Dances With Wolves Film Analysis

 

Dances with Wolves

The film Dances with Wolves was a passion project of director and actor, Kevin Costner. I am inspired by prominent figures in Hollywood who go out of their way to embody important stories on the big screen, especially the stories of discriminated groups without a voice. Native American tribes were the original inhabitants of what is now the United States of America. Their sacred land was stolen and they were evicted from their homes and forced to the abyss in lethal conditions. So many times in civilization’s history, groups have been seen as nuisances in a more powerful group’s attempt at conquest. In lieu of America’s political climate today, we can learn from this classic piece of cinema. Dances with Wolves is an inspiring piece of art with a strong message that remains relevant to today’s American issues and should be admired as one of the staples of American cinematography.

Dances with Wolves is one of those movies that is legendary in pop culture yet I had never seen it before. I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew was that this film had won a few Academy Awards and is one of the few widely recognized media creations that used actual Native American actors. I was instantly shocked at the accurate portrayal of war. The gruesome reality is often glamorized for media. I put myself in Dunbar’s boots in that medical tent and believe I would have done the same thing. If he had allowed the surgeon to amputate his foot, the psychological scars of war would become physical and he would never be able to forget his past, that is if he survived the war (Costner). He felt like a pawn in someone else’s war. He looked over at the pile of fallen pawns before him, represented by fallen soldier’s boots. He identified with Cisco the horse immediately because Cisco had literally been branded a pawn of the military as well. When he rode into “No Man’s Land”, he was trying to die. When he survived, he chose to flee to the frontier. The Major aka “The King” was a manifestation of what become of most soldiers as a result of the trauma. Two Socks was the embodiment of Dunbar’s relationship with nature, he wants to get closer but he fears the unknown wild. For Dunbar, it was easier to stay at the fort and wait for reinforcements that would never come, than travel further west. All would change when he encountered the first Sioux (Costner).

The Sioux were very primal and instinctual, which may have been to their advantage. The first one Dunbar saw up close tried to steal Cisco, confirming his pre-conceived bias of Native Americans as savages and thieves. Still, Dunbar was intrigued by the mysterious people (Costner). If Stands with a Fist had been found injured by any other soldier, regardless of being white she would have been used to find the rest of the tribe and killed along with the rest. We know this because of how Dunbar was treated by the soldiers. As we know by Dunbar’s considerable choices, he was no ordinary man. He was willing to not only invite Kicking Bird and Wind in his Hair to his home, but shared his resources whilst sitting among them in equality. When he was finally trusted into the tribe, Dunbar found the sense of community he was lacking and an honest rebuttal to his own prejudice expectations.

I find the storyline of this film to be reminiscent of what is happening today. The white Americans believed in manifest destiny. It was their god given right to colonize the west, regardless of whom they had to fight for it. Hundreds of years later, the white supremacists of America seek to retake their land and power in society. They blame Mexicans for taking their land and jobs although they took Mexicans land-California and Texas- in a very similar way to the Native Americans. They see African Americans as savages and thieves because they do not understand them and fear their culture. The soldiers who found Dances with Wolves called him an “injun”, an outdated and offensive term for a Native American, because he had sympathized with them. He was a traitor in their eyes. It took patience and communication between John and the tribe to create understanding and even friendship, as displayed by Wind in his Hair’s progression from “I do not fear you” to “I am your friend”(Costner). We can learn from that relationship. They were able to teach each other. In addition to friendship, Dances with Wolves was able to learn his place among nature.

The contrast between the Sioux and the white men in attitude towards nature is evident in their actions. For example, early in the film we see Timmons, the oddball mule owner, toss a tin can over his shoulder into the open prairie. Dunbar is confused by the insensitive action, but Timmons seems to have no second thoughts. The white men also seek to claim as much of the land as they can, even referring to the Native Americans as “thieves” of their property (Costner). The Sioux in opposition treat the land as a provider of life, uprooting their whole home to pursue the buffalo. The white men killed the first herd for “tongues and hides”, leaving the rest of the carcass to rot in waste. A soldier shot Two Socks, seeing the wolf as prey rather than the friend that John had found in him. This film is a visually stimulating and raw representation of the American Frontier. The ending may have seen like a let down, but I would have expected nothing less that the true ending all Native American tribes faced. It is a reminder of America’s horrific past and a warning to prevent history from repeating once again.

