Pocahontas - Cultural Anthropology

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Writing Assignment #1: The Cultural Construction of the Idea of Progress Film chosen: Pocahontas
One of Walt Disney’s most famous films, Pocahontas, takes place in the 1600s, as the British discover parts of the “New World” that are inhabited by native Americans. In this film, we are able to contrast the primitive lifestyle and culture of the Native Americans to that of the British, and are able to see how the ideas of “progress” or social evolution play a role in the ethnocentric bias held by the Westerners during this time, causing the primitive stereotypes to be built. Disney uses the structure of the characters themselves- what they wear, how they speak, what they eat, what they believe in, etc.; and the plot line of the film, to depict the cultural construction of the idea of “progress”, and evoke the opposing ideas of the “primitive other” and “civilized self”.

This film opens showing us the life of the British as they board the ship and while they’re sailing at sea. Disney starts off with the British because we as westerners relate to the British, and see their way of life as normal and civilized. We immediately relate to the color of their skin, their westernized clothing, the way they speak, and the technology they have access too. While on the boat, John Smith (the male protagonist) refers to the Native American Indians as “savages” who should be killed if they get in the way. This gives us a sneak peak into the mindset of the British and how negatively they view the Native Americans. Leaving us with the belief that the Indians are savages, Disney then introduces Pocahontas (the female protagonist) and the Indian tribe that has been living in the New World. Immediately we are exposed to the primitive lifestyle of the Indians. We see that their way of traveling is by wooden canoes, their clothing consist of a brown cloth that covers very little while they also do not have on shoes, they live in tents, and have nothing but nature at it’s purest form...
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