A new day, a new online debate on the topic of “abolition of culture”. Anger erupted on Twitter after German publisher Ravensburger announced the dropping of two children’s books, a poster book and puzzle games.
The books are inspired by the wild West stories of the hugely popular and increasingly controversial German writer Karl May (1842-1912). It follows the childhood of Mai’s most famous hero: the brave Apache Winito, a fictional Native American leader. He first appeared in 1875 and his adventures are told in many novels. May’s books have sold about 200 million copies worldwide – there are also many films and even animated series.
The new books were released to accompany the film “Young Leader Winito”, which was shown in German cinemas on August 11th. Meanwhile, there are also demands to stop the film, among other things due to the redness.
The recently released children’s movie ‘The Young Chief Winnetou’ has been criticized for its glorious depiction of the Aboriginal genocide.
Citing the “many negative reactions” surrounding the books’ “romantic” and “cliché” depictions of Native Americans, Ravensburger Verlag removed the titles from his show and apologized if it hurt anyone’s feelings.
The reactions were not long in coming. Since then, “#Winnetou” has been trending online – with the majority of users grumbling – in full accordance with German newspaper Bild, which claims to identify the “awakened hysteria” that “burns our childhood heroes to the test”.
Germany’s passion for the Wild West
Behind the online outrage lies Germans’ embodied love of the romantic Wild West – a sentiment that can be traced directly back to Karl May and his idealized depiction of 19th-century America.
The characters of Mai – the noble and heroic Winneto and his “blood brother” Old Chatterhand, a German immigrant surveyor – are as well established in Germany as the characters of Grimm’s fairy tales.
You can find Winnetou books and records in almost every household. Films made in the 1960s based on Karl May’s books are still regularly shown on television today. There are Karl May festivals and amusement parks all over the country.
Performances in Bad Segeberg in Schleswig-Holstein and the neighboring “Indian Village” are especially popular. About 250,000 people come here every year.
Many see non-reflective viewing as a problem. They criticize May’s view of Native American culture as little more than a kind of naive utopia and pragmatic fiction that ignores the horrific facts about the genocide of indigenous peoples by white settlers. Another argument is relevant here: Karl May, as a white man, wrote about a culture with which he had no direct knowledge.
She has visited America only once, having already been a successful novelist – and she has never gone further west than New York.
Winnetou’s films, including the most recent, feature white actors and actresses in indigenous roles. The most famous Winito is Pierre Brice, the Frenchman who played the Apache chief in nearly a dozen films from 1962 to 1968, at the Carl May festivals in Elsby and Bad Siegberg, and in a TV series in the 1980s.
The cliché of the “noble savage”
Ravensburger Verlag removed the books from the shelves because these new editions also served the colonial cliché of the “noble savage” – especially Winnetou.
Critics argue that the Mai residents are not real people, but idealized almost magical characters whose main task is to sacrifice themselves on behalf of the white hero.
Blood Brothers: Pierre Brice as Winito and Lex Parker as Old Shatterhand
After all, Karl May did not follow the current image of “wild Indians” and “civilized cowboys,” but instead portrayed Native Americans (at least Winito and his friends) as heroes and white settlers as essentially villains.
Local historian and scholar Hartmut Lutz has been a vocal critic of Karl May. However, in his 2020 book Indianthusiasm, he admitted that the author’s fantasies of escaping reality sparked interest in Germany’s indigenous culture and inspired generations of German academics to discover the truth behind the stories.
More realistic insights into real life
Anyone who wants a more realistic look at Native American lives should watch Reservation Dogs, a hilarious series about teenagers who grow up on a reservation in Oklahoma. Indigenous people standing in front of and behind the camera. Or watch the sci-fi thriller “Night Raiders” by Canadian director Dennis Gault, which premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2021. In the dystopian film, set in the mid-21st century under military rule in North America, a woman from Cree sect turns to a resistance group to free her daughter from a government military academy.
Quote from English: Susan Cordes