January 27, 2010

Porky Pig in Wagon Heels

This Porky Pig cartoon was broadcast May 21, 1938, according to its YouTube posting.

Not content with the stereotypes in Injun Trouble, Bob Clampett remade the cartoon in color as Wagon Heels.

Wagon Heels is a 1945 Merrie Melodies short directed by Bob Clampett, a color remake of the 1938 Looney Tunes black-and-white short Injun Trouble. Because of its wildly stereotypical depiction of the Native American, it is seldom shown on television nowadays. All voices except narration are performed by Mel Blanc.Comment:  The Native stereotypes in these cartoons are patently obvious. Only a few points are worth noting:

  • In both versions, a sign clearly says:

    Boundary Line
    Palefaces keep off lawn.
    Injun Joe

    Porky Pig and his horse sneak across the line, which indicates he knows he's doing something wrong. Later the wagon train "choo-choos" across Indian territory. Although the cartoons portray the Indian as the aggressor, he's actually defending his land against enemy invasion.

  • Both cartoons show the smoldering remains of a previous wagon train. In the second version, Porky Pig calls it a "massacre."

  • The Indian is mightier than a mountain, a forest, and a bear. The implication is that he's a force of nature, not a human being with thoughts and feelings.

  • The Indian is completely alone. There's not even a stereotypical camp of teepees. The implication is that he has no family, no people, no culture. He's a lone rogue, troublemaker, or villain--not a representative of millions of people from thousands of cultures with their own languages and religions.

  • The Indian is a caricature in the first cartoon, but the second cartoon makes him even worse. For one thing, his nose is bigger and bright red, which suggests he's been drinking. For another, his eyes are now hidden by his hair. The effect is to make him look less human and more monstrous.

  • The second cartoon ends with the Indian plummeting into the earth and dragging "Injun Joe's Territory" (the rest of the continent beyond the original 13 colonies) into the hole after him. The "United States of America" replaces the former Indian territory. The narration--with patriotic music and a flag in the background--congratulates Porky for making progress possible.

  • Propaganda via cartoons

    Despite the jokes, we can see several elements of the Manifest Destiny myth in these cartoons:

    1) Indians were savages, killers, beasts--not civilized people with inalienable human rights.

    2) Americans were interested only in the abstract notion of "progress," which involved going west but not invading foreign territory, breaking laws and treaties, or killing the land's inhabitants.

    3) Americans somehow removed the Indians benignly (perhaps escorting them to reservations) or stood by as they mysteriously vanished. No Americans participated in the conquest, subjugation, or elimination of Indians (i.e., genocide).

    Why do Americans believe what they believe about Indians? Because they grew up seeing the same message over and over in textbooks, Western movies, and cartoons such as these. If anything is more ubiquitous than a Warner Bros. cartoon in modern US history, I'm not sure what it is.

    For more on the subject, see Native Videos and Cartoons.


    Sparky said...

    I don't dispute your thesis at all, but dude, the "hero" here is a pig.

    Rob said...

    My discussion is about Injun Joe, not Porky Pig. Injun Joe is a "real" human in this context, not an anthropomorphic animal.