Presentation on theme: "1 Lecture 8: How Whiteness Won the Western Professor Michael Green The Searchers (1956) Directed by John Ford."— Presentation transcript:
1 Lecture 8: How Whiteness Won the Western Professor Michael Green The Searchers (1956) Directed by John Ford
2 Previous Lecture Melodrama and the “Woman’s Film” Miscegenation, Passing, Subversion and Racial Masquerade Imitation of Life Writing About Film: Essay Structure
3 This Lecture The Representation of Native Americans in Hollywood Film John Ford and The Searchers “The Multicultural Dynamics of John Ford’s Westerns” Writing About Film
4 The Representation of Native Americans in Hollywood Film Lecture 8: Part I Fort Apache (1948) Directed by John Ford
5 Shifting Social Race Dynamics Remember, the meaning of race and how race is understood in society changes over space and time. Race relations, and the meaning of race, in the Confederate south during the Civil War are vastly different than they were in Berkeley in the 1960s or in Seattle today. We always must proceed from the idea that race and gender are the ideological and historical constructs of people in societies.
6 Race and Gender in 1950s U.S.A. Conservative ideas about race, class, gender and sexuality reigned supreme in the dominant U.S. culture of the 1950s. African Americans were still subject to Jim Crow laws; Jewish Americans were being persecuted by HUAC; gays were closeted; and women were confined to the home. However, society was rippling with the emerging Civil Rights Movement and with massive social changes that would define the United States in the 1960s.
7 Shifting Ideas of Race in Hollywood Remember, in the late 1940s and 1950s, Hollywood had begun to approach race differently with the advent of the racial social problem film and with a pronounced lessening of overt racial representation through blackface and other techniques. We saw this in such films as Pinky, Gentlemen’s Agreement, Home of the Brave and Imitation of Life, films that overtly tackled subjects of race and racism.
8 Traditional Norms However, Hollywood films still largely advanced traditional ideologies of race (whiteness), gender (patriarchy), class (middle class norm) and sexuality (heterosexual norm). These ideologies were especially prominent in certain genres, among them the Western. In the 1950s, the Western still largely supported patriarchy and white racism against Native Americans and other groups.
9 Two Stereotypes Americans have a long tradition representing Native Americans in art and literature; early representations of Native Americans have persisted through the centuries and are still with us today, still perpetuated through mass media. Two primary ways in which the Native Americans have been represented are as the savage and the noble native.
The Savage Native Stereotype Dark, satanic, evil, perverse, paranoid Wild, cruel, barbarous, brutish heathen. Autocratic and dictatorial; ruthless The opposite of the (white, male) hero Pause the lecture and watch clip #1 from The Searchers.
11 The Noble Native Stereotype Natives are primitive but gentle (noble savages). They supposedly embody a paradise on Earth, free of constricting modernity. Natives lack a hero of their own kind and often worship the white hero (often led to this by a native child) Native women love the white hero and are often willing to die for that love. Pause the lecture and watch clip from Dances with Wolves.
12 Politics of Romanticizing With the Noble Native stereotype, Native Americans become a romanticized culture, fetishized for their gentleness, spirituality, and affinity with nature, in a way that’s positive but still reductive, simplistic, and idealistic. To be reduced to a romantic essence, is no less problematic (ideological) than to be reduced to a negative thing, or savage essence.
13 The Noble Savage as Social Critic “The use of the Noble Savage, and the American Indian as... convention, to criticize existing social institutions and to propose reform reached its height with the philosophies of the Enlightenment. Fundamental to their thinking was the dichotomy between nature and convention. If what was natural was good, then what was civilized was artificial, hence decadent and certainly bad.” Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr., “Imagery in Literature, Art, and Philosophy: The Indian in White Imagination and Ideology”
14 The Shifting Image of the Native In the Hollywood Western of the conservative 1950s (and before) the Native American, is represented as the savage. As we get closer to the 1960s, a time of intense social self-criticism in the United States, the Native American figure is that of the idyllic/noble native long used to criticize corrupt Western society and stand for the “true” values of nature and freedom.
15 Contemporary History “The 1960s youth counterculture reacted not only against America’s conduct in the war in Vietnam but also against their own white, middle-class identity by identifying strongly with oppressed minorities whom they romanticized, such as the Viet Cong, African Americans, and Native Americans.” –Hernán Vera and Andrew Gordon, “Screen Saviors: Hollywood Fictions of Whiteness”
16 Summary of Points There is a long tradition in American art, literature and film of stereotyping Native Americans as either savage or noble native. Changing social, cultural and historical context dictated which of these stereotypes was more popular in any given era. The Western, one of Hollywood’s most popular and enduring genres, was involved in the white racist agenda of perpetuating these stereotypes.
