June 30, 2010

Last Airbender is "completely atrocious"

M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender premieres Friday, which means reviews are starting to appear. On Facebook, the critics at Racebending have summed up the response:Unsurprisingly, early reviews for The Last Airbender are completely atrocious. M. Night has absolutely ruined the show. Our condolences to Mike and Bryan and we hope this isn't remembered as their legacy.A posting reminds us of the controversy surrounding the movie:

Is 'The Last Airbender' Racist ... or Just Drawn That Way?

By Gary SusmanThe characters in the TV series 'Avatar: The Last Airbender,' created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, are clearly drawn from Asian and Inuit cultures, from their names to their costumes to their martial arts styles. The hero, Aang, is inspired by Tibetan Buddhist monks. His friends, Katara and Sokka, live in a realm of anoraks and igloos. Antagonist Zuko and his tribe appear as classical Chinese warriors.

In the movie, all four characters were initially cast as Caucasian actors: Noah Ringer (Aang), Nicola Peltz (Katara), Jackson Rathbone (Sokka), and Jesse McCartney (Zuko). Before shooting began, however, McCartney was replaced by Dev Patel, of 'Slumdog Millionaire' fame. That change did not appease the project's critics, who noted that the heroes were still all white Westerners, while the only Asian in the principal cast was the villain.

The clearinghouse for the protests has been the website Racebending, which is calling for a boycott of the film. "American actors of color rarely get to play the hero, if ever," said Marissa Lee, one of Racebending's co-founders, in a statement. "We're really disappointed. Paramount felt that white actors were better suited to play heroes of color than hardworking, underrepresented actors who are actually of Asian or Inuit descent."
An apparently typical review:

'Airbender' loses something in switch from cartoon to live action

By Ty BurrThe film should probably have stayed a cartoon; live-action kills it dead. Set in a fantasy world divided between the tribes of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water—each tribe having its mystical adepts who can control their assigned element—"The Last Airbender" follows a brother and sister from the Water tribe, Sokka (Jackson Rathbone, one of the "Twilight" vampires) and Katara (Nicola Peltz), who discover a 12-year-old monk-child from the Air tribe frozen in a block of ice. His name is Aang (newcomer Noah Ringer) and he may be the Avatar who can unite the tribes against the warlike Fire Nation.

I have no idea what Ringer's ethnic makeup is, and it doesn't matter: The kid's pretty good and perfectly believable as a Chosen One in the storyline's pop mulch-up of Tibetan Buddhism. I wish I could say the same for Peltz and Rathbone, whose crime, again, isn't that they are Anglo but just painfully dull.

"Airbender" is actually stolen by Dev Patel (the hero of "Slumdog Millionaire") as the exiled Prince Zuko, a full-on neurotic with a daddy complex who provides the movie with its greatest suspense. Is he a good guy or a bad guy? Patel's a strong enough actor to keep us guessing.

Otherwise it's a tossup as to which is worse: the script, which regularly grinds to a halt to Explain Everything until the movie curls up and dies; the shockingly dingy camerawork; or the execrable 3-D.
Some comments from the Facebook thread:The most scathing review I have read summarized: This movie is so bad it doesn't need boycotting.

I love this in the first review: "I walked out of there with a totally new attitude. I feel like thanking the producers for not putting any Asian American actors in this movie. I think it would have set us back five years in seeing Asian Americans' prominence in film improve...because everyone would have blamed the Asian leads for the quality of the movie."

I'm thrilled that there are bad reviews because that will further decrease Paramount's profit. As people mentioned above, I certainly would watch a future remake if it was made with the same care and cultural consideration of the original series.

Yeah. As hypocritical as it might sound, I have the feeling that if Asians were cast, then the audience would be blaming them for a faulty movie instead of M. Night and the producers. So maybe if this film flops, the other sequels are put in indefinite production hell, and there is a reboot with a competent team of producers, writers, and director, "The Last Airbender" won't be remembered as a (potential) disgrace.

[T]his was such a major gaffe by Paramount who didn't learn the Dragonball Z lesson; if you're going to do a movie that has a pre-existing strong fan base; lesson 1--don't p**s them off. It's amazing that such a huge strategic marketing mistake was made. Even if mainstream doesn't review it well, other movies have become "cult classics" due to fan support.
Comment:  Let's make the key point clear:

Two of the four main characters should've been Inuit played by Inuit actors. Instead they're played by bland white actors who are "painfully dull."

In other words, the lack of authentic Natives is a major flaw. Instead of a refreshing look into a distinctly different culture, viewers get the same plain vanilla they've seen in a hundred movies, TV shows, video games, and cartoons.

And fans are reacting accordingly: with hate and scorn. Instead of rushing to see Airbender, they're studiously avoiding it. It looks as though the movie will tank at the box office.

Summing it up:

Inauthentic casting and culture => multimillion-dollar flop

Anybody not get the message yet? The Last Airbender is a perfect example of what I've been talking about for years. Twilight has succeeded with Native actors and Airbender has failed without them.

For more on the subject, see Hollywood Doesn't Know Anything and Results Matter in Last Airbender.

Below:  Baby-faced white actors pretend to be Inuit.

Battle of the bands:  Gays vs. Indians

As usual, gay critic Michael Cooke doesn't see the harm of Native stereotypes. In this case, the stereotypes promoted by the Irish showband called the Indians. Here's his response to Most Racist Musical Group Ever?Well it had me burst out laughing 'cause it was so over the top corny.I offered the following example to make the point clear:

If a band called the Gays had been performing semi-naked in bondage gear for 40 years on TV and radio, representing most people's only exposure to homosexuals, what would you say? Just another case of harmless stereotyping? Musicians can't influence the public?

Uh-huh, sure. Just look at Elvis, the Beatles, Dylan, metal, punk, disco, rap, hip hop, etc. No influence there, right? Show us your degenerate sex routines, band called Gays. You can't influence us!There was the Village people, they are almost exactly the Gay band you're inventing. I guess because the members are gay....

There is a Japanese TV show with a comedian that is not Gay pretending to be gay and making an ass out himself. For many Japanese that may be the only Gay they know. Certainly there's decades of movies where the only gay characters are criminals. Disney's bad guys are always kind of queer.
No, the Village People aren't anything like what I'm talking about. I'm talking about band members not wearing police or cowboy outfits, which don't contribute to gay stereotyping, but bondage gear. I.e., flaunting their "gay" behavior in the most stereotypical way to mainstream audiences. Doing so not for a year or two but for 40 years on TV shows and radio stations.

