Is there anything Google can't teach us?
Even about stereotypes, for example.
A casual Culture Lab experiment began a few days ago,
after I heard about a YouTube video called "Smiling Indians." The idea behind this short
film is that Native Americans are almost always shown in historic
photos as perpetually, eternally solemn. The film is dedicated to
Edward Curtis, who, perhaps more than any other artist, helped
imprint in the American collective imagination what it means to be
Native American. Feathers are almost a prerequisite. Forlornly
riding a lone horse into the sunset is the ideal.
In an interview with the filmmaker, Ryan Red
Corn, he talks about the lingering stereotyping of Native Americans
in American contemporary culture. Think about the Washington
Redskins, or even the military's use of the code name "Geronimo" for Osama bin Laden. Red Corn claims
that even a cursory search on Google would prove his
This passing comment led to Culture Lab's little
experiment. A Google image search for different terms of American
ethnicity-African American, Asian American, White American,
Hispanic, and Native American-proved Red Corn's statement with
The image search results showed that only after some 200
photos can you find a Native Americans represented by a single
contemporary, living person. The first eight pages of images are
filled with feathered traditionalists, new age fantasies, and old
black and white photos of stoic (that is, unsmiling)
Today, more than ever, it is time we move beyond the tired
stereotyping of Native Americans. It is time to see Native
Americans as real people, living modern lives, smiling and often
even without wearing feathers.