17 John Ford and The Searchers Lecture 8: Part II The Searchers (1956) Directed by John Ford
18 John Ford (1894 – 1973) A preeminent American filmmaker who made films from the silent era all the way into the 1960s. He worked in multiple genres but is most famous for his Westerns. One of the most influential filmmakers, influencing many of the most prominent filmmakers who came after him, including Akira Kurosowa, Orson Welles, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese
19 Prominent John Ford Films Ford made more than 100 films and won six Oscars. Among the most prominent: –Stagecoach (1939) –Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) –Grapes of Wrath (1940) –How Green was my Valley (1941) –My Darling Clementine (1946) –The Quiet Man (1952) –The Searchers (1956)
20 Racial Representation in Ford Many critics and scholars have criticized Ford for his negative ethnic and racial representation, particularly of Native Americans, who are often condescended to and/or depicted as savages and threats to civilization.
21 Gender Roles in Ford Westerns Women are rarely the protagonists in Ford’s movies or in Westerns in general; rather they support male protagonists in traditional ways and need the protection and guidance of the white male heroes. Stagecoach (1939)
22 Protecting the White Woman Building on the cinematic template established by Griffith and other early narrative filmmakers, Ford and other directors of Westerns depicted savage natives as a threat to the white family, white women and thus westward expansion of white civilization. Native women are seen as marginalized figures, subjects to native men and either exoticised or made to seem undesirable. Pause the lecture and watch clip #2 from The Searchers.
23 Themes and Style Ford’s films often focus on a lone hero – invariably white and male – outside of society who embodies American myths of self-reliance and manifest destiny. He often used long shots, location filming and deep focus cinematography to capture a “mythical” American West. Ford was a formalist who carefully and with much sophistication employed film techniques in the service of plot and theme.
24 The Searchers The movie was made at the height of the Cold War and the height of the studio system when the Western was dominant It is a historical romance of the Indian War, the savage War, in Texas. Plot centers on Ethan and Martin’s search for Debbie, who has been captured by Comanche Indians. Ethan plans to kill Debbie because he cannot stand the idea of miscegenation.
25 Visual Style Facilitates Racism In The Searchers, civilization is represented inside/ wilderness is outside Internal framing separates civilization and wilderness (door motif). Camera angles reinforce stereotypes As in The Birth of a Nation, parallel editing is used to convey contrasts between civilization and the savage wilderness/undesirable Other.
26 Fear of “Going Native” “The fear of ‘going native,’ of being taken over sexually and culturally by what is perceived as the savage other, is a common trait of the white men portrayed in the movies. The assumption is that whites possess a monopoly on ‘civilization’... but that white civilization is always in danger of crumbling in the face of the attraction of the seductive, feared Other, and therefore is in constant need of defense.” –Hernán Vera and Andrew Gordon, “Screen Saviors: Hollywood Fictions of Whiteness”
27 Summary of Points For many, The Searchers represents middle ground for Ford in his representation of Native Americans. On the one hand, Ethan is depicted as an ugly racist, and the wanton destruction of Native Americans by the U.S. Calvary is shown to be cruel. On the other hand, the movie condemns miscegenation and argues for the superiority of white civilization.
28 The Multicultural Dynamics of John Ford’s Westerns Lecture 8: Part III My Darling Clementine (1946) Directed by John Ford
29 An Alternate Take “John Ford cannot be fully appreciated without taking into account his Irish heritage. Remembering that he was the son of Irish immigrants, surely something he never forgot, one begins to appreciate the fact that his films emanate from the position of that oppressed ethnic minority and that his stories typically focused on marginalized outcasts.” Charles Ramírez Berg, “The Margin as Center The Multicultural Dynamics of John Ford’s Westerns”
30 An Alternate Take (continued) “This made his cinema far different from most Hollywood films, which centered on the WASP Mainstream as a matter of course and looked uncritically at assimilation. Thus, counterbalancing Ford’s stereotyping is a richly textured multicultural vision that is nuanced in comparison with the broad strokes that characterized much of classical Hollywood’s ethnic representation.” Charles Ramírez Berg, “The Margin as Center The Multicultural Dynamics of John Ford’s Westerns”
31 Marginalized “Others” Ramírez Berg argues that multiculturalism is evident in many of Ford’s films, but particularly in the Westerns. His frontiers are populated with ethnic characters who are seen, because of their ethnicity, as disenfranchised outsiders. These marginalized “Others” include some Native Americans, Mexicans, women and African Americans, Slavs, Poles, Italians. Germans, poor whites and southerners.
