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Thunderbird in the Cartoons

The following is a discussion of Thunderbird's appearance in the first X-Men cartoons. If you haven't read Culture and Comics Need Multicultural Perspective, read it first. Then return here to continue:

>> How is "a gruffer voice than the other characters" an insult? How can having a gruff voice be considering shameful or disparaging? <<

I didn't say it was an insult, I said it was a stereotype. A stereotype doesn't have to be negative, you know. There's such a thing as a positive stereotype.

If the producers chose the gruff voice at random, I wouldn't have a problem with it. They probably didn't choose it at random. More likely, someone thought it conveyed Thunderbird's Native character better.

In other words, they thought it reasonable that the Native guy didn't speak as mellifluously as the others. After all, John Proudstar was raised on a "primitive" Apache reservation. Do they even speak English there?

The answer is yes, in case you're wondering. I was being sarcastic.

>> If there is a lineup of several characters, the "gruff voice'" is just one way to distinguish one from the other. <<

So give Prof. X or Cyclops the gruff voice and make Thunderbird sound like a thespian. Actor Ryan Black (Saulteaux) is doing Shakespeare, so why not T-Bird?

>> As for the "animalistic powers he didn't have in the X-Men comic book", well, this does not sound shameful or insulting to me either <<

I didn't say it was. I said it was a stereotype. The most I said was that it slights Native Americans, which it does. "The Native guy need enhancing. He's not good enough as he is."

>> just a matter of trying to differentiate the guy in the audience's mind, since many comic book characters have super-strength and superspeed. <<

Yes, but they distinguished Thunderbird by giving him a stereotypical power. If they were looking to distinguish him, any number of powers would've sufficed. Give him Angel's wings or Iceman's ice, for instance, since I don't think those characters were present. Give him a force field like Unus the Untouchable or pyrotechnics like Jubilee. I could go on and on with possibilities.

Fact is, the producers chose to differentiate Thunderbird with a power they viewed as stereotypically "Indian." I called them on it. If they didn't think the character was good enough as is, they should've omitted him completely.

>> I am not an Avengers historian, but I am sure there were details that are slightly different in the cartoon than in the comic book; similar changes were apparent in the X-Men series. <<

Unless you can identify specific changes, this is sheer speculation. As far as we know, Thunderbird was the only character they felt the need to improve. But if they changed the Avengers to reinforce our predominant stereotypes, I'd be happy to point out the problems there, too. (Thor is already a stereotype of a golden god, of course, so I can't add much there.)

>> However, I think citing examples like this one as examples of "racism" undermines the arguments when more serious issues are addressed, kind of like the boy who cried wolf. <<

I said this example was stereotyping, not racism. And I didn't say it was serious. If I had a better example of a Native American character...in a comic book or cartoon...that everyone had heard of...that had happened recently, I would've used it. Given the lack of Native characters, I'm lucky I found anything.

Racism is serious...stereotyping less so...and this example even less than that. The point is that they're all tied together. Racism doesn't happen because someone beats racist thoughts into us. It happens because we're influenced daily by countless media images.

Most of these images are trivial on their own. It's the cumulative effect that matters, but we can't attack "cumulative effects." Not easily, anyway.

What we can do is attack each instance of racism and stereotyping as it happens. We can "just say no" to it, as it were. That's what I'm doing here.

In short, stereotyping happens in major and minor ways throughout the breadth of our culture. I gave a range of examples to show how subtle and invidious it can be. Until people realize what's going on and denounce it, the problems will continue. They won't stop by themselves.

>> Take offense at everything, then eventually people quit paying attention when a genuine issue needs to be addressed. <<

From what I've seen, people quit paying attention long before they get to my essay. Their minds are made up, and nothing I can say will change them.

Look at the more important examples you overlooked, such as that of the Washington Redskins. The dictionary defines "redskin" as an insult and Native people have said it upsets them. What part of that is "open to debate"? Why aren't people clamoring for the football team to change its name and use something less offensive?

They aren't clamoring because they're thinking only about themselves, not about other people. My essay can't make them less thoughtless and unfeeling than they already are. It can only open minds that are capable of being opened.

Rob Schmidt

More on the X-Men cartoons
Forge in the cartoons

Related links
Thunderbird in the comics
Thunderbird the Shaman
Multiculturalism in the X-Men
Culture and Comics Need Multicultural Perspective 2000

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Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

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