November 03, 2006

Indians as rodent pests

A blast from TV's past (circa 1968):

Go-Go GophersThe Go-Go Gophers featured a pair of buck-toothed gophers, Ruffled Feathers, who spoke in unintelligible phrases, and his interpreter Running Board.

They were the native inhabitants of Gopher Gulch, which was also home to a U.S. Cavalry Fort. The Fort was headed by Colonel Kit Coyote, a blustery Teddy Roosevelt-type. He was aided by Sergeant Okey Homa, a southerner who resembled John Wayne. The military-minded Colonel spent his time planning new ways to drive the gopher-Indians from their lands. The native gophers devised ingenious and successful ways to protect their territorial rights. Sandy Becker provided the voices of Ruffled Feather and Sergeant Okey Homa. George S. Irving was the voice of Running Board and Kenny Delmar spoke for Colonel Kit Coyote.
Comment:  Among the stereotypes in these cartoons are:
  • The chief and the brave
  • Tonto-style talk
  • Unintelligible talk (marking the Indian as weird and exotic)
  • Funny Indian names
  • The teepee
  • The Southwest desert landscape (at odds with the Plains trappings)
  • The existence of only two gopher-Indians (implying they're close to vanishing)
Not to mention the fact that the lead characters are rodent pests. Sure, they're smarter than the Army "dawgs," but so what? Indians have been compared to cunning animals throughout history. That a cunning animal can sometimes best a naive human doesn't make it human also.

These cartoons are obviously indebted to the Roadrunner cartoons of 20 years earlier. And to any number of pairings like Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, Tom and Jerry, Tweety and Sylvester, etc. They're cute in their own stereotypical way.

But for people like me, this was one of our first exposures to Indians. No wonder I thought they were a vanishing breed who lived out in the desert somewhere.


The Local Crank said...

Wow! I had completely forgotten this cartoon. True, it's not exactly what you would call enlightened, but at least the Indians always won. And the cavalry were portrayed as buffoons.

Rob said...

All the stereotypical Indian comic-book characters--the original Chief Wahoo, Tonto, Turok, Super-Chief, Red Wolf, Eagle Free, Dawnstar, Rainmaker, et al.--won their battles. That doesn't make them any less stereotypical.

The Local Crank said...

True, however, when this cartoon came out, the Indians ALWAYS lost and were ALWAYS portrayed as bloodthirsty savages burning down wagon trains. So, yes, it is a stereotype, but I can rank it a tick above nearly all the Westerns that came out at the same time.
As for the comic books characters, I think the fact that NDN's are always portrayed as the good guys is itself stereotypical, or at the very least condescending, don't you?

Rob said...

I've never forgotten The Go-Go Gophers, but "not a sioux's" mention of them inspired me to look for this material.

I'm sure Indians were the villains in many Western comics. Various Indian sorcerers and demons have fought and lost in superhero comics. And there have been a few Indian supervillains--e.g., DC's Black Bison or the mad scientist in the old Superman cartoon.

I think divorcing the Indian from his context--thousands of cultures over millennia of history--is a part of, or a corollary to, the Vanishing Indian stereotype. It happened with Uncas of Last of the Mohicans...with the Lone Ranger's Tonto...and with the Go-Go Gophers.

Anonymous said...

Wow, the memories are coming back, I vaguely remember this cartoon. I believe this lasted only one season and coincided with the rising popularity of F-Troop.
The reason I remember, is being annoyed with the Indian who spouts gibberish. It's still annoying and demeaning.

Rob said...

Yes, it's similar in tone to F Troop. Judging by what I read, it may have been part of Underdog rather than a standalone show.

Like me, you also may remember the catchy theme song. And, of course, the chief's authentic Indian catch-phrase, "Hoopie Doopie."