"For a subject worked and reworked so often in novels, motion pictures, and television, American Indians remain probably the least understood and most misunderstood Americans of us all."

-John F. Kennedy in
the introduction to The American Heritage Book of Indians

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Onion Parodies Amazon "Civilization"

The satirical magazine The Onion, which bills itself as "America's Finest News Source," has just come out with a new article about the "lousiest civilization ever."  Here is a brief snippet:

Archaeologists Unearth Lousiest Civilization Ever

Archaeologists working in a remote section of the Amazon Rainforest announced Tuesday that they have discovered the ancient remnants of what they claimed may be the lousiest civilization in human history.

According to Dr. Ronald Farber, a professor from the University of Minnesota who is leading the excavation, the "half-assed" culture existed from about 450 B.C. until 220 B.C., when it abruptly disappeared—an event he said was "honestly no big loss" for our understanding of human culture.

"From what we've unearthed so far, it appears this pre-Columbian civilization was pretty much just copying what other, more superior groups nearby were doing—albeit to a much shittier degree," Farber said. "They sucked. You should see the useless mess of a calendar these dumbasses came up with."

The article goes on to reference all manner of "half-assed" attempts at copying other Pre-Colombian civilizations.  It references "inefficient" aqueduct systems, "piece of shit" pipes, "asinine" agricultural methods, and a massive sun temple whose alignment with the Summer solstice was off by two feet.  Apparently, they all "went blind" from staring into the solar eclipses they predicted.

Here is another line that rips on the archaeologists:

An ancient ceremonial headdress, believed to belong to the ruler of the civilization, is reportedly the only artifact from the site that has captured the interest of the scientific community. However, the find was only deemed worthwhile after one of the archaeologists donned the feather diadem while prancing around and shouting, "Duh! Look at me, I'm King Fuckstick, Leader of the Numbskulls!"

The article is clearly meant to be parody.  It satirizes the traditional stereotype that the Amazon was full of backwards savages and cannibals incapable of creating or sustaining any hint of civilization.  The article references all the great achievements of the Pre-Columbian Americans such as advanced knowledge of astronomy, massive public works, written languages, and the fine arts.

I suspect this parody was written in direct response to this recent article in The Washington Post about new discoveries of Amazon civilization:

Scientists find evidence discrediting theory Amazon was virtually unlivable
By Juan Forero

To the untrained eye, all evidence here in the heart of the Amazon signals virgin forest, untouched by man for time immemorial - from the ubiquitous fruit palms to the cry of howler monkeys, from the air thick with mosquitoes to the unruly tangle of jungle vines.

Archaeologists, many of them Americans, say the opposite is true: This patch of forest, and many others across the Amazon, was instead home to an advanced, even spectacular civilization that managed the forest and enriched infertile soil to feed thousands.

The findings are discrediting a once-bedrock theory of archaeology that long held that the Amazon, unlike much of the Americas, was a historical black hole, its environment too hostile and its earth too poor to have ever sustained big, sedentary societies. Only small and primitive hunter-gatherer tribes, the assumption went, could ever have eked out a living in an unforgiving environment.

But scientists now believe that instead of stone-age tribes, like the groups that occasionally emerge from the forest today, the Indians who inhabited the Amazon centuries ago numbered as many as 20 million, far more people than live here today...

It is the following paragraph in particular that led me to believe the authors of The Onion article had read this one:

"I think we're humanizing the history of the Amazon," said Neves, 44, a professor at the University of Sao Paulo. "We're not looking at the Amazon anymore as a black box. We're seeing that these people were just like anywhere else in the world. We're giving them a sense of history."

Hence, The Onion article absurdly "de-humanizes" the indigenous Amazon people with its foul mouthed archaeologists, all while substantially reinforcing the very real advances of their civilization!

This certainly is one of the more humorous examples of "drawing on Indians" that I have encountered recently.  Essentially, The Onion draws upon the advances of Native civilizations in order to point out the traditional prejudices of non-Native people against the so-called "primitive" Indians.  It demonstrates the hypocrisy of continuing to think of Indians as backwards people when for thousands of years Native civilizations were just as advanced or even more advanced than those in Europe!

I was also keenly aware of the fact that the article did not once use the words Native, Indian, or indigenous.  "Civilization" and "society" make much better satire anyway when paired with the archaeologist's scholarly choice of "half-assed".

What do you think?  Effective satire or just not funny?

For another take on The Washington Post article check out this write-up from the Newspaper Rock blog:

Amazon Indians weren't savages


  1. I saw this piece too. My conclusion is that it wasn't particularly funny but was a reasonably effective satire.

    For my take on it, see:


  2. And Rob's article on it shows it bashing the mentally disabled. I wonder if that was part of the satire, or just par-for-the-course hate speech a la Rahm Emanuel/

  3. What, calling the pottery "totally retarded"? I said this satire indicted the speakers, not the subjects. There's no reason to exclude this line as part of the indictment.