January 31, 2010

"Cool" moments in SCALPED

Last year the Comics Should Be Good blog ran a series called "A Year of Cool Comic Book Moments." Blogger Brian Cronin devoted a whole week to "cool" moments in Jason Aaron's SCALPED.

Naturally, I had something to say about that. The debates are too tedious to repost, but you can see my comments below. Go to the original postings to see what I was talking about.

Year of Cool Comic Book Moments–Day 193

Two Indians beating on each other...a typical SCALPED comic.

Why would a Lakota in South Dakota care whether someone from Oklahoma was 1/16 or 15/16 Kickapoo? Either way, the Kickapoo is an outsider from another part of the country. I doubt Diesel would fit into a "foreign" tribe any better than Jason Aaron or I would.

Actually, several Natives have expressed outrage over SCALPED's stereotypical portrayals. Others like the comic because it presents the harsh realities of (some of) today's reservations, even if it grossly exaggerates the problems.

Some Natives also root for the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians because they like to see "their" names in the win column. Some Natives don't think much about how stereotyping affects their people.

Re "If it was saying 'this is a story about Native Americans and all Native Americans are like this' then there’d be justified outrage": The outrage is justified because Aaron has said he's researched Indians and wants people to learn from SCALPED. In other words, he's positioned his work at an authentic look at Indian life today. If Aaron had said his stories bear little relationship to reality, he'd be right, but he hasn't said that.

See SCALPED:  Another Comic Book Gets Indians Wrong for more on the Native stereotypes in SCALPED.

Year of Cool Comic Book Moments–Day 194

I wonder if the Kickapoo membership thing has any basis in reality. Or if it's another "literary device" that makes Indians look corrupt and venal.

There were no large-scale Indian casinos 26 years ago, so no membership battles over casino payments. That much is certainly false.

Year of Cool Comic Book Moments–Day 195

When Aaron isn't stereotyping Indians as criminals, thugs, and lowlifes, he's a good writer. Clearly he has a fair understanding of what life on a poor reservation is like.

But the "No more chiefs, braves, bucks, skins, 'breeds, squaws" line doesn't ring true. Poor Bear would encounter more offensive stereotypes off the rez than he'd encounter on it.

A Year of Cool Comic Book Moments--Day 196

A Year of Cool Comic Book Moments--Day 197

I wonder how many of SCALPED's Indians aren't killers, criminals, or drug users. A minority, I suspect.

A Year of Cool Comic Book Moments--Day 198

Uh, Indian casinos are regulated by federal and state agencies, you know. I'm pretty sure these agencies check a casino's investors before letting them proceed. There's also the tribe's elected council, which has to oversee and approve any investment deal. And of course the media, which investigates any deal that looks shady.

But hey...all this regulatory stuff is boring. That's undoubtedly why Aaron didn't include it in his stories. It's a lot more cool to show a badass Indian boss making a backroom deal with Hmong gangsters.

Who cares if it makes Indians look corrupt and venal? They're all a bunch of animals wallowing in their own filth and squalor, right? They're lucky we let 'em continue living in our great country, the good ol' US of A.

That's my take on Aaron's take on Indians.

P.S. It's Red Crow, not Bad Crow.

A Year of Cool Comic Book Moments--Day 199

The pouch may be a medicine bundle containing sacred objects. If so, you're not supposed to show the objects to outsiders, so Aaron wisely didn't depict them.

I haven't read every SCALPED, so I must've missed the issues where Red Crow was spiritual, respectful of his elders, and a benevolent politician. But I didn't miss the scene in #1 where he literally scalped someone.

Thousands of tribal leaders could make the same speech as Red Crow. The main difference is that 99.9% of them aren't murderers. Aaron is literally portraying the most extreme tribal leader ever. He may not be pure evil, but he's more evil than any real tribal leader.

I'm looking forward to Aaron's next comic on a US president who stays in office by being a mass murderer. Should be a lot of fun--just like The Sopranos! Meanwhile, I hope Brian Cronin gets to some "cool moments" in Amos 'n' Andy Comics or Stepin Fetchit Comics. Just because they're stereotypical doesn't mean they're bad!

Can I help it if I know more about Natives than the typical SCALPED reader (or writer), Greg? Sorry to interrupt everyone's fantasies about savage Indians with honest information.

