October 06, 2009

Native G.I. Joes

7 Hilariously Failed Attempts at Politically Correct Toys

By Adam Brown, Kristi Harrison

#4. Spirit and Airborne, Native American G.I. Joes

Hasbro upped the racist ante in the early '80s with not one but two Native American G.I. Joes. On the left up there is Charlie Iron-Knife, AKA "Spirit," a mystical tracker. On the right is Franklin E. Talltree, a thrill-seeking airborne specialist creatively nicknamed "Airborne."

So What's the Problem?

Despite their somewhat confusing and stereotypical last names (Talltree, OK, fine, but Iron-Knife...what?), there doesn't seem to be anything immediately objectionable about these two NavaJOES. Except for, well, Spirit has an eagle on his arm and seems to be wearing an apron for no reason...but Native Americans get those standard issue on the reservation, right? Maybe his file card clears that all up:

"Spirit comes from a family so far below the poverty line that they never realized they were poor." Yes, seemingly unhappy with the regular old "Indians are poor" stereotype, they decided to go all-out and have Spirit be so fucking broke he doesn't even know it.

He was a hunting guide, because hunting is all Native Americans know how to do, and after Vietnam he rejoined the Army for "reasons inexplicable to anyone but a Native American mystic warrior," which might as well read "because of some Dances with Wolves bullshit."

Sadly, Airborne fares no better:

See? He's wealthy, he's smart, an accomplished lawyer--OH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD:

You look at him and sometimes he's looking right through you. Must be the Indian in him. The Navahos [sic] call it "the far-seeing look." Spooky!

Those crazy Native Americans. If they're not summoning spirit devils with their mystic mind powers, then they're just looking at you, all aloof-like. Damn them and their crazy injun ways!
Comment:  The name "Iron-Knife" doesn't bother me. We've seen a lot worse. And "Navahos" is an old-fashioned variant of "Navajos," not a mistake.

I'd say Spirit the Vietnam vet and "mystical tracker" is a much bigger cliché. A wealthy Native lawyer who takes up aerial combat is pretty original, even if he does have a "far-seeing look."

Someone named Urocyon adds:It still shocked me that a major toy manufacturer thought this was OK to package up and sell to a new generation of children, especially that close on the heels of the ’70s. By that point, there could be absolutely no plausible claim that they did not know their toy was racist. Maybe I’m too easily shocked.

No wonder the same freaking stereotypes just won’t die. They’re too useful.

And, if you were wondering how much things have changed since then, in 2003 they offered another G.I. Joe doll called Dart. The difference? Apparently, they don’t explicitly say he’s a Rez Cowboy. He’s just a “Real American Hero” with a tribal tattoo on his chest. More “extinct” people must have jumped down their throats 20 years before than they’d expected. Not sure it’s much of an improvement.
More on Dart:

Native G.I. Joe Doll Draws CriticismA new G.I. Joe doll, described by its manufacturer as "a Real American Hero," wears long, black hair and a tribal tattoo on its chest. Muscular and angry-looking, he is said to have exceptional tracking skills that he learned from his father and uncles.Dart's tracking skills are lame, again, but dressing him as a cowboy a la Bravestarr is mildly interesting. As with Airborne, it could be worse.

For more on the subject, see Tracker Kwinn in GI JOE and Amazonia Barbie.

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