Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy in Rhetoric and Technical Communication (PhD)
College, School or Department Name
Department of Humanities
Elizabeth A. Flynn
How do prevailing narratives about Native Americans, particularly in the medium of film, conspire to promote the perspective of the dominant culture? What makes the appropriation of Indigenous images so metaphorically popular? In the past hundred years, little has changed in the forms of representation favored by Hollywood. The introductory chapter elucidates the problem and outlines the scope of this study. As each subsequent chapter makes clear, the problem is as relevant today as it has been throughout the entire course of filmic history.
Chapter Two analyzes representational trends and defines each decade according to its favorite stereotype. The binary of the bloodthirsty savage is just as prevalent as it was during the 1920s and 30s. The same holds true for the drunken scapegoat and the exotic maiden, which made their cinematic debuts in the 1940s and 50s. But Hollywood has added new types as well. The visionary peacemaker and environmental activist have also made an appearance within the last forty years. What matters most is not the realism of these images, but rather the purposes to which they can be put toward validating whatever concerns the majority filmmakers wish to promote. Whether naïvely or not, such representations continue to evacuate Indigenous agency to the advantage of the majority. A brief historical overview confirms this legacy.
Various disciplines have sought to interrogate this problem. Chapter three investigates the field of postcolonial studies, which makes inquiry into the various ways these narratives are produced, marketed, and consumed. It also raises the key questions of for whom, and by whom, these narratives are constructed. Additional consideration is given to their value as commodities in the mass marketplace. Typically the products of a boutique-multiculturalism, their storylines are apt to promote the prevailing point of view.
Critical theory provides a foundational framework for chapter four. What is the blockbuster formula and how do the instruments of capital promote it? Concepts such as culture industry and repressive tolerance examine both the function and form of the master narrative, as well as its use to control the avenues of dissent. Moreover, the public sphere and its diminishment highlight the challenges inherent in the widespread promotion of an alternative set of narratives.
Nonetheless, challenges to prevailing narratives do exist, particularly in the form of Trickster narratives. Often subject to persistent misrecognition, the Trickster demonstrates a potent form of agency that undeniably dismantles the hegemony of Western cinema. The final chapter examines some of the Trickster's more subtle and obscure productions. Usually subjugated to the realm of the mystical, rather than the mythical, these misinterpreted forms have the power to speak in circles around a majority audience. Intended for an Other audience, they are coded in a language that delivers a type of direction through indirection, promoting a poignant agency all their own.
Hunter, Robert D., "Reclaiming Indigenous Narratives through Critical Discourses and the Autonomy of the Trickster", Dissertation, Michigan Technological University, 2014.