October 23, 2006

Why Indians like The Searchers

Assuming they do, that is. Here's an exchange on subject with correspondent Khan. It's a response to the negative review of The Searchers I linked to in July.The writer found it strange that they seemed to identify with the cowboys, and not the actual Natives in the film, who were stereotypes.Many Indians have identified with the cowboys rather than the Indians in Westerns. See The Harm of Native Stereotyping:  Facts and Evidence for examples. And why not, since everyone loves a winner? Why would an upstanding Indian want to associate with the murderous savages in a typical Western?

Indians could've loved The Searchers for several reasons. Because the Indians in the film came off better than the John Wayne character. Because the film exposed the racism inherent in our culture. Or simply because they finally saw themselves on the screen in any role, no matter how unrelated it was to their actual lives.

None of this has anything to do with the quality of The Searchers, which was the writer's point. Regardless of its racism, the film is highly overrated.

12 comments:

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
There is a point overlooked here, and it is this: humans had to protect themselves against wolves, and so they took up with their own wolves to survive. The John Wayne character in THE SEARCHERS is that kind of symbol, a wolf who will take on 'the wolves' in defense of the people who produced him. Watch the final scene and you will see the point. The family of the rescued girl is happy and completed again, and they close the door to their cabin, leaving her rescuer alone outside.
Motion pictures are not as literal as some of the rest of you must imagine. There is an inherent symbolism attached in the best representatives of the form. Else, they mostly would be just a large collection of pretty images, which all of us must know is not the case.
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
POSTSCRIPTUM: yes, writerfella likes THE SEARCHERS.
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

I can easily separate the form and the content when I comment on a movie. My critiques of a fantasy like Brother Bear or Kronk's New Groove are as tough as those of a realistic feature like Into the West or Black Cloud.

So whether the representations in The Searchers are literal or symbolic, they're still racist and stereotypical. And I agree with the critic who said the movie is overrated.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
But then again, so is GONE WITH THE WIND. So is CITIZEN KANE. So is STAR WARS. The one matter that the public misses with motion pictures is that they are not real. It's all fake. Until you work and appear in a motion picture, you can't know this.
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Not a Sioux said...

I think the only John Wayne film I've seen is "Hondo", and that one does have a more nuanced approach to Native Americans than the "average Western" of the day.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
And that is because the original novel HONDO was written by Louis L'Amour, and THE SEARCHERS was written by Frank Nugent.
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

In The Harm of Stereotyping: Facts and Evidence, I've quoted dozens of experts who say people learn about Indians from movies and TV. The audience may know that the characters and plot are fictional, but they don't necessarily know that the background info (such as the depictions of Indians) is fictional.

Are you suggesting people don't get their racist and stereotypical ideas about Indians from movies such as The Searchers? If so, where do they get them from?

Incidentally, I agree that Citizen Kane and Star Wars are (slightly) overrated and Gone with the Wind is hugely overrated.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Racist and stereotypical ideas are learned at home and in the communities gated or otherwise and in schools and even in church. What happens to such ideas is that they can be reinforced but not ordinarily introduced originally by books, movies, and/or TV. Having just read the post on the Red Lake problem in Minnesota, from whence do the racist and stereotypical ideas spring forth in that situation? From INTO THE WEST? From DR. QUINN, MEDICINE WOMAN? From THE SEARCHERS? From Chief Ileniwok? From the Tomahawk Chop?
If the Red Lake Natives were to confront their critics with the above items as arguments, you'd have to rename Minnesota as The Land of 10,000 Laughs...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

You really think most people sit around the dinner table or the church pews discussing Indians? And parents instruct their kids on the finer points of playing cowboys and Indians? I must've had an unusual upbringing, because that wasn't my experience. I doubt my family mentioned Indians even once. I haven't polled the people I know, but I'm guessing none of them discussed Indians either.

School is a different matter. But how many hours of instruction do you think schoolchildren get about Indians? Forty? Eighty? Whatever the number, I bet most kids spend more hours playing games, watching Western movies and TV shows, reading books and comic books, dressing up for Halloween, coloring in coloring books, watching football games with mascots, etc.

I'm talking many more hours. In fact, I bet it isn't even close. It's tough to quantify, but I'd guess my media exposure to Indians outweighed my scholastic exposure by at least 2 to 1. More likely the ratio was 4 to 1, 8 to 1, or more.

Heck, consider the TV shows alone: The Lone Ranger (live and animated versions), Bonanza, F Troop, The Go-Go Gophers, etc. I definitely spent more hours learning Indian stereotypes on TV than I did in school. Again, it's not even close.

All the influences I've listed come directly or indirectly from the surrounding environment via the media. In other words, kids pick up most of their "knowledge" by culturual osmosis--not from parents, teachers, or preachers. Everything from Disney videos to commercials like Zagar and Steve to Land o' Lakes product packaging reinforces the message. Indians are savage and uncivilized or simply exotic and strange.

Anyway, you don't have to take my word for it. I referred you to the page with quotes. Rennard Strickland, Cornel Pewewardy, and Chris Eyre are among the professionals who say Americans learn about Indians primarily from the media.

The facts and evidence support my position. For instance, a poll of American Indian leaders said the cause of anti-Indian sentiment was media stereotypes (45%) and systemic racism (22%). So you'll have to do better than simply telling us you disagree. Where's your counterevidence that parents, teachers, and preachers have more influence than the media?

If the people of Red Lake wish to dispute Strickland, Pewewardy, et al. about the source of stereotypes, they're welcome to. But I'm guessing they'll agree with the experts and me, not with you. Sorry.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
writerfella said "Racist and stereotypical ideas," which would include Natives but does not mean only Natives. 'Culture' is taught at home, 'culture' is taught in the communities gated or otherwise, 'culture' is taught in schools, and 'culture' is taught in church. American culture, that is. writerfella does not believe the Ozzie and Harriet ideal that the dominant 'culture' discusses only bleedingly mundane subjects, and such Americans certainly are not discussing only the weather. Charity may begin at home, but so does asperity and disparity.
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Not a Sioux said...

My experience is extremely close to Rob's but just a few years later. The age of the Western had pretty much passed, but I saw plenty of "Go Go Gophers" (I can still remember "Hoopie doopie!" even if I have not heard it for 30+ years), and there were Indians elsewhere in the media to color my perceptions, even if some of them were bizarre "post-1960s" examples as Eagle Free in the Prez comics.

I'll repeat Rob's line of "but I'd guess my media exposure to Indians outweighed my scholastic exposure by at least 2 to 1. More likely the ratio was 4 to 1, 8 to 1, or more."

I recall little or nothing about Indians (good OR bad) from school or around the dinner table. I was also involved in Cub Scouts, which is rife with Native American trappings, an example of the "exotic and strange" (to use Rob's words).

All this at a time of living in a city that was founded by Native Americans and used to be 100% Native populated.

Rob said...

Children may learn about mainstream American culture in their homes and schools, but they generally learn about ethnic cultures (other than their own) in schools and the media. With the emphasis on the latter.

As I think I said before, I was briefly a member of the Woodcraft Rangers when the program was Indian-themed. All these Scouting and Scouting-like programs have Indian influences. But it's difficult to say whether the influences come straight from the "community" or are shaped by media stereotypes.