back with the lessons they learn to be victorious in their pursuit of changing the world instead of letting it change us. Having returned to their roots, seeing new possibilities, and finally believing in themselves, they see the need to bring the product of this transformation to the masses, as Page has done. By discussing his need to still achieve the title of AEW World Champion and engaging in normal middle and upper class conversation topics such as home improvement, lawn mowers, and HGTV, Page’s example hints at a viable model for involvement and victory by Millennials, the oldest of whom are turning 40 but have largely had economic success elude them, in the worlds of people who “have it all” with both the strength to achieve and a principled approach.
I believe in Adam Page and that we will see his victory at Full Gear, and we will continue to see this nascent movement get “over” in communities everywhere.
Greyson Peltier is an Anxious Millennial Cowpunk, host of The Fixerpunk Podcast, a communications consultant specializing in politics and social impact, and founder of Laguna Beach, CA-based consulting firm Off Speed Solutions. Peltier holds a BA in Political Science from the University of Southern California and has been featured by media outlets like Vice, ESPN Radio KLAA, USA Radio Network, and Street Fight Radio.