Tonto and Money: How Secular Regimes Pretend To Care About Traditional Culture

So Disney is coming out with a remake of The Lone Ranger and Johnny Depp is playing the role of Tonto. Based on nothing but his initial misinterpretation of a picture he saw on the internet, Depp portrays Tonto as a painted freak who wears a stuffed dead crow on his head.

If you think I am “disrespecting” Native Americans, you have it backwards. As NPR discovered when it interviews Hanay Geiogamah, a Kiowa tribe member and UCLA professor:

“‘He could have, had he wanted to, cast himself as the Lone Ranger, and put a qualified, capable Native American actor … of whom there are quite a few now, in the role of Tonto,’ says Geiogamah, who used to head UCLA’s American Indian Studies program. Geiogamah doesn’t like the way the 2013 Tonto talks. ‘That sort of monosyllabic stuttering, uttering. Hollywood Indian-speak.’ And he doesn’t like Tonto’s new getup, either. ‘We’ve got Johnny Depp with a taxidermied crow on top of his head and painted to the nth degree with paint, and he looks like a gothic freak.’ Geiogamah says no authentic Native American goes around wearing war paint outside of ceremonial pow-wows, and certainly not day and night in the Wild West frontier. ‘There’s no way you can look at this and not say it’s odd, unusual, strange, arresting, startling,’ he says. ‘It’s a major setback for the Native American image in the world because that’s how millions of people will think American Indians are now.’”

But it seems right now that Geiogamah is a lone voice. Most of the notable leaders among Native Americans have approved of the movie. The rank and file have followed their example.

Why?

Because Depp and his entrepreneurial friends bought them off, not with whiskey and trinkets this time, but still bought them off just the same.

“Behind the scenes, Depp and Disney labored for months to court Native Americans. The studio gave proceeds of the movie’s world premiere to the American Indian College Fund. During production, a local Navajo elder blessed the set in Monument Valley. And in Santa Fe, social activist La Donna Harris adopted Depp as an honorary son and member of the Comanche tribe. ‘We gave him a Comanche name: Shape Shifter,’ says Harris. ‘He’s able to change into all these different things he plays, from a Caribbean pirate to a Comanche.’ In Lawton, the chairman of the Comanche Nation, Wallace Coffey welcomed Depp, presenting him with a beaded medallion necklace of his Tonto character. Then they joined a gathering of Comanche VIP’s at a special screening of The Lone Ranger for tribal members. Outside a movie theater, festive dancers greeted Depp on the red carpet blessed by a tribal elder.”

As conservative Christians are corralled into new social “reservations” it might be helpful to study this kind of exploitative bribery that elites use to get the approval of minorities as they stereotype them. Whiskey and trinkets take many forms. It also shows how the political correctness imposed on most people mysteriously dissipates for the truly rich, famous, or powerful.

Be warned.