March 19, 2007

Indians like stereotypes too?

Home of the BraveTwenty years ago it was enough to denounce silly books and movies about Indians but today that almost misses the point. What's different about our present situation is that it's become clear that we as Indian people love these books and the images they present as much as anyone else. In fact, both Little Tree and Brother Eagle, Sister Sky will probably find their way under many Indian Christmas trees and the fact of their authorship will not greatly affect their promising future with Indian readers any more than it will with non-Indian readers.

To me these new stereotypes shows us that the myth-making machine has learned new and deadly tricks, much like the cyborg in Terminator 2. The ultimate result--the continued trivialization and appropriation of Indian culture--the absolute refusal to deal with us as just plain folks living in the present and not the past--is the same as ever. That's why challenging negative images and questioning who owns or produces these images are no substitute for a more all-sided oppositional effort. What's needed is a popular movement that could bring about meaningful change in the daily lives of Indian people.

7 comments:

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Long ago, perhaps too long ago, writerfella was given the chance by two important friends, D.C. Fontana and Harlan Ellison, to write for an ABC-TV series called THE SIXTH SENSE. It dealt with paranormal phenomena and experience, and writerfella attempted to explain Native prophecy in terms of precognition, clairvoyance, and telepathy. The gist of the story was that one Native young man who 'sought the vision' in a building basement to try to help his downtrodden people in Los Angeles. But instead, he was shown violent earthquakes striking the city. At first, he didn't understand the 'spirit thunder (knowledge)' that he received. But once he was shown what it meant, then he sought out the series' main character, Dr. Michael Rhodes, to try to explore his precognizant vision. His main secret intent was to get verification of his vision and then use it finally to 'blackmail' the city into providing programs to help Native people in L.A. A young militant latches onto him when Rhodes turns him down and intends greater blackmail by extorting money from those whose family members likely will die in the earthquakes. Rhodes finally comes to believe in the vision and then experiences the major details of it himself. But the original Native guy is abducted by the militant, who then tries to get the exact information out of him though sodium pentothal torture. Rhodes convinces the city fathers that the man's visions are real by setting up a meeting with the city council, purposely timing it to the man's vision of the first small earthquake. In the middle of the meeting, Rhodes is able suddenly to announce that, 'Curtis Bigsoldier said that the first earthquake will happen...RIGHT NOW!' And it happens. But at the same time, Curt Bigsoldier's mind reaches him and reveals where he is being held. The city authorities suddenly are more than agreeable to the programs in exchange for the information about the future, heavier quakes, but Rhodes rushes out, intent on rescuing Bigsoldier. Rhodes finds Bigsoldier drugged in the lower basements of his own university's museum and then has to face down the militant who is armed with an ancient crossbow. The militant is overpowered, Bigsoldier is rescued, and he willingly gives out the information because the city finally is going to help his people. He looks around and realizes he is in a museum. "Most people in this country believe that this is the only place where my people can be found." But Rhodes says, "They may believe that, Curt. But I'm not one of them."
Still, when the episode ends, the help the man is receiving is not enough to solve all his people's problems, but at least it is a start. He sits with Dr. Rhodes and says, "I was chosen by my vision to try to bring these things to be. But why did that vision choose me?" Rhodes says, "You wanted change. Sometimes, the forces of change find the right person to bring about that change. For this set of changes, you were the one they demanded." And Bigsoldier says, "Now I think I understand. A great man, a friend to my people, said something that now I know what it meant. 'Some people see things as they are and ask, why? I see things that never were and ask, why not?' END of STORY...
Question: anything stereotypical in all of that, even after 35 years?
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

I haven't seen any evidence that members of AIM "seek to rid Native peoples of their original languages, their original cultures, and their original existences." Why don't you show us the evidence?

