Has Anything Really Changed?

My decision to get involved in the MTV / The Dudesons in America protest was a no-brainer, knee-jerk reaction.  I saw a post on AIM’s Facebook page, noted the contact information, and started writing a letter of protest within the hour.  A blog followed shortly thereafter.

What I didn’t expect or anticipate was some of the feedback.  Not only on my own blog, but those of others writing about this issue.

Apparently there are some people out there who aren’t convinced that The Dudesons in America episode entitled “Cowboys & Findians” is racist, offensive, or that it perpetuates stereotypes.

Really??

I’m an idealist…always have been.  But knowing on a conscious level that I am an idealist doesn’t always prepare me for that occasional whack in the head by cold, harsh reality — when someone expresses views that are so contrary to my own.

When someone just doesn’t get it.

Anyone under the age of 50, who was raised on the colorblind, diversity-embracing dogma that Sesame Street spoonfed us each day HAS to be an idealistic, humanistic, culturally sensitive and tolerant sort of person.  I mean, you don’t watch an oversized yellow bird becoming best friends with a brown fuzzy elephant, while the humans who lived on the block were African-American, Latino, an interracial couple, and a deaf woman, to name a few.  Even the resident not-so-nice-guy on the street was tolerated and accepted.  Oh, and a purple vampire lived there, too.  And those with horns on their heads, and bike horns for noses.

You don’t watch that seven days a week without getting the bigger picture.  Diversity is a beautiful thing.  Right??

Apparently not.

While the majority of the comments on my Dudesons blog have been favorable and in support of the protest against MTV, there were just enough people who didn’t seem to get it to make me do the math.  Statistics.  Blog view counts, view-to-comment ratios…

Wow, there are a lot of ignorant people out there.

And all this got me to thinking.

Have things changed at all in the last 40 years?  Are people really any less prejudiced, racist and ignorant than they were during the 1960s?  Or…is it just that people are more politically correct in what they do or say when they know someone is listening?

In search of an answer to that question, I stumbled across this video on YouTube.

I laughed, I cringed, I got mad, and then I cringed some more.  And then I got mad again and decided to post about it.

Easy to remember rule of thumb: make me mad, and I’m going to blog.

This video footage is from 1972.  I was three years old.  (Now you know how old I am, and you need to sign a confidentiality agreement. )

So while I was watching Sesame Street and becoming indoctrinated to the ways of the lifelong path of a tolerant, diversity-loving and culturally sensitive liberal, the adults in this video were being randomly interviewed on the street, during New York City’s Easter Parade.

And I’m embarrassed FOR them.

The burning question in my mind is whether the answers would be any different, if asked today.

The idealist in me wants to believe that they would be.

Cold, harsh reality tells me otherwise.

So does that episode of The Dudesons in America.

The problem from the very beginning has been the negative and outrageously false stereotyping of Native Americans.  From the earliest days of the penny Western novel, the indigenous people of this country have been portrayed to white America as unintelligent, savage, crude, uncivilized, and (GASP) heathens who have no religion.  The 19th century images of savagery and brutality gave way in the mid-20th century to cartoon-like caricatures, where Native Americans were shown as no more than dimwitted buffoons.

I shouldn’t have to sit here and tell you that none of these things are true.  A lot of you already know this.

But too many people don’t know.  Far too many people haven’t the slightest understanding of what it truly means to be Native American.  They know nothing of history, and have instead bought into the lies and revisionism.  They know nothing about culture, traditions or spirituality, and instead have believed the distortions and stereotypes.  All they have in their heads are lies and propaganda — the propaganda that the media, in all its forms, has helped to perpetuate to this very day.

And if programs like The Dudesons in America continue to poison the airwaves and the minds of everyone who watches it, can we reasonably expect the answers to those questions posed to the random man or woman on the street to be any different another 40 years from now?

