April 21, 2007

More stereotypes in Pathfinder

Killsback:  On the 'Path' of sour Indian films

The character types:Ghost ... defeats his own Viking people, thus postponing the colonization of Native America for another 500 years, with the aid of the Indian princess, a mentally retarded tribal member and the Pathfinder, a cliched mystic played by Russell Means.The environment:We know the Vikings landed on northern shores, but we can never gain a true sense of where this legend takes place. In "Pathfinder," the pre-contact environment is the harshest of any on the planet. The sun never rose. In one scene, our hero treks through caves filled with human skulls as if he were in a Conan comic book. Obviously there was ice and snow, but there are scenes that show both frozen and tropical environments. During the whole movie we are told that it is springtime, yet there are scenes that would have us thinking otherwise. Nevertheless, it does not make sense to show a young Indian girl gathering berries in a woodland area, and later show our hero sliding down a giant snow-packed mountain. The question still remains: Where exactly is this harsh environment and what is wrong with the weather?

Are we to believe that our ancient environment was at its most harsh in the absence of Europeans? Are we to believe that pre-contact North America was so untamed that even the seasons were inconsistent, and that today's global-warming weather is "normal?" Of course not, but "Pathfinder" may convince some that Native America was ruled by nature, and in need of a good European environmental makeover.
The helpless Natives:"Pathfinder" also depicts the Native people as helpless and defenseless--their pathetic warriors could not kill a single Viking--and that their lack of military tactics and common sense led their best fighters to commit suicide in a weak display of unorganized warfare. The white hero fights, defends and inevitably proves himself superior to the same savage people who denied him as a worthy warrior.

Is this common ancestor the sole reason why the French, Spanish, English and, later, the Americans were met with such violent resistance from Native warriors? Are we to believe that our ancestors could not produce the warriors and warrior societies that protected our people against the gun-wielding brutes of Europe without the teachings of a Viking? Of course not, but "Pathfinder" may convince some, and vindicate others, that the strongest and bravest warriors came from Europe and that somehow our ancestors were bred into knowing their warrior ways.
Conclusion:Like most mainstream movies before, "Pathfinder" had given Indian actors the opportunity to be on the big screen at the cost of their own exploitation. The movie falls miserably close to the path of sour Indian films which have the habit of depicting a wild pre-contact Native America filled with dirty savages wandering aimlessly, without much purpose but to await a brutal death from a much mightier European people. Should we distrust all Hollywood filmmakers when they call for Indian actors? No, but we should at least be aware of how they want to depict American Indians to the rest of the world.Comment:  I find Killsback's point about the environment especially telling. The monochromatic, fogbound landscape makes Native America look like a grim, harsh place. Even without depicting the Indians as savages, the movie depicts the land as savage. The implication is that this is no place for a civilization--that civilization isn't possible here.

Contrast this with the depiction of Native America in Disney's Pocahontas. There the land is the opposite: a colorful, magical place of talking trees and lovable animals. This also sends a stereotypical message: that Indians were happy-go-lucky nature lovers compared to the cruel, exploitative Europeans.

19 comments:

Blair said...

The first clash between Vikings and Native Americans occurred not in North America but in Greenland. Greenland was uninhabited with the Vikings settled it around 984. The Viking settlements flourished for about 200 years, but than Inuits crossed from North America and begin attacking the Viking settlements. The conflict between Vikings and Native Americans lasted for centuries, but the Inuits finally succeeded in destroying the last Viking settlements after the Vikings were weakened by a plague epidemic.

Rob said...

Good point. This is an example of how Natives often defeated non-Natives when their numbers and equipment were similar.

Natives were briefly intimidated by Spaniards using muskets. They wouldn't have been intimidated by Vikings wielding swords.

P.S. Greenland is considered part of North America.

russell said...

Writerfella here --
What might figure into all of this 'fictional' construct is just when was 'The Year Without A Summer'? Worldwide weather specifically is influenced by volcanic dust and other aerosols that are ejecta of vulcanism, reflecting enough sunlight to lower the ambient temperatures worldwide. If the PATHFINER story occurred anywhere near such a timeframe, then snowpacks and lush growth would coincide because flora would obey the time of year and freezing weather would occur at one and the same time because of reduced sunlight. In science fiction, science plays supreme...
All Best
Russ bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

It's true there was a Medieval Warm Period (MWP) followed by a Little Ice Age (LIA) around that time. These changing conditions might explain the strange climate in Pathfinder.

Or not, since the movie occurred in the middle of the MWP. The springs should've been unusually warm, with no lingering ice, during that period.

But I'm betting Pathfinder's people didn't know anything about this. Just at they didn't know (or care) that there are no towering mountain ranges in New England. They made up a cold, dark landscape because it fit their theme and message.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible that this film is pure fantasy? I mean, why delve into the historical inaccuracies involving the terrain and weather?