People do get negative impressions from gays who dress outrageously in gay pride parades. Now transplant that behavior to the Ed Sullivan Show and Top 40 radio. The drastically increased audiences would drastically increase the stereotypes' influence.

In short, try again.

"Japanese TV show"...huh?

As for your other examples:

Gay characters who are only criminals are stereotypical, so they contribute to the prejudice against gays.

I doubt the Japanese are more tolerant of homosexuals than we are. The TV show you described undoubtedly contributes to their ignorance and intolerance.

Whatever point you were trying to make, you failed to make it.Because you don't have the New York gay bar experience you don't understand that every costume in village people is in in-house gay stereotype of either how Gay men dress or the way Gay men are marketed to.

I swear the point I made is clear enough. But it's like talking to a real racist--there's nothing you can say that will make them understand?
What applies in the gay-bar scene doesn't apply to America as a whole. Try again.

"But it's like talking to a real racist--there's nothing you can say that will make them understand." Yes, I find that to be true when talking to you. You seem convinced that racism against Indians doesn't exist or something.

You've failed to address my point about a Gays band with 40 years of exposing people to the worst stereotypes. Your references to the Village People, some Japanese TV show, and gays as criminals are irrelevant or support my argument. Try, try again.

The Village People contributed in a minor way to gay stereotyping. My hypothetical Gays band would contribute much more. It would influence a whole generation of fans just like the Indians band has done in Europe.

For more of Cooke's opinions, see Stereotypes Disappear "Organically"? and Stereotypes Okay in "Cultural Commons"?

Below:  The Village People.

Joanelle Romero remembers Michael Jackson

On the first anniversary of Michael Jackson's death, actress/activist Joanelle Romero writes about growing up with him:

My Friend Michael Jackson--In Loving MemoryMy heart is so broken; you see Michael was a friend and he believed in me. I've known Michael since I was 10 years old, we went to school together at Gardner Street school off of Sunset Blvd, we were in the 6th grade together. I was always invited to go to his house to play, he would swing me in this big tree swing and we would speak of our dreams. Michael asked me to go steady on the steps of Gardener Street school. Two weeks before school ended my mother sent me to live with my dad in NM. I never got to say goodbye to Michael.And their collaboration:In 1991, I launched my production company, it was 2 weeks old when I received a call from Michael's casting office, asking if I had any American Indian dancers b/c everyone he had been interviewing wasn't right. I told them "I have the best dancers in town" I really had no one, however I went to many Pow wows and gathered 30 dancers, one of them being my precious daughter Sage. She was 5 then. Michael's casting office had no idea that Michael and I knew each other. To make a long story short. Director John Landis, cast 5 dancers, my daughter--who was the jingle dress dancer, and four other dancers from the native community here in Los Angeles that I brought in that day.

Comment:  At the 3:00 minute you can see Jackson and some powwow dancers, including Romero's daughter Sage, surrounded by armed warriors on horseback. The scene lasts about 25 seconds.

The theme of the Black or White video is Jackson dancing with people from around the world. Alas, they're mostly dressed in stereotypical outfits. It's like MJ's version of It's a Small World.

The message would've come across just as well if the backgrounds were "ethnic" but the costumes weren't. I would've suggested that to Jackson if I'd been there.

Also, it's ironic to hear the guy who bleached his skin and sculpted his nose singing "It don't matter if you're black or white." Maybe it matters a little, eh?

Anyway, Jackson's Off the Wall and Thriller are two great albums. My favorite Jackson songs are Wanna Be Startin' Something and Torture (by the Jacksons). Too bad he isn't around to make more songs like these.

For more on Joanelle Romero, see Pix of NIGA 2010 and Red Nation's Benefit for Reservations.

Wolf Pack hypes Eclipse

With The Twilight Saga: Eclipse about to premiere, we're seeing a flood of print and video interviews. With their increased role, the Wolf Pack Indians are getting more exposure than ever before.

Most of the comments are pure fluff. Here's one of the "deeper" ones:

Native American Actors See New Image in "Twilight"

By Alex DobuzinskisChaske Spencer, who plays the leader of the pack, told Reuters that working in the "Twilight" movies has been exciting because it portrays Native Americans in a new and positive light and is aimed at a young audience.

Members of the Wolf Pack dress like modern kids at the mall in denim jeans and shirts--when they are wearing shirts because the pack is famously bare-chested in much of the movies--and they posses a quick wits and generous spirits.

"There's a lot of stereotypes that have been squashed," Spencer said. "We're part of this pop culture phenomenon, and we're put in a different light. And the kids see that, and they're digging on it. They love that vibe."
Comment:  "There's a lot of stereotypes that have been squashed"--but not the stereotype of Indians as half-naked, beastlike warriors, alas.

Obviously it's a glass half full/half empty situation. But let's not glorify it too much. A real "new image" would be having an Indian clan as the lead characters, the main participants in the romance, etc. With the white clan as the distinctly secondary characters. Rather than the other way around, as it is now.

The new Native America

Then there's this gem:

InStyle Outtakes of Alex Meraz, Chaske Spencer, Tinsel Korey & Julia Jones!Spencer said he’s played his share of historical American Indian characters—what he half-jokingly called “the leather and feather” parts. “What’s cool about New Moon,” he explained, “is that we’re in a contemporary setting.” Korey agreed: “I think it’s important for people to know that there is a Native American community that’s very vibrant, and very now. We’re sort of like a new Native America.”In this new Native America, apparently, anyone can claim to be Indian whether they have Indian blood or not. Taylor Lautner, Tinsel Korey, Julia Jones, and Boo Boo Stewart...they're the new breed of "Native Americans."

For more on the subject, see Twilight Screwed Native Actors? and TeenHollywood Interviews Wolf Pack.

Below:  In the "new Native America," Asian Indians are North American Indians too.

Churches apologize for betraying Gospel

Protestants repent for churches' role in oppressing First NationsA global Protestant body representing 80 million Christians has issued an apology for the role played by churches in perpetrating abuse against Native Americans, First Nations and other Indigenous peoples.

"We … repent of our history littered with ways in which we have betrayed Gospel values of justice, fairness, and love for our neighbour … by the confiscation of land, and mass killings," delegates at the founding meeting of the World Communion of Reformed Churches said in a June 26 statement.

The June 18-28 gathering in Grand Rapids, in the state of Michigan, took place on the traditional territory of Native American peoples, delegates noted.