Now for those of you who still don’t get it, I have a few more words.  I can be fair about it, and acknowledge that you may not personally find the program or its content offensive — that you just don’t get it.  But in return, you have to acknowledge that there are in fact many people who do find it offensive.  Instead of closing your mind and washing your hands of the matter, look a little bit deeper.  Ask yourself why it is that people are offended and outraged.  Do you honestly believe that people have nothing better to do than to complain and protest without reason?  There’s a world of reason.  But it may be that you refuse to see or acknowledge it.  Those of you who are still in the “I don’t get it” camp, I’d like you to consider this a personal challenge.  Stop for just a moment, and think outside your own little perspective box.  It begins with self-education, is followed by empathy, and ultimately, will lead to enlightenment.  If enlightenment should lead to outrage, I will consider it a personal victory.

I am not so naive as to believe that racism and the stereotyping of Native Americans will suddenly end with the permanent removal of this offensive Dudesons in America episode.  But it’s a damned good start in the right direction.

For those of you who do get it, keep writing.  Make those phone calls.  Keep telling MTV that you will not tolerate stereotyping and racism in any form, and that you want your children and grandchildren to inherit something better than the status quo.

And no, I don’t need the world to be the mirror image of Sesame Street.  But I really wouldn’t mind living a world that more closely resembles it.

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13 comments on “Has Anything Really Changed?

  1. Duncan says:

    Great blog, Jenn. The Dudesons clip in question was undoubtedly offensive and demeaning… of course the core audience for this program is likely for the most part moronic to begin with. The views you express here in your writing and the values reflected are ones I wholeheartedly share and embrace.

  2. Micaela says:

    Thanks Jenn, for your most eloquent responses to this issue. I was three when Sesame Street began, and you are so right on! When I was beaten up on the playground that same year, during the Cincinnati race riots, I didn’t grow to hate my attackers, rather, I embraced them. Now, over 40 yrs later, having discovered my own native roots and rich family history, and while raising sons, one of whose father is an Indian man raised in Native culture, who educates schoolchildren and college students about his traditions, I find myself struggling to articulate the problem to my own sons!! My child, who has been the target of prejudice, who wishes fervently that Columbus had never landed on these shores, saw the episode in question and thinks I’m overreacting! I cannot just chalk it up to “it’s a boy thing…” potty humor, Jackass style. It most definitely is not. Thank you, again, for a most meaningful contribution to what will be, I’m sure, an ongoing discussion in our household. My son’s reaction sorely underscores, precisely, the reason for yours and mine and the reactions of those of us who do get it. His is a new generation, whose members did not see as much Sesame Street as we did, having oh so many more choices. At twelve, he wants to see his mother’s values as old fashioned and to be in with the crowd. I’ll pass this on to him, in the hope that if he hears it from somebody else…

    • jennifer1119 says:

      Stories like yours break my heart, Micaela. No child should have to endure that. I’m with your son, and feel that the world would have been better off had Columbus stayed at home or lost his ships at sea. (My own children have caused a few uproars of their own in school, due to their outspoken and brutally honest reports and views on such subjects as Columbus Day and Andrew Jackson.) I’ve raised my kids to see the world as I do, but many of their peers have not been so fortunate. It’s a constant battle to remind them of what’s right…and you’re so right, it’s an ongoing discussion. But that’s part of our job as mothers…if we want the next generation to have their heads together, it all starts at home.

  3. To say I was outraged would be less than what I felt, The words I can’t put here. It was sad, hurt, dumbfounded with disbelief at what I had seen. I have seen severl clips of the show posted but only could bare to watch just one. As much as the First nations do to make themselves known, to show thier spiritualiy and love for all mankind and all of Mother Earth and everything that lives upon it and are still misunderstood is shocking at best. Know I will do what I can and do my best to make sure this show is taken off the air. I will find out the sponsers of the show and report to them as well. With all of our voices heard i know in my heart this show is doomed as it should be. A very wonderful blog.

    • jennifer1119 says:

      Hi, Robin — thank you for reading. I was also very upset by that episode, and found certain scenes very hard to watch. I’m writing about this issue, though, and as much as it disgusts me, I find it necessary to go back and rewatch it from time to time…because it deifnitely keeps me focused and angry. Thank you for your support…every letter counts.

