|Day 128: Cher (Half-Breed)
September 1, 2020
At what age is it appropriate to teach children about the realities of social injustice? I suspect my parents started doing it when I was very young, but I don't remember conscious conversations. What I remember is that I more likely tottered into national conversations.
This was certainly the case for my awareness of the plight of Indigenous Americans, which came to a head with probably a co-incidental shared awareness of Cher's "Half-Breed" and Tom Loughlin's Billy Jack movies.
Let's start with the Billy Jack. It's the early 1970's and I somehow stumbled onto Billy Jack movies, either Born Losers or the actual Billy Jack. I have the weirdest memory of seeing one of them in a theater. I am guessing I saw the latter first, as it was released in 1971; Born Losers came out in 1967. Eventually I did see both movies. If you know these movies, you recognize the horror that a child, somewhere between 9 and 12, could have access to them. Both movies feature rape scenes in order to establish Billy Jack's motivation for vengeance. I have had a chance once or twice as an adult to re-watch either of the movies, but I have been leery. All I know is that those rape scenes made pretty deep impressions on me.
Maybe my parents trusted me way too much to choose appropriate movies. By 1971, having moved from my first home, I was forced to cross town to see my friend, Steve. Then we would lumber down Grand Street to buy cheap candy at an actual five & dime, then go see the latest Planet Of The Apes movie. I suppose we filled in other weekends with Billy Jack and The Legend of Boggy Creek, both of which gave me some pretty significant nightmares. (So, I had to look up Boggy Creek, which was rated G. Who knows what spooked a stupid 10-year old me at the time?)
I suppose even if I told my parents I was seeing Billy Jack, they might not have been too worried, reading that it was about a war vet who takes vengeance into his own hand when he sees injustice, especially among American Indians. They probably believed it would be morally uplifting. However, I remember Billy Jack had a nasty streak himself. The character may have been half breed between Native American and European American, but, in the parlance of role-playing games, he lived as a half breed between morally good and bad, perhaps the classic "chaotic good."
Of course, our movie's hero, Billy Jack was a half-breed at a time when indigenous people seemed to be getting a lot more exposure. Around the same time, I was getting into two Cher hits. Cher's "Half Breed," like her earlier "Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves," made me conscious of how other halves live. It didn't hurt that Cher performed "Half Breed" on the Sonny & Cher show in a very skimpy authentic (or maybe not) outfit on a horse. I think it would be rather difficult for an 11-year old boy not to notice that. Even beyond that, the unfairness of a half breed's life was very clear in the song: "my mother's people were ashamed of me/The Indians said I was white by law/the White Man always called me 'Indian Squaw.'" Cher seemed to embody perfectly the song's narrator. "Both sides were against me since the day I was born," she sings as the final line of the chorus.
The song almost seems cliché for its tom tom beat, while the baritone, faintly heard, male voices singing "half breed" in the background of the chorus, don't help the cause. Seeing Cher in barely any clothes, full headdress, on top of a horse by a totem pole, may suggest all of this was more insulting than insightful. Certainly many critics pointed out that she was no more half-Indian than she had been from gypsy stock for "Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves."
In some ways, did it matter? This is the early 1970's and not a whole lot of full breeds or half breeds are getting truthful representations to young white boys in West Virginia. For those couple of years, Cher represented for me a voice for the downtrodden. Heck, it was clear she saved Sonny Bono, so was it so difficult for me to believe she existed to save gypsies or native Americans?
At a time when the "Crying Indian" public service announcement ("Keep America Beautiful") had gained lots of publicity, the Cher songs and Billy Jack movies could define Indian images for a lot of boys and girls. Tom Loughlin, who wrote the Billy Jack movies and then starred in them, was even less indigenous than Cher. But, so what? Weren't they, in their own ways, PSA's like the "Keep America Beautiful" campaign?
Of course, an expose into the company producing that "don't litter" campaign suggested that it was a giant "greenwash" for corporate irresponsibility, placing the blame on individuals for not disposing properly of products the companies refused to manufacture in ecologically friendly ways.1 Sheesh, thank God I wasn't even a teenager yet for most of this fake news. Oblivious is always the best way to get through life.
After all, who would have thought I would get to 58 believing that The Legend of Boggy Creek is the only thing I can trust from those days?
"Half-Breed." Cher. Half-Breed. MCA. 1973. Link here.
1Rose, Chris. "A Beautiful If Evil Strategy." Plastic Pollution Coalition.
Day 127: The Romantics. "What I Like About You."
Day 129: The The "This Is The Day."->
See full unfinished list here.