June 16, 2015

Take back Tiger Lily?

"What's There to Take Back"

By Tiffany MidgeRecently, an online indie publication put out a call for submissions based on the theme of “Taking Back Tiger Lily.”

“This project seeks submissions from Native American artists, re-creating Tiger Lily to fit a real model of Indigenous womanhood…”

The way I see it, what this call for submissions is suggesting, and bear with me because I’m being sarcastic here, is that somehow Indian people are in such dire need, are apparently at such a loss for Native American role models to look up to, have no cultural heroes or icons to claim as their very own, that the only solution is to exhume from the mausoleum of twentieth century relics, the Disney cartoon character Tiger Lily–who, in the 1950s, was brought to universal consciousness, ushered into the hearts and imaginations of millions; shrink-wrapped, merchandised, packaged and delivered by a much-rumored-to-be-anti-Semite and a gender-bigot. Fast forward to 2015, this call for submissions proposes that Tiger Lily be resuscitated, repurposed, attempt a re-prescriptive and re-appropriated identity. Here she is, Ms. America-n Indian!

Midge does not agree with this project's goals:It’s difficult for me to visualize Tiger Lily as any sort of symbol of empowerment considering she never spoke a word. If this image is being used as a symbol, speechlessness and victimhood is pretty symbolic. Throughout most of the film she was tied up and at the mercy of pirates, so I fail to see how her legacy would arouse anyone’s admiration beyond that as an exotic rival for Peter Pan’s affections. Add that to the fact that she is a projected piece of celluloid; she bears no resemblance to anyone or anything remotely Indigenous, and certainly bears no resemblance to anyone or anything remotely real. I find this “project,” at best, fetishistic and essentializing, and at worst, apologist and racist. It upholds and privileges a white supremacist power structure.

There is no “taking back,” no “reclamation” of an idea that never belonged to Indians in the first place. A writer friend of mine noted, “Reclaim Sambo? Taking back Sambo for whose sake?” I echo that. Would anyone want to reclaim Frito Bandito? Aunt Jemima? Charlie Chan? God, no. These images are analogous to images of Tiger Lily. They are made from the same poison. The same polluted well. The suggestion is unsettling, volatile and creates a something’s-very-wrong-about-this, sick-to-my-stomach kind of feeling.
Comment:  For more on Tiger Lily, see Native Stereotypes in Peter Pan Live! and Natives Protest Tiger Lily Casting.

Below:  Take back these stereotypical images? And do what with them?

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