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Reconstructing the Indian in the Gilded Age Press John Coward Faculty of Communication The University of Tulsa.

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Presentation on theme: "Reconstructing the Indian in the Gilded Age Press John Coward Faculty of Communication The University of Tulsa."— Presentation transcript:

1 Reconstructing the Indian in the Gilded Age Press John Coward Faculty of Communication The University of Tulsa

2 Constructing the Indian  My thesis: --Native Americans were (and are) people from varied and complex societies very different from Western European societies --The “Indian” was (and remains) a creation of the Euro-American imagination, a narrow set of stereotypes endlessly repeated by the media and popular culture

3 Why were Indians constructed?  Power and conquest: --Europeans used skin color and cultural differences to make arbitrary racial distinctions -- Observed differences were not seen as benign or neutral, but negative and inferior --“Indian” identity was constituted in language and visual forms, both packed with meaning

4 How were Indians constructed?  European roots: --European ideas about the “other” can be traced as far back as Aristotle, who believed that some men are born to be slaves. --Medieval Europeans imagined mysterious lands populated by giants, dragons, griffins, and “monstrous races of men.” --Columbus reported hearing about an island whose inhabitants were “very fierce and who eat human flesh.” Cannibalism=savagery

5 The Power of Language  From Columbus onward, Native American identity shaped in language & culture  Indians were “savages,” “heathens,” “infidels” “barbarians”—terms applied to religious “outsiders” with particular histories in European and American discourse  As a result, popular understandings of Indians and “Indianness” were narrowly conceived and largely predetermined

6 Cultural Determinism  Over time, Indian identity and imagery became thoroughly engrained in American popular consciousness  Thus: “Everybody knows” that Pocahontas was a beautiful Indian princess, that Squanto was kind to the Pilgrims, and that Sitting Bull was a fearsome warrior

7 Two Major Indian Stereotypes  The Good: The unsullied child of the forest, who is noble, free, docile, worthy, and capable of becoming civilized and Christian  The Bad: The bloodthirsty savage, who is evil, corrupt, heathen and incapable of civilized or Christian behavior

8 Media Makes the Indian  In colonial and early American media and popular culture, these stereotypes dominate  Newspapers, religious tracts, folk tales, poems, plays, captivity narratives and other popular forms emphasize competing stereotypes  Good or bad, the Indian served as an ethnic “other,” always different, usually inferior

9 Evidence from the Press  “It is well known that the pagan part of these [Six Nations], which compose a large majority of the whole, have always strenuously opposed any advance towards civilization.” --Niles’ National Register, 1819

10 Evidence from the Press  “The North American Indian in his native state, is an honest, hospitable, faithful, brave, warlike, cruel, revengeful, relentless,—yet honourable, contemplative and religious being.” --George Catlin, artist and writer, 1844

11 Catlin’s “Good” Indian

12 Evidence from the Press  “Squalid and conceited, proud and worthless, lazy and lousy, [Indian men] will strut out their existence, and at length afford the world a sensible relief by dying out of it.” --Horace Greeley, New York Tribune, 1860

13 Evidence from the Press  “On the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, Indians is the cry on all sides. Yesterday Albert Lesenger was killed by the savage fiends; and they are burning railroad bridges and driving off the stock….” --Chicago Tribune, 1874

14 An Indian Attack on a Stage

15 Evidence from the Press  “Let that christian philanthropy which weeps over the death of a lazy, lousy, lying, stealing red skin, whose hands are still reeking with the blood of defenceless women and children,…take a back seat.” --Bismarck (N.D.) Tribune, 1876

16 Evidence from the Press  The extermination of the Sioux and the destruction of all that is theirs, is necessary for the future of the entire new west. For years we have had population and capital frightened away from us by fears of Indians, and we call upon the government for redress…. --Rocky Mountain News, 1876

17 Evidence from the Press  “To talk of civilizing and christianizing the Indian without first thrashing him into fear is the sheerest nonsense. He is a lout and must be made to fear before he can be made to respect.” --Arizona Weekly Star, 1881

18 Re constructing the Indian  As the Indian Wars ended and Indians became pacified (and impoverished), Americans needed new ways to think about Indians  The press sought new Indian representations for a new “enlightened” era

19 Gilded Age Indian Identities  Three new, but minor, themes in Indian representations and imagery  Beyond good and bad Indian stereotypes, Indians were depicted now as emblems of (1) social progress, (2) scientific exoticism and (3) classic humanism.

20 Old Myths Die Hard  Despite these new representations, Americans preferred the good/bad Indian stereotypes  Manifest Destiny and the myth of the West required a colorful and deviant Indian enemy  Romance and adventure trumped the harsh reality of genocide and conquest

21 Thomas Moran’s Glorious West

22 The Media We Deserve  In a capitalist communication system, media and popular culture give the public what it wants  Mythic glory and simple heroism sell better than complicated reality or moral ambiguity in the story of Western conquest and expansion


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