I haven't even seen the film nor do I plan on it, but I am pretty sure I can write a description without having seen it.

Let's give it a whirl, shall we?

Little white kid gets left behind in a strange land. He wanders around scared and barely survives until he is taken in by a Native of the land. This Native character is frightened by the strange looking white kid, but eventually brings the kid back to their crude camp.

Eventually, it becomes quite apparent that this white kid has fulfilled some age old prophecy.

We see the child grow up into a fine warrior who quickly masters Native weaponry and very quickly surpasses their skills.

By the time this young, handsome white warrior reaches adulthood he has no doubt caught the eye of the chief's daughter or some other pretty gal. This may even spark trouble with a rival within the tribe, whose life he will eventually spare.

Ultimately, he emerges as the hero, saves the tribe, holds true to their beliefs and perhaps teaches a tribal adversary a lesson in his own culture.

Our hero has several brushes with death, but he is the chosen one; therefore, he will not die.

Good gracious, I don't know how we have survived this far without the guidance and help of the white hero!

Pure fantasy.

--Ho-Chunk Goddess

P.S. Hey, Rob, I should write movies, huh?

Rob said...

I think you're close, Ho-Chunk Goddess (aka Anne).

For our purposes, it's almost irrelevant whether a movie is a pure fantasy or a realistic attempt at a portrayal. Either way, the stereotypes have the same effect, arguably.

People may know the story is fiction, but they don't know the backdrop (the history and culture) is also fiction. They're likely to assume it's a fictional story set in a realistic context.

Even if a movie states that everything within it is false, viewers are likely to think otherwise. Movies are so viscerally powerful that people unconsciously believe what they see.

russell said...

Writerfella here --
The actual principle is called 'suspension of disbelief'. BUT -- as anyone trained and grounded in motion pictures and even screenplays (like writerfella) can tell you, the principle only is in operation WHILE the film is underway. Once the end credits roll and the exit music plays, the principle ends its hold and the audience leaves much as when they came in. Otherwise, movies could end war instead of just being about war; movies could move people to action about global warming instead of just being about global warming. By your reasoning, billions of people unconsciously believe that long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, STAR WARS is happening right now and all the characters from those films are real!
Some films obey the principle badly and the audience never gets into what the movie is about; others do it well and audiences enjoy their time at the movies very well indeed. NOT ALL MOVIES OBEY SUCH A PRINCIPLE EQUALLY OR WELL. If they did, then assumptions such as yours would find validity. Since they do not, then your assumptions merely are...assumptions. And you know the old saw: most people who ASSUME never get past the first three letters...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

I was talking about movies ostensibly set in the real world. That excludes most science fiction and fantasy flicks. Geez, do I literally have to spell out everything for you?

Needless to say, you can't quote a source for your "only while the film is underway" theory, since you just made it up. Meanwhile, I've documented many experts and individuals saying how movie impressions last long after a picture ends. The case of Indians being regarded as savages is merely the most obvious example.

Does the effect of advertising also wear off the moment a commercial ends? If that were true, people would never buy anything in ads and companies wouldn't spend billions of dollars on advertising. A whole industry is built on a principle that you claim doesn't exist.

Are you really as ignorant of human psychology as you sound? Thousands of studies have shown that people are influenced by what they see on the screen. Here's a typical example:

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/medicalnews.php?newsid=30239

When pretending to shop for a social evening, children two to six years old were nearly four times as likely to choose cigarettes if their parents smoked and children who viewed PG-13- or R-rated movies were five times as likely to choose wine or beer, according to a study in the September issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

russell said...

Writerfella here --
In actual point of fact, no, because your record in spelling only gets you a 75. And if we evaluate your responses in terms of logic vs. syllogism, it even would be lower. And the term you were attempting to employ was 'antidisestablishmentarianism',quite a distance outside your expertise. 'Course it might have worked if you were conducting a Killer Spelling Bee...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

"In actual point of fact, no"...what? What are you talking about? We weren't discussing spelling, we were discussing the effect of movies on people's perceptions.

Can you say "non sequitur"? Your last comment sounds like raving of a drunk or a madman. Let us know when you have something to say about the subject at hand.

Not that it's relevant to this posting, but my spelling, punctuation, and English usage continue to be superior to yours. If you can find a mistake in my spelling, as I've done several times in yours, go ahead and do it.

russell said...

Writerfella here --
But indeed we were discussing spelling because you cannot write a single sentence without the subject of spelling entering into the equation. Unless one is writing Arabic or Cantonese or even Sanskrit. Then there is grammer, verb case, adjectivals, and prepositional applications. Never have read Strunk & White, have you? Too bad, for even that slim volume informs would-be writers why their efforts fail. Quite a bit parallel to what writerfella put forward as a conveyance...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

Again, spelling wasn't the subject of this thread. Your response was a non sequitur that made no sense whatsoever. I still don't know what question you were answering "no" to or why you think I was groping for a term. I wasn't.