32 Tension between Ethnics and the Wasp Mainstream According to Ramírez Berg, for Ford, ethnicity was the most important human attribute, from which tolerance and justice flowed; therefore, he was in favor of multiculturalism but against assimilation. His films often locate tension between ethnics who have been pushed to the social and geographical margin and the WASP Mainstream that has pushed them there.
33 Multiculturalism in the Narrative Ramírez Berg argues that the multicultural perspective is manifested in three prominent aspects of Ford’s Westerns: –Familiar Ford motifs – such as singing, dancing, brawling and militarism. –A sympathy for ethnics, especially Native Americans, Mexicans and Mexican Americans, revealed in subversive ways through form. –A well defined cultural narrative that ran below the surface of a given film’s dramatic narrative. Pause the lecture and watch clip #3 from The Searchers.
34 Stereotyping WASPs According to Ramírez Berg, for Ford, represents the WASP mainstream as rigid, hypocritical, intolerant, self-righteous, heartless, oppressive Yankees convinced of their social, moral and racial superiority – Henry Fonda’s Colonel Thursday’s character from Fort Apache is an example If ethnics and minorities are sometimes stereotyped, the WASPs always are. Pause the lecture and watch the clip from Fort Apache.
35 Ethnic at the Frontier According to Ramírez Berg, Ford’s ethnic settlers must choose between assimilation into the intolerant mainstream or life among the Native Americans, both of which are seen as cultural deaths. Ford sees the best choice as to live at the frontier/ethnic margin, which prizes tolerance and justice. Pause the lecture and watch the clip from My Darling Clementine.
36 Author’s Final Point “Hollywood’s “America” was constructed to conform to the majority’s utopian view of itself...In contrast, Ford’s films centered not on the dominant Mainstream but on the immigrant, working-class, socially and geographically isolated Margin. And just as most Hollywood cinema used people of color to prop up its WASP self, Ford’s films... used them to promote immigrant ethnicity over the eastern Anglo elite. Charles Ramírez Berg, “The Margin as Center The Multicultural Dynamics of John Ford’s Westerns”
37 Writing About Film: Tips and Suggestions Part I Lecture 8: Part IV Stagecoach (1939) Directed by John Ford
38 Summary: Essay Structure Broadly speaking, an argumentative essay has this underlying structure: Introduction: Which can be background information (context) or a vivid example of your topic leading up to your thesis. Body: Reasons to believe your thesis – evidence and examples in support of it. Conclusion: Restatement of your thesis and discussion of its broader implications.
39 Context and Definitions Whenever you critically engage specific topics and terms, you must provide definition and context for those topics and terms. Never begin your analysis assuming that your reader knows what you mean. For example if your thesis investigates the representation of whiteness in The Searchers, be sure to define whiteness high in your paper, supporting that definition with applicable quotes.
40 Plot vs. Representation In critical film writing, understand the difference between plot and representation. The plot is the movie’s story and may be about a topic such as racism. Representation is how that story is represented beyond the plot through filmmaking techniques. So, the plot of The Searchers might purport to be about how destructive racism is, but might be advancing opposite ideas through representation.
41 Plot vs. Representation (continued) For example, if all the white characters are shown communing at the homestead, but all the Comanche are shown engaged in violence, then this might be a racist representation, despite a progressive plot that nominally preaches against the harmfulness of racism.
42 Keeping the Thrust of your Argument Every section in your paper must reiterate your thesis; you must weave the strand of your argument all the way through to the end, as a roadmap for your reader – and for yourself to help you stay on topic. Essays that fail to do this almost invariably stray off topic and/or become vague and confusing.
43 Staying Organized Every paragraph has one topic sentence (usually the first sentence) and every other sentence in that paragraph is about that topic—elaborates, analyzes, explains the topic. Don’t include more than one topic per paragraph. Stick to the film to be analyzed. Don’t bring in extra films or ideas that have no relevance to your topic as you don’t have enough space to write about them.
44 End of Lecture 8 Next Lecture: Assimilating Blackness Through Love and Friendship