How to deconstruct the Mighty Whitey trope?:

Total posts: [27]
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1 MorwenEdhelwen6th Jul 2012 03:46:41 AM from Sydney, Australia
Aussie Tolkien freak
Anyone have suggestions on how to deconstruct the Mighty Whitey eg what consequences would result from a White person having better knowledge of things the natives know than some of the natives (in this case, a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Arabs?)
The road goes ever on.
Pronounced YAK-you-luss
Read a few history books on colonialism. A technologically-advanced civilisation barging in to Educate The Ignorant Savages (TM) tends to end really, really badly.
What's precedent ever done for us?
3 MorwenEdhelwen6th Jul 2012 04:28:37 AM from Sydney, Australia
Aussie Tolkien freak
I've already found some on Amazon (I keep a special folder on my computer for research resources). What I meant was how to deconstruct the "white person is better at doing "native" things than the natives" idea.
The road goes ever on.
Well, for starters, this is what the Playing With page says about a deconstructed example, just as a starting point.

* Deconstructed: The white guy becomes better at fishing with a spear but is filled with guilt because the Native American spent his entire life spear fishing and is still inferior in skill.

I guess another way is just making him Not So Above It All- so wrong about him being of the superior race in a manner that carries some bad consequences for him.
"Whenever I feel like I know how computers work, I go to class and leave feeling like I'm wearing my pants on my head, eating paste."
5 MorwenEdhelwen6th Jul 2012 05:23:29 AM from Sydney, Australia
Aussie Tolkien freak
Thanks: Since he's the (native) hero's good friend, maybe the hero picks up on his feelings somehow?
The road goes ever on.
6 Durazno6th Jul 2012 06:20:13 AM from Academia , Relationship Status: Drift compatible
All business!
Well, I hope it wouldn't be too difficult to pick up on his feelings if they're good friends.

What is your whitey better at, and why is he better at it?

I think it might be helpful to pull it back a bit and focus on his perception of superiority, in addition to whatever his skills or deficits might be. For me (and it might be different for you), considering the Mighty Whitey trope leads me to think more about why people write stories about white men going to live among other cultures and becoming paragons of their virtues, rather than what hypothetical white dudes might or might not be able to do in those situations, you know?
7 Minister6th Jul 2012 06:41:57 AM , Relationship Status: YOU'RE TEARING ME APART LISA
Do Not Go Gentle
You could always have the Mighty Whitey become a eugenicist, since he's so good at this, his race must be perfect and therefore the natives must be exterminated for the good of humanity. More common than you think. I'm violating Godwin's Law, here, but a good way to deconstruct a trope is to take it down a dark road.

edited 6th Jul '12 6:42:27 AM by Minister

It's your God, they're your rules, you go to hell." - Mark Twain
This should be a good start.

edited 6th Jul '12 7:19:36 AM by KingZeal

9 MorwenEdhelwen6th Jul 2012 04:34:14 PM from Sydney, Australia
Aussie Tolkien freak
@Durazno: Well, he's a better swordsman than the protagonist, because he's had detailed training and lots of practice. The protagonist hasn't practised very much and knows just enough to be able to fight.
The road goes ever on.
I was unsure, based on the OP, what sort of deconstruction you were going for. It's entirely possible, for a wide range of skills, that a random white guy can be better (or become better) than a native through hard work, practice and learning. Individual skill is just that, once a white guy learns the skill he'll be somewhere along the skill ladder in the tribe and for him to always be at the bottom of the ladder is unrealistic versus being average.

But what sort of consequences do we want to go for here?

Some white people "went native" to learn the skills of some random group. Is that a consequence?

Or do we mean more personal issues that arise with other members of the tribe? Like, fear of teaching an outsider some skills?
11 MorwenEdhelwen6th Jul 2012 08:14:30 PM from Sydney, Australia
Aussie Tolkien freak
A combination of "going native" to learn the skills of the hero's tribe (and help them in their struggle against colonialism) but everyone is secretly suspicious of him because he's white.
The road goes ever on.
12 CleverPun6th Jul 2012 11:16:42 PM from Monterey, California
Bully in the Alley
The single best iteration I'v seen of the Mighty Whitey trope was in Fallout: New Vegas' Honest Hearts DLC. I'll quote the trope entry, since I wrote most of it anyway;

  • Mighty Whitey: Played with a lot in Honest Hearts; both Daniel and Joshua are Mormons who have become leaders of tribal societies. Neither is terribly happy that they're interfering to such a massive degree, but they don't have/know any other way to help. Daniel in particular is incredibly indecisive, worrying about whether he's doing the right thing, and both of them put major decisions at your feet because they're uncomfortable with their level of involvement in everyone's lives. Joshua even says this to you outright about Follows-Chalk (paraphrased).
—> Courier: Why don't you talk to him? You know I'm just going to tell him to leave, right?
Joshua: Perhaps, but I think he's learned too much from me already.
  • The Courier may complicate this even further depending on the skin tone you chose for him/her at character creation.

So essentially, the "whiteys" are genre savvy about the trope, but are defined by concern and caution rather than the usual cavalier know-it-all attitude, and in expressing this concern they both establish their morals/views and justify several gaming tropes.
A minute of perfection was worth the effort. A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection.
13 MorwenEdhelwen7th Jul 2012 03:49:41 AM from Sydney, Australia
Aussie Tolkien freak
Thanks for everyone's suggestions.
The road goes ever on.
14 AcesoldierZero7th Jul 2012 12:33:51 PM from Vicenza, Italy , Relationship Status: I wanna know about these strangers like me
The Mighty Whitey's skills and foreign values lead the natives to believe that he is their culture's equivalent of The Antichrist, maybe?

