November 22, 2009

Are fierce Native werewolves okay?

Indians have "nothing human except the shape," Washington wrote: "...the gradual extension of our settlements will as certainly cause the savage, as the wolf, to retire; both being beasts of prey, tho' they differ in shape."

Francis Jennings, Empire of Fortune, 62; Richard Drinnon, Facing West, 65, citing a Washington letter of 1783
Someone asked what's wrong with portraying Indians as "fierce" if they're locked in an age-old battle with mortal enemies. E.g., the werewolves fighting the vampires in the Twilight saga. Answer: I don't care what the context is, "fierce" is one-dimensional by definition. Nobody is fierce and nothing else--except maybe the indigenous savages in any old Western or Indiana Jones-type movie. These subhuman creatures are fierce precisely because, well, they're subhuman creatures.

Really, you can get away with portraying aliens (e.g., War of the Worlds, Alien, Predator), animals (e.g., The Birds, Willard, Arachnophobia), or machines (e.g., Terminator, Berserker, the original Battlestar Galactica's Cylons) as fierce, unrelenting fighters and killers. But human beings? No. If Jake La Motta (Raging Bull), the Punisher, or Hannibal Lecter has more than one side, everybody does.

Does "fierce" define a warrior?

If you think warriors are defined by their ferocity, look at any good war movie about American soldiers. Sure, the soldiers are fierce when they have to fight. But they also exhibit a range of other traits: curiosity, generosity, eagerness, skepticism, anger, cowardice. Especially strong are the emotions of doubt and fear, because--in case you haven't heard--war is hell. Real soldiers don't want to fight fiercely because they could get shot or blown to pieces.

Maybe traditional Indians looked forward to fighting and killing, though I wouldn't bet on it. The whole idea of "counting coup" was to prove one's bravery without killing one's foe. I.e., by using skill, not savage ferocity.

In any case, modern people generally don't look forward to fighting and killing. That includes modern Indians such as Twilight's werewolves. Any movie that portrays Indians as primarily fierce is stereotypical.

For more on the subject, see Are Good Native Werewolves Okay? and Quileute Werewolves in Twilight.

Below:  The first Indians encountered by the English in the 1600s and Indians encountered in the movies today. Two eras of Indians as predatory, wolfish savages.

"Crush! Kill! Destroy! We're Indians/robots/aliens!"

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