  4. Linda Helena says:

    As an Indian myself, i wanted to smack em…lol
    actually i wasn’t surprised. most white eyes were taught that Indians won’t work, can’t reason and would steal you blind. and guess what SCALPING WAS TAUGHT TO US BY THE EUROPEANS. sheesh.i must re-post and thank you so much for your voice. I personally think that if white people (and not all, mind you) would acknowledge us in any form then they’d have to also acknowledge the responsibility owed, even to this day. i remember, while you were watching sesame street, getting spit on while walking to school. now it seems everyone wants to be an Indian. i can always tell the wannabees in the crowd. They are the ones, after ceremony that want to go and ‘visit the reservation’..bloods just roll their eyes.
    you would have thought that casino money was the answer. all it did was add fuel to an otherwise free-burning brush fire. until we as natives quit believing what the dominant society said about us we will always be slaves to our own despair.
    The time is coming brother and sisters, time for justice, earth mother style. People forget that the earth is a living breathing being and when she’s had enough she has her own defenses. these defenses are already being seen and felt all over the world. It was said “the seventh generation will bring the people back” well, we are the seventh generation. what have you done for your tribe today? Be strong, speak true and always bring honor to your lodge. Toksa

    • jennifer1119 says:

      Thank you for your fantastic comment, Linda. I learned the truth about scalping a long time ago, but the general population doesn’t know that there was a time when white men used the skins of Natives to make their boots, and that there was actually a thriving market for Indian scalps, or that it was a sick practice the genocidal Europeans started. They also didn’t read the newspaper editorial that I once read a few years back, which was printed back in the mid-to-late 1800s, where a white town official was bragging about the Indian scalp he personally acquired, urging others to do the same. I sometimes wish that someone out there would front the money for a public awareness campaign and put an end to all the lies and misconceptions once and for all. I don’t know if Natives believe the lies, but I do know that too many of the general uninformed population stil does. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t see plastic tomahawks and headdresses being sold as children’s Halloween costumes, or people hopping around like idiots doing the woo-woo-woo-woo Indian yell thing. Feel free to share this with anyone that you want to…and thank you again for reading and for leaving such a wonderful comment.

  5. Rob Schmidt says:

    Good posting. I think persuading people that these issues matter is almost more important than fighting the actual stereotypes.

    Related thoughts on the subject:

    http://newspaperrock.bluecorncomics.com/2010/05/dudesons-too-stoopid-to-matter.html

    • jennifer1119 says:

      Thanks, Rob — great post of your own. It’s somewhat baffling to me that anyone needs convincing or persuading at this late date; I have a sinking feeling this is a subject that will need to be revisited a time or two or ten.

  6. Joni says:

    Ok lets take another approach, if it makes you feel any better they weren’t doing it on a purpose or being racist. Jukka said in an interview that “With the spirit of the show and how we are, we never make fun of anyone except ourselves.” And if it further makes you feel any better I could answer most of the questions with ease. And I’m from Finland.

    They also wear ridiculous outfits portraying Uncle Sam, berzerkers, vikings and what ever they can come up with. Finns were not vikings although “part” of Scandinavia and therefore most people think otherwise. Vikings didn’t have horns in their helmets either, unlike their plastic counterparts. Which the Dudesons also wear. What I’m trying to say is that they don’t take themselves too seriously and are only trying to make people laugh. Take Borat as another example, Sacha Baron Cohen is Jewish himself yet plays a character that hates Jews.

    Several people have also said that they hate the way Dudesons portray white people. Should I be offended by the way they portray Finns? They tell straight out lies about us, in good humour ofcourse. But where we see the joke, people from elsewhere take it seriously and think “wow, Finns are fucked up people”.

  7. jennifer1119 says:

    No, it doesn’t make me, or anyone else “feel any better” that the racism and stereotyping was being done in the spirit of satire. You’re obviously still not getting it. Should you be offended by the way they portray Finns? I don’t know…I’m not familiar with Finnish culture, and that is outside the scope of this blog…but perhaps that’s a question you should ask yourself.

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