Alternately, the Mighty Whitey is never truly accepted by either side. The natives, having gotten burned by a previous group of similar foreigners, don't trust him and he is despised by his own people as a race traitor.
Too white for the black kids, too white for the white kids.
Well you could always have high-tech guy try to go native, help them against colonialism, but because unlike everyone else who has spent their entire lives honing their skills, he doesn't do as well as them. So he goes screw this and just uses his high-tech to help them against colonials.

There's also ways to surpass native skills and for it to make sense. Take for instance, a native language speaker only learned it because basically that's the language that is around the person. They didn't take focused study on literature, grammar or anything else. So it's easily possible for a convert to surpass their language skill because they were taking their learning for granted, while the white guy was doing it on purpose for a year.

Also, I'm not certain on statistics, but there's also the case of a convert always being way more formal and polite than the locals because he doesn't know what rules are acceptable to break and when.

edited 7th Jul '12 2:40:17 PM by breadloaf

16 SlendidSuit9th Jul 2012 12:31:44 AM from Probably a Pub
Freelance Worrywart
Another pretty good recent example is Wikus from District 9. It goes down the route of showing that actually, having a white guy fighting for your side doesn't really make that much of a difference; Wikus if anything made the entire plot more complicated by royally screwing up Christopher's plan right at the start.

edited 9th Jul '12 12:31:56 AM by SlendidSuit

Gimme yer lunch money, dweeb.
You could always have your mighty whitey character be an expert in certain skills that would really impress the folks back home but finds to his chagrin that these same skills arent as applicable or useful within the more primitive socioty. The natives may even look down on him in a why did he waste his time learning such a useless skill kinda way.

Examples being he might be very good at making dresses but in such a hot climate dresses that cover you from neck to wrist to ankle and require a corset and puffy underskirt are just stupid. Maybe he is great at making omellettes but the only place birds nest on the island is impossible for humans to reach. Maybe hes a really great artist particularly at painting in fine detail but the ingrediants needed for him to mix the paints he needs are unavailable or maybe the natives just prefer their art to look unrealistic due to superstitions about a picture that looks too real stealing peoples souls.
18 Jabrosky10th Jul 2012 05:16:27 PM from San Diego, CA
Disney's Tarzan has my favorite take on the Mighty Whitey, even if the "natives" are gorillas rather than human. Tarzan goes out of his way to impress his foster gorilla troop with his agility and athleticism because they, especially Kerchak, shunned him when he was a kid. He's basically compensating for being the hairless wonder.

edited 10th Jul '12 5:17:42 PM by Jabrosky

19 Tuckerscreator24th Mar 2013 12:12:02 AM from High Charity, the Prophet's Holy City , Relationship Status: Drift compatible
Every film should end with a Deus T. rex Machina
Got one suggestion: the Mighty Whitey could be an antagonist. His better skills have caused him to become proud, and thus he thinks he should have more of a say on how to rule these people.
I hear it's amazing when the famous purple stuffed worm in flap-jaw space with a tuning fork does a raw blink on Hari-Kiri rock.
20 shiro_okami24th Mar 2013 07:33:45 AM , Relationship Status: Anime is my true love
...can still bite
Instead of doing a deconstruction, which is still open to Unfortunate Implications, maybe you could do a subversion or aversion instead.

For instance, instead of him having better and more knowledgeable at everything the natives do, he isn't, but instead has different skills and knowledge from his own culture that the natives lack but is still useful to them. Paul Atreides of Dune is a novice at the Fremen skills of surviving in the desert and worm-riding, but is a much better fighter, skilled in Xanatos Gambit, and is a seer.

Or, you could have the Mighty Whitey be a complete failure, like in The Forbidden Kingdom.
21 MorwenEdhelwen25th Mar 2013 06:48:23 PM from Sydney, Australia
Aussie Tolkien freak
[up] Thanks, that's a great idea.
The road goes ever on.
If the whitey strives to be on good terms with the natives, then maybe you could have him learn that having good skills doesn't help much, and he'll always be the outsider.
"Mighty Whitey" says that the character is supposed to be superior to the members of the less advanced civilization. Many of the cases the character who is supposed to be "superior" is merely adequate or above average.

Avatar is a pretty good example of the Mighty Whitey trope but movies like Dances With Wolves & The Last Samurai are used as examples too- yet neither Costner nor Cruise is portrayed as "superior" in those films. Costner is more "accepted but still considered 'exotic'" and Cruise is no Samurai master by the end of the movie.

You could deconstruct it by playing with this (the native's think mighty whitey is acting like he's better at their arts than they are, whether that's true or just their perception, and react badly to his perceived arrogance) and then reconstruct it by bringing the ending that what makes the character "superior" is their ability to construct a kind of synergy between the two cultures (which I would argue Avatar tried to do but ultimately fell short of because of the need for an action packed 3rd act). The real reason the "mighty whitey" ends up "superior" isn't because of the fact that he's "white" (or Arab in 13th Warrior or Robin Hood Prince of Thieves), it's because he's got each foot in a different world so to speak and the synergy of those 2 worlds is what actually makes him "better"
24 Wheezy27th Mar 2013 06:25:30 PM from South Philly
(That Guy You Met Once)
Maybe it could turn out that his success was attained through technology instead of talent?
25 DeMarquis28th Mar 2013 09:28:33 AM from Hell, USA , Relationship Status: Buried in snow, waiting for spring
Who Am I?
As long as the native is the main hero of the story, I think you're ok.
I do not compromise—I synthesize.

Total posts: 27
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