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I feel like going to the movies again: maybe to the new Winnetou... It's supposed to be so full of clichés, harmless, unrealistic - just the way you like it in a western. Or did anyone ever believe that these films are realistic? I, for one, noticed as a child that the bad cowboy was always dressed in black and the good one in light. By analogy, I don't think I mistook the depiction of the Apaches for a documentary either. These films were for dreaming: of vastness, strength, courage and blood brothers. Yes, of course they are clichés!

There are people who don't like clichés. They don't find trivialization harmless at all. That's why they think that children shouldn't be told fairy tales either, that they should be confronted with reality. There's something to that, of course.

I just think that a child will be much more likely to be outraged by the crimes of the Europeans on the American continent if he or she has first gotten an idea of who these crimes were committed against. That there were people who suffered, people with feelings, people like you and me, people like Winnetou and his sister Nscho-tschi. And I think the horror of the destruction of a culture only really becomes possible when you have an idea of what that culture was like. That's why it's great when children are fascinated by Indians, excited by a foreign culture!

Now, of course, indigenous people will say, "Yes, but our culture was and is not like Karl May's!" And that brings us back to the clichés.

As a religious, I am used to meeting people who have never met a religious, but who think they know exactly what we are like and how we live. They have usually seen some kind of movies in which nuns, monks and priests make very strange characters. When I get into conversation with these people, we first have to clear up misunderstandings. Sometimes it's a bit annoying, but I also find it funny what abstruse ideas people have. Anyway, it's funny as long as people still want to talk to me and are seriously interested in who I really am. The moment a young man dresses up as a nun in a carnival and staggers through the area, there is no longer much interest in a different way of life. (Everything already experienced.)

And that's the difference for me: I believe that pretty much all ethnicities, religions and professions have already been defamed and ridiculed in films and books. In these cases, stereotypes have a destructive effect, and we should try to prevent their spread. But if a book or film paints a positive picture, arouses fascination and perhaps even admiration, then the clichés must surely be corrected and differentiated at some point. But first of all, they pave a way and access that a purely factual analysis cannot create.

Or in other words: When your children play Indians, ask them to which people they belong (Winnetou was Mescalero Apache). And if at some point they ask if there are still Apaches today, then you can tell them.


Image: Henning Hraban


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