I think I’d be stating the obvious by saying pulp fiction’s depictions of jungle natives was wildly racist. Let that just be a given. These magazines, without fail, depict the jungle inhabitants of Africa (and Indonesia and South America) as bloodthirsty sexual predators. Would it have killed them to one time portray them without a psychotic bloodlust for white women? Evidently so.
Let’s a take a look at some examples…
We can speculate all day about why this was so prevalent. But let’s be clear: these magazines were intended for men – specifically white males. The imagery of a white woman being attacked by a “savage” black man was intended to strike fear into their hearts.
But what does this mean, exactly? I suppose I’ll leave that to armchair sociologists out there more qualified than I. But it does give the impression that white men had a deep and abiding worry that their women were going to be taken by these blacks, depicted as savagely and threatening as possible.
It wasn’t always Africa. All that mattered was that it was a less civilized race; the whites always the victims of their animalistic desires. Of course, the whites always emerge victorious – good triumphing over the bad.
Of course, automatic weapons versus blow darts isn’t much of a fair fight. No matter. The buxom damsel is rescued and the square-jawed Rambo is the hero.
Let me state that I don’t find issue with depicting certain groups as villains. If you like, have the natives be bad once and a while… then maybe some pirates, then some Nazis, then mobsters. I’m just marveling at the sheer volume and extent at which the jungle native was portrayed negatively. And by “negatively”, I mean “as sadistic mongrel rapists”.
The “damsel in distress” trope is as old as time. What changes through the decades isn’t the damsel (the woman is always the weak victim in need of the male savior) – it’s the attacker.
The faces of the attacker in popular media are legion: monsters, mad scientists, Nazis, hippies, bikers, aliens…. whichever group best meets the collective fears of a culture gets the role.
Despite the predictability of it all, there was a small degree of variation here and there. Of course, the natives are always savage brutes – that never changes. But take for instance a strange trope that would pop up now and again: The evil and mysterious white woman who commands the native slaves…
Every once you’ll find this evil woman (almost always blonde) who uses the natives to do her bidding. The natives are predictably dumb and barbaric – but what’s with the repeated theme of blonde puppet master?
Was this blonde devil woman of the jungle a male fantasy or fear? Or both? Let’s look inside Jo-Jo Congo King from November 1947.
Yeah, I know. She’s a redhead on the cover, but have no fear, she’s a blonde in the comic itself. Let’s see what evil plans she has in store for this Tarzan rip-off. I’m sure it will involve plenty of racist shenanigans. Let’s see….
Yep. The story opens with this evil blonde easily manipulating the jungle natives to do her bidding. Surprise, surprise. These savages are like putty in this white woman’s hands.
“She’s mad! Going to bleach our skulls in that brine!”
Things get kicked up a notch (in the most grotesque way imaginable) as the evil blonde and her savage minions take over the camp of Jo-Jo The Congo King’s friends. Yes, those are human skulls – she’s apparently murdered some innocent Caucasians and has boiled the flesh off their bones. Isn’t this a nice comic for the kids? (This is a pre-code comic, obviously. For more on the code, check out a previous article on Flashbak.)
Oh, no! Jo-Jo’s main squeeze, Tanee, is being attacked by the blacks. Have no fear, Jo-Jo makes quick work of these savages.
Then the ending, which blew my mind….
“Horrible! But so was her life!”
Jo-Jo throws her into the boiling pot to die a hideous death. Superman and Batman never vanquished their villains like this! Such was the often unexpectedly horrifying world of pre-code comics.
But these blonde jungle bitches are the exception, not the rule. Most of the time, you can count on the three stereotypes being firmly in place (1) jungle natives as creatures of violence and lust, (2) white women as weak and helpless and (3) white men as heroic studs.
Well, we’ve probably talked enough about this sad phenomenon. Thankfully, the trope faded to near extinction by the 1970s. Before we go, have a look at some more examples – and I’d love to hear any armchair sociologists weigh in with their expert theories.