November 29, 2008

What's this "intersection" thing about?

Correspondent Melvin Martin asks:What do you mean exactly by the "intersection of Native America and pop culture"?The phrase is somewhat nebulous, I admit. That allows me to cover whatever I want to cover. ;-)

You've seen what I've put in the blog the last few months. That's an operational definition of sorts. You should be able to intuit what I mean from the volume of examples.

As you can see on the news site, there are perhaps 100 Native stories in the media every day. Of those, I post maybe 3-5 of them. However interesting the others are, they don't meet my qualifications. I don't have the time or energy to post everything, or more than I'm doing already.

Defining "intersection" by example

Some examples of what I do and don't include may help explain what I mean:

  • Story on a typical tribal campaign for chairperson: not pop culture. Story on Russell Means running for chairman: pop culture. Why? Because he's a well-known actor and activist, and he's promoted his own Republic of Lakotah in the media.

  • Story on frybread: not pop culture. Story on the new Tanka Bars: pop culture. Why? Because they're getting publicity in the mainstream media, at conventions and benefits, on MySpace, etc.

  • Story on a typical tribal dispute over treaty rights: not pop culture. Story on the Makah whaling dispute: pop culutre. Why? Again a lot of mainstream coverage, plus a big mainstream investment in the environmental concept of "save the whales."

  • Story on an Indian setting up a consulting business: not pop culture. Story on an Indian setting up a recording studio: pop culture. Why? Because a recording studio challenges our expectations of what Indians do. And because the music it produces will promote new and diverse views of today's Indians.

  • Review of a book on the 19th century Indian Wars: not pop culture. Review of a book on the 19th century Indian Wars, with examples of how the Indian Wars continue today: pop culture. Why? Because the continuing attacks on Indian country challenge the mainstream view that we're one nation under (one) God.

  • More on what qualifies

    Many entertainment stories (the arts, sports, etc.) qualify because entertainment is all about artists or performers speaking to the masses. So do many stories about politics and history, because these fields determine how we perceive ourselves and act as a society. Anything that contrasts non-Native views with Native views may qualify.

    Also qualifying is any story people are talking or blogging about, because such a dialog is part of the mainstream culture by definition. For instance, a typical story about Native suicide wouldn't be pop culture. But if someone started a debate by saying "Natives commit suicide because they're losers," it would transform a non-pop-culture story into a pop-culture story.

    Does this make sense? In short, I don't have a precise definition. But I know what qualifies even if I can't explain it exactly.

    Below:  A classic intersection of Native America and pop culture.

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