November 21, 2010

Sitting Bull as landscape in Obama's book

Here's more on the book discussed in Obama Attacked Over Sitting Bull:

Loren Long's illustration of Sitting Bull in Barack Obama's OF THEE I SINGRoger [Sutton of Horn Book] wrote that:

Loren Long chose to depict Sitting Bull as a sort of landscape, with buffalo for eyes, hills and cracked earth for nose and mouth, and some pine trees placed so they form eyebrows (and, dare I say, boogers). It's the old one-with-nature stereotype, which wouldn't be so bad had all of the other subjects of the book not been depicted realistically.
I see what Roger means. All the other people in the book are portrayed in a realistic fashion. They look great! In contrast, "Sitting Bull" is kind of scary looking. I can imagine a kid reading (or being read) the book. Turning the pages, seeing the realistic art, and then coming upon this one?! I imagine kids leaning in closer to the page in confusion....Long definitely bought into the one-with-nature stereotype....(Excerpted from Debbie Reese's American Indians in Children's Literature, 11/20/10.)

Comment:  The problem isn't only the one-with-nature stereotype. It's depicting Sitting Bull as a remote, otherworldly, even mythical character. The message is that Indians have vanished into the landscape just as Sitting Bull seems to be doing.

Again, if Long had drawn everyone that way, it would be okay. The ultimate problem is treating the Indian differently from whites and other minorities.

For more on semi-mythical Indians, see Bears Replace Indians in Store Window, Vanished Mound Builders in The Prairies, and Neil Gaiman on Dead Indians.

1 comment:

Rob said...

For more on the subject, see:

Of Thee I Sing:  A Semiotic Review by Scott Andrews

In the book’s time machine, we travel back to see Abraham Lincoln speaking to his fellow Americans. In the time machine of our imagination, the book takes us back to see Billie Holiday singing, perhaps in a night club, among musicians. It is unclear that we have entered the time machine to visit Sitting Bull. Are we looking at his spirit in today’s landscape? Or have we traveled back to the western Plains in the 1800s? If so, where is Sitting Bull? Where are the people he led and healed?

This image is created in the tradition of “The Vanishing Indian.”