In their statement, they said they hoped that through "genuine repentance" they would have courage to repair broken relationships and begin new paths of reconciliation. They also said they were repenting for manifesting, "cultural, economic and theological arrogance," and the way their church structures had "perpetrated abuse."
Comment:  This is one of the more explicit apologies we've seen. These Christians "betrayed Gospel values of justice, fairness, and love for our neighbour"...yes, they sure did.

For more on the subject, see Brownback Reads US Apology and Catholic Churches Apologize to Menominees.

Aborigines want Uluru closed

Calls to close Uluru rock climb after 'disrespectful' behaviour on sacred rock

By Daniel Bourchier and Padraic MurphyTHERE are renewed calls for the immediate closure of the Uluru rock climb after more photos emerged of controversial behaviour at the sacred site.

Football personality Sam Newman has been pictured hitting a golf ball off the rock, while another man was photographed naked on top of the monolith.

Aboriginal leaders are outraged and have called for the rock climb to be stopped immediately, the NT News reports.

Newman revealed he played golf at the site while discussing French exotic dancer Alizee Sery's controversial striptease on the Australian wonder.
Rock rage rolls on

Comment:  For more on the subject, see Uluru Striptease Angers Aborigines. For more on a similar subject, see Russian Skaters Defend Stereotypes.

Below:  "Sam Newman hitting a golf ball off Uluru has been slammed as 'disrespectful' by Aboriginal spokesperson." (Melbourne Radio Talk)

Airbender, Hex, and hipster headdresses

Indian Comics Irregular #194:  White Actors in Asian Airbender

June 29, 2010

Most racist musical group ever?

If you though the Indian chief in the Village People was bad, here's an entire band comprised of stupid stereotypes:

Forget the cowboys, meet the Indians... Just over three decades ago a young country and Irish band were looking for a gimmick to capture the imagination of the huge Irish public who were filling the dance halls listening to their favourite showbands, and country and Irish bands. They had the talent but something extra was needed to draw the attention of the Irish music media.

Someone suggested that Ireland had enough cowboys in the music business but that it was desperately short of Indians, and so The Indians were born. And from day one the visual aspect of authentic Red Indian outfits complete with full war paint guaranteed a sight on stage that could not be ignored.
Whoever wrote this article obviously doesn't know the meaning of "authentic." Onward:The latest line up of The Indians includes: Stephen Proctor, who assumes the stage name Big Chief White Cloud; band leader Eamon Keane is Sitting Bull on keyboards, accordion and lead vocals; bass guitarist and lead vocalist Brian Woodfull is also known as Crazy Horse, perhaps due to the nightly exposure of a bare rump during his act; the lead guitarist is Tommy Hopkins, also known as Dull Knife; and new member Kevin McKeown is on percussion and lead vocals, now happily signing himself Long Arrow.Coincidentally, the band was known as Casino for six years before it became the Indians:

All About The Casino/Indians Showband (1964-Present)  [includes dozens of stereotypical photos]

The Indians--Ireland's Top Showband  [official website]

The Indians Showband--"Son Don't Go Near The Indians"

Comment:  Way to honor Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse...by doing the Wigwam Wiggle with your bare butt. I'm sure their descendants appreciate it.

I probably could spend hours deconstructing this stereotypical band and its stereotypical songs. But let's jump to the bottom line: most racist musical group ever?

Imagine if the musicians dressed up in blackface, donned grass skirts and bones through their noses, and called themselves the Spearchuckers. That band would be exactly as offensive and harmful as this band is.

Ever wonder where the European hobbyists who imitate Plains Indians get their ideas from? Now you know: The Irish Indians band.

More fun with stereotypes

But wait...don't change the channel. Now that you've heard the Indians, there's more!

Coming up next on the Newspaper Rock Variety Hour: The Slant-Eyes sing their hit Ding Dong, the Ching-Chong Song. The Wetbacks sing their hit Frito Bandito and His Spicy Señorita. And the Greedy Jews sing their hit Don't Heckle My Shekels, Mr. Jekyll.

Next week, the Spearchuckers will be back with their hits Bling and Crack and Baby Makes Three and Fried Chicken Finger-Lickin' Lip-Smackin' Good. And be sure not to miss the debut of the Eye-Talians and their smash singles We Will Wop You (Upside the Head) and Mafioso Mama, Your Gun Goes O-Bama.

Anybody not get the point yet? I could go on....

How this posting originated

A British woman--a lecturer in religious studies at the University of Winchester--brought the Indians to my attention. She asked what she could do to get rid of the stereotypes. My response to that:

With the costumes and all, the band appears to be heavily invested in the "Indians" name. They've been using it it for 40 years. I doubt they'll change it just because real Indians don't like it.

We already know how they'd justify themselves. "Harmless fun"..."just a joke"..."no offense intended"..."we respect Indians"..."Indians love us"..."you're being hyper-sensitive"..."don't be so PC"...etc. In other words, a Dudesons-style minstrel-show defense. As long as they say they're "honoring" or "satirizing" Indians--I'm not sure what the difference is--that excuses any mockery.

As I told her, I think you'd have to undertake a long-term campaign to cajole them. Create a blog and write about them, start a Facebook group and solicit members, write letters to the media, maybe even stage protests at concerts. If they have sponsors or advertisers, threaten to boycott them. If enough people join you, the band may feel pressured to change.

But I'm guessing it won't happen until the original band members retire or die. Hitting them when they're in transition may be a good bet. They may be willing to reconsider their shtick then.

For more on non-Natives doing "Indian" songs, see Oldfield's Sentinel and Italian Dance of the Indians.

Below:  Woo-woo, it's the Indians! Be sure to get the band with the "authentic" tomahawk, feather, and teepee in its logo.

Superman goes walkabout

A new storyline is about to begin in the SUPERMAN comic book:

Superman to Visit Small-Town America—And You Can Invite Him to Your Town!

Does your town have a story to tell? Superman could be a part of it.

By John R. PlattFor the next 12 months, Superman is going to be criss-crossing America, and if you're lucky, he could be visiting your town.

It's all part of a year-long storyline called "Grounded" that starts later this month in Superman No. 700. As part of the celebration for this anniversary issue, DC Comics will send their famous blue-clad superhero "through the streets, roads, highways, homes, farms, suburbs and inner cities of America."

The goal is to tell stories where Superman isn't fighting super-villains but meeting the real heroes and finding out about the real issues facing towns across the country.
Superman could visit a reservation too. Here's how:Do you think your town has a story to tell? Just send DC Comics an essay (75-1000 words) saying why. But don't delay. The contest opens July 1, but it ends on July 12.Comment:  Natives, write an essay on why Superman should visit your reservation. It would be great publicity for your tribe if he did.

