October 05, 2011

Actual Indians crying

Laugh at the crying Indian all you want—the joke’s on us

By Lisa JonesSurely you’ve seen the parodies that followed the original Keep America Beautiful ad. It was repeated move-for-move on The Simpsons. On Friends, while Chandler and his pals are stranded at a rest stop, he gets caught throwing an empty cigarette pack on the ground, and protests, “I thought maybe if I littered, that crying Indian might come along and save us.” In Wayne’s World 2, Jim Morrison’s Naked Indian Friend sheds tears upon seeing the scattered trash left over from Waynestock. He cheers up, though, when he sees Wayne and Garth picking up the mess.Sure, the commercial was hokey—40 years later, littering no longer rates as a notable environmental transgression, plus it starred an Italian-American actor, not a native one. But something struck a nerve, and when Americans’ nerves get struck, we start making jokes. As comedian Lenny Bruce pointed out, the equation for comedy is “laughter = pain + time.” The website TV Tropes collected no less than 30 parodies of the Crying Indian commercial, putting them under the headline, “Somewhere, an Indian is crying.”

Sure, somewhere, an Indian is crying, and somewhere else, like in the non-Indian, first-world mind, we are applying humor to further anesthetize the little sleepy zone in our brain where serious and sustained thought about native people might dwell—the part of our collective post-colonial consciousness that, if it awoke, might convince us to give it all back and move back to Krakow or Athens or Liverpool—and who wants to live there?

OK, so let’s look at a photo of an actual Indian crying, and over something a lot worse than littering. Here’s George Gillette, who in 1948 was the chairman of the Mandan, Arikara, and Hidatsa tribes of North Dakota, crying because the tribes’ homeland on the fertile floodplain of the Missouri River was to be inundated by construction of the Garrison Dam.
Comment:  I noted the Garrison Dam flooding in Review of Waterbuster and US Condemned Indians to Diabetes, a story Jones wrote.

The points to note here are rather obvious:

1) Indians do cry. They're not stoic or unfeeling like animals.

2) Indians cry for serious reasons such as losing their land or families. They don't cry over trivial things like litter because they're so hypersensitive to the environment.

3) Indians have been cutting their hair and wearing Western clothes for a century or more. They don't go around in buckskins or headdresses these days.

To sum up their crying, they do about the same amount of it, and for the same reasons, as everyone else. If that surprises you, you're probably thinking stereotypically.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Where do these stereotypes begin? The shapeshifting one is the weirdest.