Let's wrap this up by seeing what Native people think about stereotypes such as SCALPED's:

The Harm of Native Stereotyping:  Facts and EvidenceWhether the Indian in your image is villain or victim, it is likely some exotic "other," a more primal being somehow in touch with elemental nature which can be a source of savagery and spirituality.

Michael Hill, "Challenging Old Views of the American Indian," Baltimore Sun, 8/29/04
[As part of a quiz on Indians, moderator Jean Gaddy Wilson] asked participants to write down two positive traits of Indians and two negative traits. Among the positive traits were such things as resourceful, traditional, helpful, knowledgeable of the natural world, survival, spiritual and bravery. Under negatives, responses included words such as alcoholic, lazy, mean, dirty, savages, dishonest, raiders and murderers.

Wilson asked participants where they got their first view of Indians or Native Americans, with the common answer being television and/or movies.

"Discussion Centers on Explorers' Interactions with Indians," Marshall Democrat-News, 4/27/04
No one illustration is enough to create stereotypes in children's minds. But enough books contain these images—and the general culture reinforces them—so that there is a cumulative effect, encouraging false and negative perceptions about Native Americans.

Council on Interracial Books for Children, "Unlearning Indian Stereotypes"
Beginning with Wild West shows and continuing with contemporary movies, television, and literature, the image of Indigenous Peoples has radically shifted from any reference to living people to a field of urban fantasy in which wish fulfillment replaces reality.

Dr. Cornel Pewewardy (Comanche/Kiowa), "Why Educators Can't Ignore Indian Mascots"
I have committed my life to dealing with harmful and negative stereotypes and educating students on my reservation of their culture, traditions, ceremonies and spirituality. As Native people, we experience layer upon layer of stereotypes and images that dehumanize. Eurocentric curriculum and children's literature reinforce stereotypes of the "vanishing Indian," "romantic Indian," "militant Indian" or "drunken Indian." I have seen firsthand how these images, along with poverty or low socioeconomic status, generational trauma and other issues of reservation life contribute to low self-esteem in Native students.

Denise K. Lajimodiere, "VIEWPOINT: Racism at Protest Shames UND," Grand Forks Herald, 4/12/06
Almost every Indian person I know of has been horribly impacted by the imposition of the all-pervasive "categorical" stereotypical classification upon their basic sense of humanity--so much so that I feel quite safe in declaring that all Indian people suffer a unique form of self-esteem deficiency based solely on the widespread mayhem that Indian stereotypes have caused us since before the Boston Tea Party.

Melvin Martin (Lakota), "Identifying Indians with Stereotypes," 2/28/09
For more on the subject, see Comic Books Featuring Indians.


John said...

An interesting interpetation of what the key points of this particular debate were. I would recommend that readers take up Rob's suggestion of checking out the threads themselves. Because then you will see that, rather than these eloquently-worded arguments existing in a bubble, they were in fact followed by Rob being soundly trounced by a multitude of rebuttals that he was unable to respond to.

Rob said...

Going by your "logic," Jason Aaron quit debating me because he was unable to respond further. Glad to hear I won my debates with him.

But you're wrong, John. I didn't bother responding on Comics Should Be Good because 1) I've heard all the rationalizations for Native stereotyping before, and 2) I have plenty of other issues to debate here. I reserve the right to continue those debates if and when I have time.

Meanwhile, if you have a key argument you want me to address, feel free to post it here. I'll be glad to kick the butt of anyone who defends stereotypes in my blog.

Rob said...

Let's also note that I linked to the original postings so people could read them if they want to. But has anyone on Comics Should Be Good linked to my critiques of SCALPED? Not that I know of.

Indeed, when I referred to my own critiques, you people attacked me for being a "self-promoter." In other words, you're intellectual phonies. I'm interested in debating the issues while you're interested in putting me down.

If you Google "SCALPED critique," you'll find my postings at or near the top. I don't feel the need to help popularize your less-popular paeans to SCALPED. If you don't want to debate outside the Comics Should Be Good echo chamber, it's no skin off my nose. My critiques will continue to predominate.

John said...

Rob, you're once again demonstrating your "squeaky wheel gets the grease" approach to journalism with these Google remarks of yours. "It doesn't matter what the truth is, if I say something enough times I can MAKE that the truth, because it becomes the most visible narrative." Have you been taking notes from FOX News, by any chance?

