DRESSING IN FEATHERS by S. Elizabeth Bird

DRESSING IN FEATHERS

The Construction of the Indian in American Popular Culture
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 An insightful if occasionally dry collection of historical and sociological studies by academics demonstrating how whites have portrayed Native Americans in a wide range of media for the last two centuries. Bird (Anthropology and Humanities/Univ. of Minn.) sounds the central theme of these pieces in her introduction: From the popular, early 19th century play Metamora to Disney's recent animated rendering of Pocahontas, Native Americans have been predominantly depicted in ways that suit the mythic, psychological, and political needs of white America. An essay titled ``The Narrative of Sitting Bull's Surrender'' describes how a series of staged photographs shot in the 1880s show not only the capture of the famous warrior but also the ``civilizing'' of the Sioux Indians. An account of how newspapers and public relations pronouncements covered an Indian boarding school homecoming and football game in the 1920s reveals a vision of a similar ``progression'' of Native Americans from ``noble savages'' to assimilation and the removal of ``long-dead traditions that were no longer a threat to white people.'' A chapter discussing Seminole tourist sites in the Florida Everglades notes how white entrepeneurs first sought to display the Indians as primitives at one with nature in the early 20th century; by mid-century, the Seminoles were depicted as sharing in the technological benefits of modern civilization while still portrayed as ``noble children of the swamp.'' There is an especially persuasive study of the cultural myths reflected in recent television shows and films, covering movies such as Dances With Wolves and Little Big Man, the lack of cultural identity afforded the Native Americans depicted in the TV series Northern Exposure, and even worse, the lack of any realistic portrayal of the Cheyenne in Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. For the serious reader, this volume of essays will have a decided impact on how the next western is viewed. (56 photos, not seen)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-8133-2666-4
Page count: 336pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1996