Man, I could knock a story like this out of the ballpark. Superman involved in a human drama on the rez. Or a murder mystery. Or a supernatural thriller. Or a standard clash with a super-villain. Too bad they aren't looking for story ideas or guest writers.

So Superman will spend a year walking across the US to discover the nation's heart and soul. No word on whether he'll spend an equal amount of time walking across Africa or Asia--you know, where large numbers of nonwhite people actually need help. Or if he'll have time to fight world hunger, poverty, or disease while catering to America's middle-class angst.

It'll be interesting to see the race and class of the characters featured. I suspect there'll be a lot of heartwarming stories about people who need a job, a heart transplant, or a loan to save the family farm. And not a lot about, say, racial tensions between whites, Latinos, and Indians in Western border towns.

This reminds me of SUPERMAN: PEACE ON EARTH, when Superman took his first and last stab at addressing world hunger. He actually dropped in on a Navajo elder in Monument Valley for a couple panels. Alas, Supes gave up the effort after a minor setback or two. He decided teaching a few American kids how to farm was better than alleviating famine in some African country whose name he couldn't pronounce.

Below:  "Yes, I'm named for the Nietzschean Superman who decides right and wrong for himself. What's your point?"

What's a superhero to do?

I just read the aforementioned SUPERMAN #700. Superman has been off in space, and when he returns, people complain that he doesn't seem to care about Joe and Jane Average. The central drama occurs when a woman slaps him for not being around to diagnose her husband's illness with his x-ray vision.

Does she have a point? Superman could save a lot of lives if he devoted himself to medicine. But he wouldn't have much time to stop natural disasters, bank robberies, or the occasional mad scientist. What should his priorities be?

In the real world, superheroes would do cost-benefit analyses of how best to use their powers. Stopping cataclysms such as an alien invasion, a meteor strike, or a killer tidal wave probably would come first. After that, you could argue that a powerful superhero should start tackling large-scale projects. Stop the threat of nuclear proliferation. Overthrow tyrannical governments. End civil wars. Find a cure for AIDS. Replant vanishing rainforests. Clean up ocean pollution. Develop alternative energy sources (e.g., build satellites to relay microwaves from the sun). Etc.

Why doesn't Superman do any of these things? Because like most Americans, he lives in a cocoon of white privilege. So do the writers, editors, and publishers who tell his stories. They prefer escapist fantasies where political and social problems don't exist. Where the toughest decision they have to make is whether to spend $100 on comic books, video games, or other luxuries.

The whole genre of superhero comics is kind of a joke. Its divorce from reality is why it appeals mainly to nerds and fanboys and not adults (especially women) who appreciate literature. For every WATCHMEN or DARK KNIGHT RETURNS there must be a hundred series such as WAR OF THE SUPERMEN, DARKEST NIGHT, SECRET INVASION, BRAND NEW DAY, RED HULK, and so forth and so on.

For more on the subject, see DC's "Green, Pink, and Blue Characters" and The Seminal Moment in GREEN LANTERN #76.

Below:  "Sorry, I won't have time to save lives in Africa or Asia for the next year or so. I'll be too busy strolling across America to assuage my feelings of white, middle-class guilt."

Who should play Rainmaker?

Responding to the talk about Megan Fox as Sarah Rainmaker, Lisa Charleyboy of the Urban Native Girl Stuff blog ponders who should play the role. Her suggestions are Q'orianka Kilcher, Melanie McLaren (Tkaronto), and Crystle Lightning.

I don't know much about Lightning or anything about McLaren, but these choices might be okay. But I'd still suggest someone 1) from the Apache or a related tribe, 2) who doesn't look like a Hollywood starlet, and 3) who can play a lesbian convincingly.

For more on Sarah Rainmaker, see Top Five Native Heroes and Rainmaker the Environmentalist.

Johnny Preston's Running Bear

Here's a slide show of the Running Bear song I posted about recently:

Comment:  Note the sickening sentimentality of the Indian images. The person who made this video obviously has a romantic view of the noble savage living in harmony with nature. He's especially keen on the sexy Indian maiden and probably fantasizes about her.

Although I don't think he intended to, he's demonstrated what's wrong with songs like these. Clearly they reinforce false and pernicious Native stereotypes.

For more on the subject, see Running Bear Off the Radio and Most Racist Musical Group Ever?

Sweet's Wig Wam Bam

Comment:  It goes without saying what's wrong with this song and performance.

For more on the subject, see Most Racist Musical Group Ever?

Cherokee SEAL in Benjamin Button

Lisa Charleyboy reports on a movie I haven't seen:

Native American in Benjamin ButtonLast weekend I finally went to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and was pleasantly surprised to see a Native American cameo in the flick played by, gasp, an actual Native American. Myrton Running Wolf took the role of a Cherokee Navy SEAL, who was on screen briefly and died before he got many lines in.Comment:  For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

June 28, 2010

How America became cowboy country

In his Stuff White People Do blog, Macon D. recently analyzed people who pose in cowboy drag. First he quotes Mel at BroadSnark, who perfectly encapsulates America's lust for its cowboy myth:

White America's Existential CrisisThere is a certain segment of the American population that really believes in the American foundational myths. They identify with them. They believe that America was built by a handful of white, Christian men with exceptional morals. Their America is the country that showed the world democracy, saved the Jews in World War II, and tore down the Berlin wall.

These people have always fought changes to their mythology. They have always resented those of us who pushed to complicate those myths with the realities of slavery, Native American genocide, imperial war in the Philippines, invasions of Latin American countries, and secret arms deals.

And we have been so busy fighting them to have our stories and histories included in the American story that we sometimes forget why the myths were invented in the first place.

No myth illustrates the sleight of hand behind our national mythology quite like the myth of the cowboy. In the mythology, the cowboy is a white man. He is a crusty frontiersman taming the west and paving the way for civilization. He is the good guy fighting the dangerous Indian. He is free and independent. He is in charge of his own destiny.

Of course, the real cowboy was an itinerant manual laborer akin to today's illegal immigrant. He didn't protect schoolmarms from outlaws, Indians, and other uncivilized animals. He did the dirty work of handling a smelly herd of cows.

From Pilgrims to cowboys

We can trace our national hero figure from the Pilgrim to the Minuteman to the frontiersman (Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Kit Carson, et al.). But how exactly did a cow handler become the next in line? Why not a farmer, rancher, surveyor, prospector, railroad man, oil driller, inventor, or someone else?