Yes, you've repeatedly boasted about "beating" Jason Aaron because he lost patience with your rudeness and overt hostility. Reading those exchanges, I actually cringed - if I had the chance to enter a dialogue with a writer whose work I critiqued so much, I'd be embarassed to forego any attempt to get a better understanding of the alternate mindset and, you know, LEARN more, in favor of make-believing I was Michael Moore taking down Charlton Heston and sabotaging any long-term civil debate on the material in favor of a few smarmy cheap shots. It's laughable that Jason Aaron - a man who made his name on even-handed portrayals of other cultures with Vietnam drama "The Other Side" - would be a racist (as you put it, akin to Mel Gibson denying he's an anti-Semite), but that's the strawman you needed for your narrative (FOX News again!) so alas, that's what he became. Wait, isn't that just the kind of "intellectual phony" behaviour - ditching debate in favor of personal attacks - that you accused the folks over at Comics Should Be Good of? And seeing that with Aaron's every defense, you boasted that he was simply directing traffic to your site and giving you free publicity, it got to the point where cutting off contact with you was the most sensible option.

As for any points from over on Comics Should Be Good that I'd like to raise, while I was merely an interested observer rather than a participant back then, some of the points I'd be keen to see you answer were:

1. Is "Sin City" in fact racist against white people, since almost all of the white characters in it are thugs and lowlifes?

2. Isn't it more obvious to assume that Aaron focuses on Indian criminals - not out of some Machiavellian agenda to demonise Natives - but because he's telling a CRIME story, which by its very nature, no matter what color the characters are, is going to focus on criminals?

And a couple of my own that sprung from the discussion:

3. You've repeatedly crafted "Scalped" as a book that encourages white readers to look down on all Native Americans, and view them as inferior. But if this is the case, how do you explain the fact that the most repugnant, unsympathetic, devoid-of-redeeming-qualities characters in "Scalped" are in fact white? To support your argument, shouldn't they be the "good guys" against the Indian "bad guys"? Or could it be that Aaron takes a dim view on human nature in general, rather than Native Americans specifically?

4. Isn't it hypocritical to condemn Jason Aaron for a lack of research, while at the same time making sweeping assumptions about a book you haven't read in over 2 years?

5. For someone fighting for equality in the depiction of Natives in popular fiction, surely a big step towards that equality is allowing Natives to be just as flawed and unlikeable as white characters can be? To illustrate, if Aaron wants readers to view Bad Horse as a tragic hero, or a badass, or a junkie, or a man in a downward spiral of despair, but you can only view him as an Indian - with all these other elements merely serving to comment on him as an Indian - then who in fact is more racially progressive here?


John said...

Going back to your closing remarks, as much as I disagree with pretty much your entire analysis of "Scalped", you are right in that, through intensive self-promotion (not necessarily meaning that in the insulting manner it was used over on ComicBookResources) you have, ironically enough, positioned yourself as one of the most prominent commentators on "Scalped". If there was ever a special "Scalped" perspective at Comic-Con or whatever, you would in fact be one of the most obvious choices for the panel, so associated have you become with the series.

Indeed, when I was doing my own research on an article about "Scalped", it proved impossible not to find your name everywhere (a clever strategy - for as much as you hate the comic, it's success now equates to your success, as more people reading up on it now read up on you) and it has made me aware that the lack of an equally-prominent counterbalance means that the mistruths you perpetuate about the book continue to stand basically unchallenged. I hope that can be amended in future, as there is two sides to this story... even if it's the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.

Stephen said...

First off while Scalped was stereotypical in it's early issues it improved dramatically. Scalped isn't stereotyping Indians as criminals; the most admirable characters in the comic are Indians while the worst characters - such as diesel and nitz - are white. Also the character of red crow has been developed a great deal, he's not portrayed as a stereotypical greedy Indian.

The casino has also played a very small role and turned out to be a failure. Also I don't think you're familar with how crime fiction - especially the books that Aaron was influenced by - casts pretty much every character in a negative light. By your logic do you also think that LA Confidential (the book not the boring movie) stereotypes white people as criminals? And besides you said you stopped reading it years ago, you are exactly in position to criticize it.

Stephen said...

Whoops I meant that you are NOT exactly in a position to criticize.

John said...

Well said, Stephen! Some good points there, including quite a few that echo my own.

Chance said...

