ERIC Number: EJ823340
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2009
Reference Count: N/A
Will Rogers's Radio: Race and Technology in the Cherokee Nation
Ware, Amy M.
American Indian Quarterly, v33 n1 p62-97 Win 2009
While radio personality Will Rogers's pioneering role in radio is obvious (he worked in the medium during its earliest years), its connections to Cherokee and other tribal technologies have been neglected. This failure to recognize Rogers's part in this particular strain of Cherokee history is a symptom of a larger cultural illness in the United States that assumes Native peoples exist outside the confines of industrial progress. This article analyzes Rogers's contributions to this increasingly important medium and the ways his technological artistry was shaped by his connection to Cherokee history. First, the author considers the content of the radio shows and the sound of his voice as they relate to Rogers's conceptions of himself as a Cherokee celebrity navigating a starkly racialized American medium. What makes his radio shows distinct from other artistic tools Rogers employed (journalism, film, and stage performance) is their sheer spontaneity. Though his work in other media seemed off-the-cuff, it was in fact edited by moral codes curtailing performers' content. This "radio-free Rogers" covertly questioned assumptions regarding Native peoples' relationship to technology and traditionally accepted tales of American history. Perhaps because these shows were recorded live and aired uncensored, Rogers met occasional serious criticism--especially from the African American community--for his shows' content. The second part of this article examines these moments of rupture, for they not only complicate Rogers's romanticized persona but also reveal complex historical connections to his familial past. By considering the convergent effects of Cherokee and American slave systems as seen through Rogers's on-air performances, the author hopes to further elucidate some of the reasons the Cherokee-slavery issue has received such intense public scrutiny over the past few years. Finally, this article proposes that Rogers's role in early radio furthers scholars' understandings of radio use in Indian Country at large. Tribal benefits and interpretations of Western technologies are reflected in both modern tribal radio usage and Rogers's commentary on technology on the air. (Contains 4 figures and 90 notes.
Descriptors: United States History, African American Community, American Indians, Slavery, American Indian Languages, American Indian History, Radio, Journalism
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Oklahoma