January 29, 2009

"How the West Was Fun" t-shirt

A reader named D. Cho e-mailed me about the "Chief Chicken Hawk" t-shirt and two other t-shirts that are about as bad.

Spirit Happy Fox

How the West Was Fun

Comment:  The fox t-shirt shows a fox in a chief's headdress. Like "Chief Chicken Hawk," it's a typical "Indian = animal" stereotype.

The "fun" t-shirt shows cowboys and Indians fighting while riding a merry-go-around. The Indians all wear Plains or Inca (?) headdresses. They're all half-naked. And they all wield tomahawks.

Yeah, because your typical Plains chief didn't have anything better to do than rip off his shirt, grab a tomahawk from a Woodland Indian, and ride into battle against some cowboys minding their own business. Uh-huh, sure.

Not only that, but the cowboys are pointing their guns somewhat haphazardly. In contrast, the Indians are shouting their rage and raising their weapons to strike. It's clear they're the wild attackers and the cowboys are the mild defenders in the scene.

Obviously, this t-shirt trivializes America's genocidal history. Life wasn't fun, a merry-go-round, or a bowl of cherries for Indians under the doctrine of Manifest Destiny. But the shirt says it was. It contributes to the notion that we should forget the past, "let it go," as if nothing bad ever happened. It suggests we treat Indians as simply another set of colorful costumed characters like pirates and fairies.

For more on the subject, see "Cowboys and Indians" Images.

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