"SCALPED"................SERIOUSLY!!!! Why is this even being debated, whoever thinks this crap disguised as entertainment is OK is completely disgusting, and I don't care what its about, when there is a NATIVE THEME with the word "SCALPED" IS SLAPED ON IT!!! how can you seriously think people will be OK with THAT!!! COME ON PEOPLE GET A CLUE!!!

@JOHN&STEPHEN you say there are no stereotypes/racism, but the TITLE alone reeks of both.

John said...

The title of the book is "Scalped" because the story revolves around a dual murder mystery - one in the past, one in the present - both of which involved the killer scalping the victims. It's not like the whole reservation is filled with savages running around scalping white people.

But tell us, Chance, have you actually read any of the book, or does your knowledge merely extend to the title and the honey Rob's dripped in your ear about it? I do hope you've at least familiarised yourself with some of the comic, otherwise the "GET A CLUE!" screeching works both ways.

Next time, rather than resorting to calling people "disgusting" for no real reason, perhaps you can contribute to the thread with some points that advance the argument. Maybe provide content from the book that supports your stance or challenges the points we raised rather than depending on angry knee-jerk accusations.

Stephen said...

Thanks John also Rob has called American violence a 'white problem' which makes him a racist and in no position to condemn scalped.

"JOHN&STEPHEN you say there are no stereotypes/racism, but the TITLE alone reeks of both."

The name refers to a central part of the plot, try reading the comic first hmmm? And I admitted that it was originall stereotypical however it improved quite quickly.

Stephen said...

Thanks John also Rob has called American violence a 'white problem' which makes him a racist and in no position to condemn scalped.

"JOHN&STEPHEN you say there are no stereotypes/racism, but the TITLE alone reeks of both."

The name refers to a central part of the plot, try reading the comic first hmmm? And I admitted that it was originall stereotypical however it improved quite quickly.

Stephen said...

Whoops I have no idea why that got posted twice.

John said...

I don't think we can call Rob racist against white people, Stephen, considering that he himself is white. Though he is certainly positioning himself in what he imagines is "the Native perspective", despite rejecting the views of Native readers who like "Scalped".

According to Schmidt, these Natives only like "Scalped" because they'll like anything featuring Indians, because they have no standards. Can they not decide for themselves what is stereotypical against their own race? Is Rob the only one qualified to make that judgement?

John said...

On this note, I'd like to bring up some interesting comments made by a half-Cherokee blogger who Rob has discussed "Scalped" with before. Rob cannot accuse this individual of partaking in a "paean to Scalped", since they say they personally dislike the book. But I think it's worthwhile getting a Native perspective on stereotyping in "Scalped":

"But I think it’s wrong to say “WE shouldn’t be presented this way,” which is what I hear many, many people saying. As a kid, I went through a period as an outcast where I identified strongly with the villains in the stories I read. I wanted to be Lex Luthor. I wanted to be Darth Vader. I wanted to be the Joker so much I asked my parents for a big black trench coat (thankfully I was old enough that the stigma that goes with that look now hadn’t hit… imagine that as a faux pas). Why should any group of people be exempt from representation as the villain?

Perhaps it’s just my twisted postmodern view, but I think part of decolonization is saying “sure, we want to appear in this medium the way anyone else does.”

Of course I’d feel better if this were an Indigenous artist creating the evil mafia-like tribe with their corrupt casino, but I think it sets us– all of us– back to claim that something should be off-limits.

The second problem is that when we start twisting things so that they fit a popular genre but they are entirely positive, we ruin the recipe. I see this all the time with educational video games (which are growing exponentially). The reason a game like Grand Theft Auto is fun is because it’s a specific sort of fantasy release for the gamer. It doesn’t mean that gamer will want to go actually commit crimes (there’s research that proves this, btw… I don’t have the citations handy but will gladly fish them up if you email me).

On some levels yes, we can sanitize and reappropriate popular genres. But on another level, we risk rupturing what is appealing about them for the sake of our tinkering.

Use SCALPED as an example of what Native Americans aren’t, but think carefully about the implications of saying “we won’t be depicted like the Sopranos or like the cops on the Shield” is really saying. It’s asking to be removed from a specific conversation.If you’re someone who wants us out of that conversation, I extend to you all the respect in the world. But I feel like *I* am embedded in that discourse. It’s part of the tapestry of my life. And in order to use it, to study it, and to feel a part of it, I see no choice but to allow things like SCALPED to become a part of what we consume and accept."