Your story may not be stereotypical, but how about your views on Apocalypto? Your fantasies match Mel Gibson's fantasies, which means you're both thinking stereotypically.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Holy Samoleons, Batman! When writerfella completed the post here, he hit 'send' and then a bolt of lightning hit nearby and all power dropped out! Thus, writerfella thought the posthad been lost because of the power outage. So, when he was again online, he rewrote that post as best he remembered for the NEXT topic below. Strangely, both versions are close enough to fit BOTH topics, and so that is how they now appear. Please understand that it more is the work of the Grandfather than it is writerfella's own faltering memory...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Surely, Rob. In 1988, when writerfella was hired to teach creative writing at a special 'gifted & talented' summer seminar being for Native students from everywhere, given at Riverside Indian School just a mile north of writerfella's Anadarko OK home town, one of the speakers brought to the seminar espoused that very set of principles. He was a principal of a South Dakota set of Native schools. He gave his spiel, and said it was the manifesto of The American Indian Movement at that time. If tribal people gave up their languages and cultures and identities and then united as 'just Indians' behind AIM's sponsorship, they could indeed become a political force in this nation as had been done by the Blacks. What disturbed writerfella the most was that man's assurance that, if tribal culture and language and identity should be required at a future time, all the people would have to do would be to access such things in "the collective unconscious" and those things would be there for them to find and to have.
writerfella fretted and worried over the things said in tha man's speech. But he decided to ask his own creative writing students what they had understood from the things the man had said. And, as astute as all of them were, NONE of them really understood what the man had had to say. Whew, missed it BY THAT MUCH! BUT -- what did that mean to what was being taught in the Dakota schools of which tha man was the principal? The idea was implanted and now it is becoming a topic of much discussion at least in the high plains. writerfella's students were adept enough to ask greater meaning than that which they were given. But what about those other Native students who were hearing that manifesto every day? writerfella can do nothing with such a thing, except to employ what he had heard from one of its proponents. Thus, the ideas appear in ANASAZI The Screenplay and then are given the treatment that they deserve. writerfella knows one thing, just as SUPERMAN learned in SUPERMAN RETURNS: you can't save the entire world, but at least you must save as much of it as you can...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

writerfella said...

Writerfela here --
Rob, APOCALYPTO is an anomaly in motion picture history. Mel Gibson indeed tried to make his film into a manifesto against war in general, stating in filmic terms that governments rely on the lesser members of their own society to be 'sacrificed' for that government's own arcane purposes. If you refuse or try to escape those intents, the forces of that government will come after you. Period. The arrival of the Spaniards at the end of the film, though ahistorical, does not mean that EuroMan has come to 'rescue' them from themselves. It means that hardcore practitioners of those same philosophies will come to reinforce the tenets of destruction.
You have not seen the film, or so you say, despite the controversies that underlie its existence. ALL MOVIES (DUDE, WHERE'S MY CAR? being an exception) of import should be seen so that the individual viewer can make up their own minds about what the film had to say. There is no other way about it. And what Mel Gibson had to say to writerfella cannot be what Mel Gibson would have to say to you. writerfella did not attend the film with any kind of consciousness that he would agree with the the film would have to say. That it agreed with some of writerfella's oldest ideas about Native peoples was coincidental, at best. But still there were textures of agreement. You can't know if the film agrees with, or flies in the face of, your own ideals without having seen it for yourself. The main thing that writerfella would say now is this: APOCALYPTO qualified as an emotional entertainment of the best caliber. It was a 'hold-on-to-your-seat-kind-of-ride' and writerfella saw it three times just for that aspect. Whether you agree or not is reduced to simple gainsaying if you do not experience the film for yourself. And self sometimes is the best judgment factor. It is not logical, but it most often is true...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

A school principal espousing AIM's alleged principles isn't the same as AIM itself espousing them. Show me AIM's self-professed views in writing and then I'll consider them.

Rob said...

I already addressed the issue of seeing Apocalypto. Feel free to read my comments and respond to them. But I'll give you the short version again.

Do you also think I need to see Mt. Rushmore, Foxwoods Casino, or President Bush before I can comment on them? No, of course. The very idea is ridiculous.

I've written 400+ articles on a variety of topics, many of which I didn't see or experience personally. How did I manage it? It's called research, friend, and every good writer knows how to do it.

I'm not telling you my views on Apocalypto. I'm reporting the views of the movie critics and historical experts who say it's stereotypical. You can't or won't address these views so you keep trying to change the subject.

Repeat: The critics say Apocalypto is stereotypical. Do you agree or disagree? If you disagree, where's your evidence that the movie is historically accurate rather than stereotypically inaccurate?

You haven't said anything to contradict my point above: that you're an Indian who likes Indian stereotypes. You like Mel Gibson's stereotypes of the Maya as bloodthirsty savages, at least.