No doubt the usual tangle of dime novels, Wild West shows, and old Western movies played a role. But Macon D. of Stuff White People Do steers us to another source. In Rough Rider in the White House: Theodore Roosevelt and the Politics of Desire, author Sarah Watts argues that Teddy Roosevelt turned the bovine's best friend into a John Wayne/Clint Eastwood tough guy:Roosevelt emerged as a central purveyor of the cowboy-soldier hero model because he more than any man of his age harnessed the tantalizing freedom of cowboys to address the social and psychological needs that arose from deep personal sources of frustration, anxiety, and fear. More than any other he sensed that ordinary men needed a clearly recognizable and easily appropriated hero who enacted themes about the body; the need for extremity, pain, and sacrifice; and the desire to exclude some men and bond with others. In one seamless cowboy-soldier-statesman-hero life, Roosevelt crafted the cowboy ethos consciously and lived it zealously, providing men an image and a fantasy enlisted in service to the race-nation.

In keeping with changing models of masculinity ... mass-circulation magazines began to feature a Napoleonic "idol of power," a man of action who used iron will and "animal magnetism" to crush his rivals and dominate nature. Biographers of plutocrats and robber barons encouraged readers to envision themselves in a social Darwinist world of ruthless competition where character alone appeared effeminate and sentimentalism dangerous. Earlier notions of manliness had counseled reason over passion; now the hero must unleash his "forcefulness."

Enter a new type of charismatic male personality after 1870, a cowboy-soldier operating in the new venue of the American West on sheer strength of will and physicality. Eastern readers instantly recognized him as more masculine precisely because he met the psychological desires in their imagination, making them into masters of their own fate, propelling them into violent adventure and comradeship, believing them at home in nature, not in the hothouse interiors of office buildings or middle-class homes.

Writers pitched the cowboy ethos against Christian values of mercy, empathy, love, and forgiveness, against domestic responsibility and the job demands that complicated men's lives and dissolved their masculine will. The cowboy was not interested in saving souls or finding spiritual purity or assigning meaning to death. His code of conduct arose as he struggled against the overwhelming wildness of men and beasts and carved out a prairie existence with guns, ropes, and barbed wire. Readers suspended ordinary morality as they fantasized about life at the margins of civilization and sampled forbidden pleasures of taming, busting, subduing, shooting, hanging, and killing.

No doubt Americans venerated Custer, Buffalo Bill, and other Western figures for similar reasons. But I'm willing to believe Roosevelt did more than anyone to popularize the cowboy ideal among the Eastern intelligentsia. Once they bought into the myth, it became our national storyline.

A century of cowboys

Since then, our heroes have generally fit into the cowboy mold. I.e., the rugged individual who lives by his own rules. Whether the figure is a cop, soldier, spy, race-car driver, pilot, spaceman, or president, he's basically a transplanted version of the American cowboy.

We could cast our recent political conflicts in cowboy terms too. Nixon and Carter weren't cowboy enough to handle their respective crises. Reagan and Bush Jr. obviously were cowboy enough to handle theirs.

"Real" cowboys don't let women, gays, or foreigners fight their battles for them. They take charge because it's only natural that "a handful of white, Christian men with exceptional morals" should rule. It was true of the Pilgrims and Founding Fathers, Americans believe, and it's still true today.

Finally, Mel of BroadSnark explains how this myth-making process has come up lame, like a horse throwing its rider, leading to white America's existential crisis:When you know the real history of the cowboy, it makes the selling of Reagan and Bush as cowboys seem like an inside joke. The mythological cowboy is the heroic figure that many Americans wish they were. The fact that the cowboy was actually an exploited worker is virtually unknown.

When Americans vote for a president, they want to see that heroic version of themselves looking back at them. They want to see that free cowboy of the mythology. No matter how poor or exploited white people were, they could always take subconscious comfort in the fact that, when they looked at the highest power in the land, they saw an idealized version of themselves.

And then came Barack Obama.


It’s a powerful thing to be able to identify with the people who are your leaders, to feel like they are one of you. It’s a feeling that many people in the United States felt for the first time when Barack Obama was elected. It’s equally powerful when your elected leaders are clearly not like you, when the fact that they do not represent you is glaringly obvious.

I had my whole life to get used to the idea that the government was never made to really represent my interests. Many of these angry people are the very white, Christian, men that this country was supposedly built by and for. And this is the first time the myth of America has been unmasked for them.

Exactly. Obama is liberal, intellectual, and black. He doesn't fit the cowboy mold in any way. Yet Americans elected him over the doddering white war hero, John McCain. How could that be?

This can't happen in America, the legion of losers thinks. Cowboys can't let the presidential equivalent of a schoolmarm rule them. So we get the Tea Party movement claiming there's a conspiracy to overthrow democracy. This plot is led by a foreign Muslim terrorist who can't or won't produce a birth certificate. We have to take back America from the Obamas of the world: women and minorities, city slickers, liberal elites, and other non-cowboys. And give it to its rightful owners.

For more on our cowboy mindset, see Movies Convey "America's Master Narrative" and Cowboy Code Ignores Cowboy Crimes. For more on what the Tea Party stands for, see Conservative Worldview = Fear of Cooties and Paper-Checkers = Birthers = Teabaggers. For more on the subject in general, see America's Culture Roots and A Shining City on a Hill:  What Americans Believe.

The Story of Us whitewashes history

As you may recall, I wrote about "Moral Compass" in America: The Story of Us back in April. I haven't seen it, but the World Socialist Web Site helpfully decodes its message:

The Story of Us on History Channel—an attempt to revive the myths of American capitalism

By William Moore and Fred Mazelis The dumbing down of history exemplified by “The Story of Us” has a definite social and political purpose.

The United States emerged from a great revolution that owed much to the Enlightenment and in turn had a great impact on the subsequent French Revolution and later struggles up to the present day. “The Story of Us” presents it, in contrast, as simply the result of some uniquely American characteristics that came out of nowhere. “We are pioneers and trailblazers. We fight for freedom. We transform our dreams into the truth. Our struggles will become a nation.” This is the mantra that is repeated at the beginning of each episode, and it is designed to obscure the real history of the United States while fostering a chauvinistic mythology.

Banalities such as “the document that will change the world” (referring to the Declaration of Independence) and a battle “that will change the course of history” (the 1770 Boston Massacre) are repeated endlessly without the slightest further elaboration. Most significantly, the programs rely overwhelmingly for their “talking heads” not on historians who have actually studied the subject, but on political, military and business figures.

