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Week 13 (redirected from Week 14)

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American popular culture and the Iconography of American Indians in the 20th century



This week we will think about the representation of American Indians in American popular culture by looking at two famous films: John Ford's The Searchers (1956) and Disney's Pocahontas (1995). These films help us recognize the way stereotypes of Indians have developed over time, and how different stereotypes of Indians exist side-by-side. These stereotypes range from the American Indian as "savage" or as an obstacle to be overcome by westward expansion, to American Indian as pure, uncorrupted, and nature-loving. Viewing these films back to back, we'll think about how these films draw on ideas and assumptions that go centuries back, and about the ideological work such stereotypes still do in the present day.



November 26: John Ford's The Searchers







  • Phil Deloria on stereotyping (above) 
  • Watch The Searchers (Dir. John Ford, 1956) 



Study Questions 


  1. Phil Deloria suggests that to simply point out that texts are biased is not enough: we need to think analytically about what larger cultural stories they tell. What is your sense of the ideological meaning behind The Searchers? What assumptions and biases does it reveal, and what does this suggest about the wider culture of the US in the 1950s that produced this film, and watched it?
  2. What different kinds of American Indian stereotypes you find in The Searchers? For example, how does the representation of Scar compare to that of "Look," and that of Martin Pawley? In what way do these stereotypes function as what Phil Deloria calls a "cultural vehicle" for larger cultural processes? How do these stereotypes work, and what kind of narratives do they enable?
  3. Pay particular attention to issues of gender and sexuality. To what extent is the narrative structured around covert hints of cross-racial sexual encounters and sexual violence? 
  4. What do you think the ending of The Searchers signifies? Why is Ethan Edwards made to "ride away" at the end?
  5. What role does the issue of blood quantum play in the film, especially related to the character of Martin Pawley? In what ways is John Ford trying to present a critical discussion of race in this film? How successful do you think he is in doing this? 




Disney's Pocahontas 





  • Watch Pocahontas (Disney, 1995)  


Study Questions 


  1. Carefully read the images in the "Imagining Pocahontas" PowerPoint above. What details stand out to you in each of them, in terms of Pocahontas's representation, the background, the actions depicted? Are there any ways in which her representations change over time? 
  2. In Disney's Pocahontashow do the early scenes characterize Powhatan's chiefdom? What assumptions do you think went into this portrayal?
  3. To what extent does Pocahontas seek to abandon notions of savagery or the "warlike Indian"? What stereotypes would you say take its place? 
  4. Why do you think the film employs these stereotypes in particular: from a historical perspective, what are the changes in American culture since John Ford's The Searchers was made?
  5. Upon first meeting the English, Pocahontas, Powhatan, and other characters try to make sense of what they are: Europeans appear to be wholly new and strange. Drawing on what you've learned about American Indian history in this class, do you think this was actually the case historically? How "new" were Europeans?
  6. Several scholars have argued that Disney's Pocahontas told the story of Pocahontas--and Indian-European encounter--for an audience that had come to embrace the idea of multiculturalism in the 1990s. Do you agree? What can be said for this statement, and what might you add? 



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