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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

This cartoon is overtly a play on words—"Pretty Good" vs. "Grand" Canyon—and not a spoof of Indians. Like most cartoons these days, it's not at all funny. But by using characters who can only be Indians (or Paleo-Indians), it conveys several subtle ideas:

  • The Indians wear only ragged skins. They're half-naked. They have no hand-sewn clothing, no shoes, no jewelry or ornamentation, no weapons or pouches or other accouterments. The impression is overwhelmingly one of primitiveness.
  • The man is dragging a sledge. Combined with the notion that they traveled across the country, this makes the Indians look a little silly. Who drags possessions thousands of miles when it's easier to carry packs on one's back?
  • The land is barren and empty, which feeds the myth that the America wasn't "settled" until the white man came. Actually, Indians filled every ecological niche and probably settled early in the Grand Canyon area. Moreover, the American Southwest was wetter and more lush before the 1200s, when the climate shifted and the land dried out. Far from being unoccupied, the land was well-occupied with several successive cultures.
  • The use of Indians for this cartoon sends a meta-message: that Indians are people of the past. When you think about it, the cartoon would've worked equally with Spanish vacationers (conquistadors or padres) or American vacationers (cowboys or ordinary people). In fact, it would've been funnier to have Euro-Americans from the East Coast—Pilgrims, perhaps, or "ladies and gentlemen" in 19th-century finery)—travel cross-country to see the Canyon. Because they'd be much more out of place, they'd look much more foolish having traveled so far to see nothing.
  • The cartoon also would've worked—or not worked—as well using a site other than the Grand Canyon. For instance, it could've shown primitive Chinese visiting the "Pretty Good Wall of China," or primitive Anglos visiting "Pebble-Henge." The choice of Indians reinforces the common notion that Indians represent humanity's primitive, pre-industrialized past.

    P.S. I have no idea what the tiny spaceship and the firecracker mean. I gather Piraro occasionally includes these visual non sequiturs for some obscure reason.

    Related links
    Uncivilized Indians
    The myth of Western superiority
    Native comic strips vs. comic books

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    Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

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