 

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Rhetoric of SNL

“Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night with your host Oscar Sifuentes”. That phrase is usually said by the narrator after the opening sequence. It states the host of the weekly episode. Every episode of SNL begins with a cold open, which is usually a political skit. Regardless of the nature of the skit, each cold open ends with one of the actors breaking character and yelling “Live from New York, its Saturday Night!” The show once went by the name Saturday Night when it first aired on NBC on October 11, 1975 (Saturday).Saturday Night Live is a long running comedy television program that features a variety of live skits, thus categorized with the term “variety show”. Every episode is hosted by a celebrity guest who performs an opening monologue after the cold open and participates in sketches throughout the show. Along with the weekly host, each episode features a musical artist to perform twice during the hour long show, except for Prince who was the first artist to perform one, 8 minute performance. The show’s comedic timing, entertaining hosts, and musical performances give it the appeal to reach a large audience of different fan bases.

Lorne Michaels’s name is synonymous with the program. He is the producer, director, and head writer of SNL. In many ways, he is the author of SNL. He writes the skits in a way so that it will impact the audience in more ways than just laughter. The audience is primarily adults in the United States, but it is very likely that the program reaches audiences globally. The jokes include satirical humor pertaining to issues plaguing the Unites States and for that reason the audience is primarily the United States. Aside from just relatable and often times raunchy skits, the show puts a comedic spin on news events in a segment called Weekend Update.

Weekend Update is an informative parody of classic news programs. It is one of the few sketches that is consistently in every episode. It consists of usually two of the shows players relaying news events of the week with a comedic spin. Logically, logos, the sketch gives real information about the weeks most important or unusual events. The sketches include both national and international news. For example, the fake news anchor may say something like, “Kim Jong Un won the election in North Korea”. Then they would follow with, “He easily defeated his challenger, Or Else” (Saturday). The effect is humor along with the knowledge that North Korea’s government may seem corrupt to the typical American.

The main appeal used in the entire show is pathos, or emotion. Happiness is often caused by a joke. SNL is full of jokes. Therefore, the show’s humor often creates some level of happiness to most viewers. Although some of the news events occurring around the world may be devastating, the writers know how to make the retelling of those events appealing comedically rather than in a depressing manner. The show SNL was and still is a comedic way to cope with devastating events. The show serves as a distraction from the emotional pain. Still, the show tries to not cross the symbolic line with their humor. In that way, the show is very helpful to those that worry or have been personally affected by events discussed during Weekend Update.

Many of the jokes during Weekend Update often come at the expense of prominent figures. For example, the show very frequently jokes about Obama and how many very openly disapprove of his health care initiative, Obamacare. The show is a friend to Obama and has even had him on as a guest, so the jokes aren’t taken too harshly by the subjects of the jokes. The jokes question his character and motives. Still, sometimes the jokes will work in favor of the United States, making the country look better and less “damaged” than other countries. Those jokes will evoke patriotism from the American viewers, which is a form of character. In that way, Weekend Update even uses ethos effectively

The context of the event depends on what happened that week. For example, when Presidents give speeches, Weekend Update will surely dissect those speeches and joke about the speakers themselves. Many of the jokes are usually related to the US and other countries might not understand them, but like mentioned before Weekend Update also covers global news. The fact that other countries’ viewers may not understand American government or culture would be a constraint of the show’s conveyed message. The idea of spreading knowledge of national and global news in a comedic way would be the shows exigence, or purpose.

Saturday Night Live is still running strong today. As long as the country goes on, there will be issues. As long as there are issues, there will be material for the show to play off of. “In any rhetorical situation there will be at least one controlling exigence which functions as the organizing principle: it specifies the audience to be addressed and the change to be effected” (Bitzer 7). Some people will love the show for its jokes, lovable characters, and great live music. Some will love it for its satirical political skits. Many admire the shows honesty. It doesn’t sugarcoat when it recollects events. It doesn’t hold back in providing the viewer with an opinion if the viewer can’t make one for them self. “In short, rhetoric is a mode of altering reality, not by the direct application of energy to objects, but by the creation of discourse which changes reality through the mediation of thought and action” (4). It causes the viewers to think about the issues. It may be at times offensive, but it is still a defender of rights for all. In a country like the US, famous for ignorance and blatant racism, it’s when watching SNL or events like The Olympics that many feel most patriotic. The show’s writers know how to get people to pay attention and that’s what rhetoric is all about. The show is logically, ethically, and emotionally appealing and that is why it is successful in attracting and keeping loyal viewers.