Historians like Gordon Wood, Bernard Bailyn, James McPherson or Eric Foner do not appear on these programs. Instead we get Michael Bloomberg and his predecessor as New York Mayor, Rudy Giuliani; Republican bigwig Newt Gingrich; NBC news anchor Brian Williams; generals David Petraeus and Colin Powell; fashion and lifestyle mogul Martha Stewart; actor Michael Douglas; and billionaire know-nothing Donald Trump, among others.
Comment:  The lineup of speakers looks to be overwhelming conservative, pro-establishment, and pro-business. That suggests the series is propaganda, not history.

The review doesn't mention Indians. The previous review mentioned Indians once--when one tribe helped the proto-American colonists defeat another tribe. And...that's it.

If the series really doesn't mention Indians after the Pocahontas/Pilgrims phase...wow, that would be lame. All those broken treaties and wars of aggression whitewashed out of existence. Sounds like a conservative's wet dream of a history series.

Even the one mention above is lame. Indians helped the European invaders...which tacitly gave them permission to continue invading. Indians killed other Indians...so they were as guilty as the European invaders. In other words, mistakes were made...everyone and no one was to blame...so the European conquest could proceed without anyone's questioning its fundamental immorality.

And Obama shilled for this series with his "moral compass" quote? Other than during political controversies (Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.), has Obama ever said anything significant about America's racial history? Not that I recall. With his failure to mention the genocide against Indians or Armenians, he's proving to be a typical moral coward pandering politician.

The agenda here is the same agenda in Arizona's efforts to curtail ethnic studies. Namely, to maintain the status quo in which white male Christians rule America. We see stories about this every day. From General McChrystal's disparaging of black civilian control to BP's thumbing its nose at safety regulations, the power elite won't accept any limits on their "right" to do what they want.

For more on the subject, see Conservatives Hope Minorities Will Forget and Ethnic History Corrects American History.

Below:  Look, deadly savages! We had to conquer them for their own good!

Uluru striptease angers Aborigines

No frock on the rock was tribute, says stripper

By Dylan WelshA French-born stripper has been filmed dancing near-naked on top of Aboriginal Australia's most sacred site, Uluru, in what she says is a homage to local indigenous people.

Alizee Sery, a 25-year-old exotic dancer, has been labelled "stupid" and local indigenous elders have described the act as the equivalent of defecating on the steps of the Vatican.

"I do not mean in any way, in what I did in my show … to offend the Aboriginal culture, I respect the Aboriginal and their culture," Ms Sery said after her strip show on the rock.

"What I did was a tribute to their culture, in a way."

Ms Sery, who arranged to be filmed, can be seen climbing up the rock with a companion with a camera. She then strips off until she is wearing only an Akubra hat, bikini bottoms and white high heels. "I think the way I was, was the perfect way to be up there, in total harmony with the land and with myself," she said.

Comment:  Macon D. of the Stuff White People Do blog characterized Sery's "self-aggrandizing publicity stunt" as "a tribute to the days when, you know, those groovy, close-to-the-earth peoples were even closer to the earth than we are by virtue of their lack of clothing." He continues:Sery seems to be furthering her dancing career in a common white way, by casting something authentically Aboriginal as a natural, romantic, wild, and exotic backdrop. This amounts to a racially white performance, because it's meant to evoke and profit from some of the many collective white fantasies about non-white people.

In this sense, Sery's actions, and her defense of them, echo similar ones committed in the U.S. by many white people, who also tend to romanticize and exotify indigenous people. To me, the most obvious parallel way they do so is by clinging to racist sport logos and mascots. White American sports fans cling to mascots that represent several racial groups in racist ways, but the overwhelming majority (past and present) represent Native Americans.

When white people defend such insults in the way that Sery did--by claiming that they're honoring instead of disrespecting the human objects of their racist caricatures--they're failing to listen to the other side. By doing so, they're ultimately failing to understand what a lot of people on the other side think, and feel. They're failing to empathize.
You said it, Macon. All these people--Sery the stripper, mascot lovers, Indian wannabes, Dudesons, et al.--want to return to a "primitive" state where they can act "wild" and "free" without censure. They want to revel in their inner savage, unrestrained by rules and regulations.

Okay, then pretend you're a bear, wolf, or pig. Get down on all fours, roll in the mud, and grub for roots and berries. But whatever you do, don't equate this primitive state with Indians. Singling out one race as beastlike savages is--duh--racist.

For more on the subject, see The "Honor" of a Plains Chief and Stuff White People Do:  Indians.

Creek students perform Creek plays

Over in my Pictographs blog, I posted an item on Creek Indians using the theater as part of their language learning program. Check it out in Creek Students Perform Creek Plays.

June 27, 2010

Potawatomis didn't understand business?

Adrienne Keene of the Native Appropriations blog notes a stereotype she saw at Chicago's O'Hare Airport.

"The Potawatomis didn't have a word for global business center"?

In addition to the past tense, Adrienne notes what's wrong with this ad:The implication that "Indians" and "Global Business Center" aren't in congruence. Which is assuming that Natives are static, unchanging, and unable to be modern and contemporary. "Potawatomi" and "Onion Field" are fine together, because American society associates Indians with the natural world, plants, animals, etc. But there is definitely not an association between "Potawatomi" and "Global Business."And:To imply that Native peoples wouldn't have the ability to describe a "Global Business Center" reeks of a colonialist perspective (we must "civilize" the savage! Show him the ways of capitalism and personal property, for they know not of society!). Native peoples have been trading and communicating "globally" for centuries, long before the arrival of Europeans.Comment:  Adrienne notes that Natives who speak their traditional languages are inventing new words for things such as computers and the Internet. And of course many tribes have business centers these days. Some even have international businesses--e.g., the Seminoles' Hard Rock empire.

Fact is, no language had a word for "global business center" in 1781, when Chicago was founded. Founded by a Potawatomi Indian, that is. As we learned before, Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable married a Potawatomi and was adopted into the tribe.

I'm guessing the world's languages still don't have a single word for "global business center." English certainly doesn't. That's why it and every other language, including Native languages, use a phrase to describe the concept.

Indians don't know business?

The ad's implicit premise is that Indians somehow missed the boat. That they saw Chicago only as a stinky onion field, not as a potential business hub. This is false, of course. The location already was a place where the local tribes met and traded with French explorers. That's why Du Sable started a trading post there.

We could play the name game with any of today's megalopolises. When the first handful of people founded New York City, Tokyo, or Shanghai, did anyone name it "future global business center"? No, of course not. I suspect that few if any cities have names predicting their eventual greatness.