The only reason I bring up spelling is because you waste time criticizing other people's English rather than sticking to the issues. If you're going to treat visitors to this blog with disrespect, I'm going to put you down for it. Stop annoying people with your nitpicking and I'll stop criticizing you for it.

Yes, I've read Strunk and White. That's one reason my writing is so clear and precise. It explains why editors have hired me to write 400+ articles.

What's your excuse for your spelling, punctuation, and grammar mistakes? Is it your "cat" again? Is your cat the one who types responses that have nothing to do with the matter at hand?

Since you brought up Strunk and White, you might try practicing a few of their recommendations. "Make the paragraph the unit of composition." "Use the active voice." "Omit needless words." "Place yourself in the background." "Revise and rewrite." "Be clear." These are all rules that you routinely violate.

Incidentally, you're still misusing ellipses at the end of your sentences. There's no such word as "adjectivals" used as a plural noun. (The word you're looking for is "adjectives.") And, laughably, you misspelled "grammar."

That makes 11 errors since I started tracking your mistake-prone comments. Eleven for you, zero for me. So much for your vaunted English skills.

russell said...

Writerfella here --
Consult THE OXFORD DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE and the word 'adjectival' most certainly is contained therein and with its appropriate definition.
Indeed, if you have read Strunk & White as you claim, what is the literary connection of such a volume?
And writerfella speaks in the third person because he (as well as almost all other Native Americans) usually is spoken of in that very same case. Rather than to allow such discussion to continue on its own, writerfella employs it as his banner response to being so reduced. Examine your own posts and you will find what he was indicating...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

"Adjectival" isn't a noun in any of my dictionaries. If it's a noun in the Oxford Dictionary, it must be obscure or archaic. That violates another of Strunk and White's rules: "Avoid fancy words."

Are you referring to E.B. White's authorship of Charlotte's Web? That's a literary connection of White's, not of Strunk and White's.

If you want me to show you up with a picture of me holding the book, I can do it. Considering how often you violate Strunk and White's rules, the real question is whether you've read the book.

I've never commented on your silly practice of speaking about yourself in the third person. Is there some reason you keep raising irrelevant points in this thread?

George said...

I saw the movie today and was just wondering where I could find information on this legend. The setting does seem like it could be some Northern part of Canada. Was there not a settlement around newfoundland of Vikings that mysteriously disapeared due to a harsh environment. Maybe other things happened. We do know from history that the English needed Mowhawk Indian guides and the French needed Huron Indian guides and this was much later, maybe about a 100 years or more before Canada's formation.

George

Rob said...

You can find a lot of material about the Viking voyages to America on the Web, George. If you're referring to the Pathfinder "legend," I think the filmmakers made it up. Or since Pathfinder is a remake of a Norwegian film, perhaps the legend is Norwegian also.

Rob said...

Incidentally, Russ, I've never made a spelling mistake in this blog, as far as I know. Too bad you can't say the same. I've pointed out your mistakes at length--for instance, your misspelling of "grammar" in this thread.

So when you give my spelling a score of 75, you must think that's perfection. (We know your math skills are weak.) And your score must be 60 or 70, tops, since my spelling is better than yours.

Anonymous said...

HA,HA THIS MOVIE COMPLETLY ATE IT, EVEN FOR A FANTASY STORY. TO ME IT WAS NOTIN MORE THAN A LONE RANGER SAVES THA DAY TYPE MOVIE EXCEPT LONERANGER WAS A LOST VIKING AND TONTO WAS PLAYED BY A EURO-KOREAN WOMAN, HA HA. NATIVES WERE LIKE THOSE LITTLE FURRY THINGS FROM STARWARS. THE WHOLE STORY PRETTY MUCH ATE IT, LIKE WHEN THE NATIVES ATTACK THE VIKINGS WIT A FULL FRONTIAL ASSAULT WIT NO THOUGHTS OR FORE-PLANNIN, THEN FALL INTO A TRAP, COME ON. SO LONERANGER HAS ALL THE GUERRILLA TACTICS RIGHT OFF THE BAT, TO SAVE THE DAY AS ALWAYS. HOW BOUT WHEN ONE OF THE WARRIOR SAY"I WILL BRING U THE DRAGON LEADERS HEAD" OR SOMETHIN HA HA. THIS WAS NOTHIN MORE THAN A FRESH SPIN ON LONERANGER-JOHN WAYNE SAVES THE DAY IN THE OLD-WEST TYPE MOVIES.

Anonymous said...

AHH, PARDON MY GRAMMER... I JUST FINISHED WATCHIN THA MOVIE JUST NOW. I WANTED TA WATCH THIS MOVIE IN THA THEATER BUT MISSED IT HERE IN THA PHILIPPENS, SO I SEEN IT ON A 1$ BOOTLEG COPY...GLAD I DID.