May 17, 2010

Thanksgiving pageant in Desperate Housewives

In the Don't Walk on the Grass episode of Desperate Housewives (airdate: 11/1/09), Fairview Elementary School holds a Thanksgiving pageant.

The posters and fliers show cartoonish Pilgrims and Indians. The Indians are wearing buckskins, braids, and a single feather--a generic and only mildly stereotypical portrait. At least there are no Plains chiefs.

Hundreds of parents are watching as the pageant begins. Two "pilgrims" come out give thanks for the new land and an end to religious persecution. No Indians are present as the girl botches the word "persecution."

This is the American myth in a nutshell. The Pilgrims are the heroes of the story. The Indians are either minor characters or nonexistent. There's no mention that the foreigners were trespassing on a continent inhabited by millions of Indians. No mention that the intelligent Indians kept the ignorant Pilgrims alive. No mention that Indians prepared most of the food and were the dominant presence at the feast.

The line about religious persecution is particularly bad. The Pilgrims left because the moderate Church of England was cracking down on the fanatical Puritan sect. The Puritans couldn't overthrow an entire country--although Oliver Cromwell tried--so they fled to start a theocracy elsewhere.

For more of what was really going on at the first Thanksgiving, see:

America's first capitalists
Pilgrims sought religious freedom?
Pilgrims owned the land?

Naturally, there's no mention of the Pilgrims' glee at the smallpox deaths of Indians. No mention of the Pilgrims' genocidal pogroms begun two years later. And no mention of the Spanish having colonized America 50-100 years earlier. No, it's all about God's giving America to white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.

In the play's audience, hundreds of middle-class whites are having their own importance reaffirmed. The same goes for millions of whites watching Desperate Housewives at home. No wonder they think America belongs to them, not to the Indians and Latinos who were here first.

For more on the subject, see My Spanish Upbringing and My Ancestor William Brewster.

Below:  Pilgrims outnumber Indians...prepare the food...and give it to the grateful Indians...who kneel in a supplicant's position. In other words, the standard Thanksgiving pageant and myth.

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