Let's flip the ad around to make the same point as before. But this time, let's make the Indians active participants rather than passive bystanders:The Potawatomis were already trading across the continent when a tribal member founded Chicago. Perhaps he had a vision that it would become a transportation and telecommunications hub, even a global business center.Get the point? Ads like this reflect and reinforce what we think about Indians. Different ads would send a different message. We talk about it here so that future advertising execs will get this message loud and clear.

For more on the subject, see Early Indians Were Entrepreneurs and Early Inuit Were Entrepreneurs.

Custer re-enactor at veterans powwow

Veterans Administration powwow fiasco

Custer re-enactor participates in color guard

By Stephanie Woodard
On May 30, Guy Jones, Hunkpapa Lakota, was emceeing the Selma Walker Memorial Day Powwow in Columbus, Ohio, when he received a text message. “You’ll never guess who just entered the arena here in Dayton,” was its gist, recalled Jones.

He quickly learned that an actor costumed as George Armstrong Custer was participating in the color guard for a powwow occurring simultaneously on the Dayton Veterans Administration Medical Center campus. “Send photos,” replied Jones, who is a lecturer, author, and co-founder of The Miami Valley Council for Native Americans.
How the Indians reacted:Jones called the incident a hate crime. “Custer and his men killed the wife and children of my grandfather, Gall. This so-called man–this baby killer, this woman killer–should never have been allowed within our circle or honored by inclusion in the color guard. Would you take a Hitler impersonator to a synagogue? Would you take a KKK member to an African-American church?”

“Blasphemy” was the term used by Dayton powwow vendor Rick Haithcock, Saponi, a genealogist and author of numerous books on Native American lineage and history. “It was a disgrace and an act of discrimination against Native Americans. Why didn’t they honor Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, or other figures of Native history?”
Comment:  The article's a little vague about how this came about. Apparently the unnamed "organizer" invited the Custer re-enactor and wasn't sorry about it. He thought it was such a good idea that he was ready to fight to defend it.

Which is kind of scary. I don't know how he explained himself...but really, what explanation could there be? How in the world do you justify having a Custer figure at a powwow? Who's next...Andrew Jackson? Christopher Columbus?

I'm not sure what Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee imitators were doing at a powwow either. Grant prosecuted the war against independent Indians and Lee prosecuted the war to keep blacks enslaved. The only common theme I see is white pride over the subjugation of minorities.

For more on the subject, see Custer Country in Montana and Custer's Last Stand and Ethnic Studies.

Below:  "A Custer re-enactor participated in the color guard for a Memorial Day powwow on the campus of the Dayton Veterans Administration Medical Center. Accompanying the Custer figure were General Richard E. Lee and General Ulysses S. Grant lookalikes."

Stereotypes teach Natives they're inferior

The Impact of Stereotyping on Young PeopleAnyone who understands or studies the social development of children and young people knows that attitudes, values and self-esteem are well developed by the mid-teen years, or even earlier. What young people see and hear in the media helps them to figure out how the world works and who and what is valued in our society.

If the media’s take on Aboriginal people is interpreted at face value, then kids are growing up with a skewed vision of what it means to be part of a First Peoples society. If they get their impressions from the news, they’ll likely view Aboriginal people as a negative force. And if their impressions come from films and TV programs, they’ll learn to think of Aboriginal people as inferior (passive, aggressive or drunk) or simply as non-entities, obliterated by omission.

When young Aboriginal people read the newspaper or turn on the TV, how often do they see their own life experiences reflected? Almost never, says Children Now, the U.S. research organization that analyzed the presence of Native American children on TV in 1999, and conducted focus groups with children from 20 tribes. Furthermore, they contend, those children have learned to associate positive attributes with white television characters, and negative attributes with non-white characters.

"The media have a lot of power to endorse stereotypes," says Susan Swan, an Ojibway from the Lake Manitoba First Nation. "We go into First Nations communities to talk to youth about gangs. When asked, the kids estimate that about 95 per cent of Aboriginal youth is involved in gangs. The actual number is three per cent. Why do they think these numbers are so high? It’s because this is what they get from television and newspapers."

The popular media are "cool" in the eyes of most kids. If the existence and value of a group of people is not affirmed by inclusion in media information and entertainment, the message is clear—they’re not important. In Aboriginal communities, this can contribute to, as one community sociologist calls it, "learned helplessness, alienation, and a sense of having no control."
Comment:  Let's sum up the key points here: Research with children from 20 tribes shows they get negative self-images from the media. This causes them to feel helpless and alienated, which leads to depression and self-destruction. (The article doesn't make the last point explicitly, but it's obvious.)

The corollary is that eliminating the stereotypes would go a long way to ending the feelings of helplessness and alienation. Which again is obvious. You label someone as inferior (savage, redskin, squaw, etc.) and they feel bad. What part of that is so hard for people to understand?

For more on the subject, see Stereotypical Thinking Causes Racist Results and The Harm of Native Stereotyping:  Facts and Evidence.

June 26, 2010

Thanksgiving pageant in The Blind Side

In the 2009 movie The Blind Side, SJ, the son of Sandra Bullock's character, plays an Indian in his school's Thanksgiving pageant. Naturally, SJ is dressed as a Plains chief. And not just as an average chief. SJ's headdress has the feathered side panels trailing to the ground. I believe this means SJ is an especially revered chief--sort of a super chief.

And yet...as SJ reveals, he's only playing "Indian #3." The implication is that the real "chief" and another "Indian" were dressed even more gaudily than SJ. This Thanksgiving feast must've resembled a chiefs convention.

In other words, The Blind Side missed the mark even worse than movies and TV shows usually miss the mark when discussing Thanksgiving. Gosh, I can't imagine where the public gets the idea that every Indian resembles a 19th-century Plains chief. Maybe from movies like The Blind Side that tell us exactly that.

Racial tolerance gone wrong

What's especially funny is that The Blind Side is a movie about race. Sandra Bullock and company are aware that they're sending racially-tinged messages to the audience. They're even aware that their Thanksgiving bit sends a message.

SJ complains that he was the victim of multiculturalism run amok because a Chinese boy got to play the chief (presumably "Indian #1"). His father notes that he's Irish, which is no closer to being an Indian. In fact, the pure-blooded Wampanoag Indians probably were closer to Asians than to Europeans, genetically speaking.

Later in the movie, Kathy Bates as the tutor makes a comment about Sacawagea guiding the Lewis and Clark expedition. She ominously hints that that wasn't the real story. We don't find out what she means, but whatever. The point is that the filmmakers seem to have a smidgen of awareness about Indians.

And yet they get the most basic fact about Indians--that there were no Plains chiefs at the first Thanksgiving--wrong. How stupid is that? Pretty darn stupid.

