The Cherokee Kid : Will Rogers and teh tribal genealogies of American Indian celebrity
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This dissertation is the first historical-cultural exploration of the ways tribal customs made their way into mainstream America. Throughout his career, Cherokee entertainer and political pundit Will Rogers (1879-1935) drew on Cherokee traditions to ameliorate Americans' anxieties over the increase of mass media, the rise of urbanism, and the threatened loss of individuality that came with these changes. This study complicates overly-simplistic assumptions that popular culture uniformly misrepresented and victimized Native peoples during the Progressive Era and Interwar Years. By analyzing the early twentieth century through the work of one of its most influential American Indian participants, this project broadens notions of both American popular political cultures and American Indian identities. Although Rogers and other publicly known Natives like him did not always fit into the public's perception of "the Indian," they did fit into their tribe's artistic and cultural traditions. In this way, Rogers's overlooked work--his live performances on vaudeville and radio, his syndicated journalistic commentary, and his astounding film career--challenges scholarly understandings of the representation and misrepresentation of Native Americans. This study does not merely illuminate the intimate connections between Will Rogers and the Cherokee Nation. It further elucidates the ways American and specific American Indian tribal histories interact with one another. Scholars so often focus on the colonization and usurpation of Indian nations that we overlook the many times indigenous individuals and nations impact the United States in both positive and negative ways. This dissertation, in short, shows that scholars must reconsider essentialized notions of Indianness, turning instead to specific tribal histories and the ways these traditions intermingle with others to affect the whole.