How the scene should've gone

In the same 30 or so seconds of screen time, the movie could've sent the opposite message. Imagine SJ dressed as a typical Indian "brave" rather than a chief. Here's the dialogue:MOM:  You were great, SJ.

SJ:  Ah, I was only Indian #3. I wanted to be the chief.

SJ:  They gave the role to that stupid Chinese kid.

MOM:  Don't call people stupid.

DAD:  We're Irish, you know. That kid is probably closer to an Indian than you are, genetically speaking.

MOM:  Besides, he looked silly dressed as a Plains chief. This school doesn't seem to know much about American history.
There you go. Even though the movie is set in the South, this scene shows that the parents are sensitive to racial issues. And that SJ has a bit of white privilege to overcome. That would've been a good setup for the rest of the movie.

Rob's review

As for the rest of the movie...well, you know all those sports dramas about race? Movies like Remember the Titans and Friday Night Lights? This is like them but without the racial conflicts.

There's no drama at home--Michael the black teenager smoothly joins his new family. No drama at school--a few kids look at him funny, but that's about it. And no drama on the field--the worst Michael experiences is one opponent taunting him about his size. The result is a sweet, sentimental film that could've been a G-rated Disney family flick.

The biggest conflict is whether Michael, the gentle giant who wouldn't hurt a fly, will succeed at football. Fortunately, this lamb turns into a lion when you tell him the other team is threatening his "family" (team). Maybe the real Michael was this pliable, but it makes him look like a dumb black guy who couldn't even understand a game.

I'd say The Blind Side is at least half an hour too long. And I don't think Sandra Bullock's performance was an Oscar winner. She seems to be playing her usual tough professional woman with a heart of gold. I agree with those who said she got the award for being an old-school trouper who's produced a solid body of work.

All, in all, I'd say The Blind Side is a nice but undemanding piece of filmmaking. Rob's rating:  7.5 of 10.

For more on the subject, see Thanksgiving Pageant in Desperate Housewives and Why Thanksgiving Pageants Are Wrong.

Movies convey "America's master narrative"

The infamous Ward Churchill deconstructs the movie Indian. I particularly like how he links the "noble savages" in recent movies with the "savages" in earlier movies. One way or another, these movies attempted to excuse our genocidal actions toward Indians.

Smoke Signals: A History of Native Americans in Cinema

By Ward ChurchillWhile most of what was produced consisted of squalid potboilers in which Indians served, as Oneida comic Charlie Hill puts it, as "pop-up targets to give the cowboys and the cavalry something to shoot at," some of the films at issue must be considered as serious cinema. In this sense, they must also be assessed as conveying as deeply virulent a message of racial triumphalism as anything ever produced by Goebbels' Ministry of Propaganda during Germany's Nazi era.

One can debate whether John Ford's The Searchers (1956) was really the most racist anti-Indian movie ever made, or whether that dubious distinction more rightly belongs to Robert Mulligan's The Stalking Moon (1969) or John Huston's Unforgiven (1960), but the fact is that there are a vast number of contenders. And, as Indians were systematically converted onscreen to America's equivalent of untermensch, the herrenvolk most directly responsible for perpetrating genocide against us were just as systematically heroicized, a matter which remained true from Errol Flynn's portrayal of George Armstrong Custer in They Died With Their Boots On (1941) to Robert Shaw's in Custer of the West (1969).

Being perfected was what Cherokee aesthetician Jimmie Durham terms "America's Master Narrative"—Gramsci might have called it "hegemony"—that is, indoctrination of the populace with a mythic (mis)understanding that nothing really wrong had transpired in the course of U.S, history. On the contrary, it had all been a noble undertaking, carried out by a combination of gallant leaders and brave settlers forging a better future. If anyone had gotten hurt along the way, namely Indians, it was because they'd "brought it on themselves" by being essentially subhuman in the first place and then compounding the defect with persistent and aggressive attempts to prevent whites from making things "work out for the best."

The "Good" Indians

Not all Indians were so bad, of course. Some were even depicted as being noble, too. These were the ones who perceived a "tragic inevitability" in being overrun by a self-anointedly superior race or culture, and who therefore evidenced the good taste to "simply vanish" with dignity rather than complaining about it. Even better were those who not only accepted the innateness of white supremacy, but who used their insights to provide actual service to Euroamerica, helping the invaders get on with it. Such notions are not unfamiliar to colonial literature, as even the most cursory reading of Joseph Conrad will reveal. The Lone Ranger's Tonto is, after all, simply Rudyard Kipling's Gunga Din recast in feathers, as is Chingachgook in Last of the Mohicans.

Once "revisionist" films like Little Big Man and Soldier Blue began to appear in 1970, mainly as a sop to mounting protest of the Vietnam War, previously glorified martial figures like Custer began to lose their allure. The Master Narrative was consequently reworked to admit that unconscionable atrocities had been committed against Indians over the years, just as they were being committed against Indochinese at the time. Such "historical excesses" were then attributed, however, quickly and quite uniformly, to "anomalous" Custer-like characters.

Always, these highly personalized embodiments of evil were counterbalanced by the centrality of sympathetic white characters—Candice Bergen's Christa Marybelle Lee and Peter Strauss's Honis Gant in Soldier Blue, as examples, or Dustin Hoffman's Jack Crabbe in Little Big Man—with whom Euroamerican viewers might identify. Always, the Indians in such films serve as mere plot devices intended mainly to validate the main white characters' alleged sensitivities, and to convey forgiveness to "good" (i.e., most) whites for the misdeeds of their "bad" (i.e., atypical or "deviant") peers.
Comment: Regular readers know I basically agree with the views expressed here. Indeed, I've said similar things in my analyses of The Lone Ranger and Winnetou, various old Western movies, and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

For more on the subject, see Valenti: Movies Are Merely Movies and Ups and Downs of Hollywood Indians.

June 25, 2010

Review of DreadfulWater Shows Up

Here's a book I read a few months ago:

DreadfulWater Shows Up: A NovelFrom Publishers Weekly

Canadian author King (Medicine River) adopts a transparent pseudonym for his first venture into the mystery field, with agreeable results. Thumps DreadfulWater, an ex-California cop and a Cherokee Indian, ekes out a living as a photographer in the little Pacific Northwest community of Chinook. A self-described "self-unemployed" fine arts photographer, he also does crime scene photography for the local police on occasion. When a murder victim turns up in a condo of the tribe's new Buffalo Mountain Resort casino complex that's getting ready for its grand opening, a reluctant Thumps soon finds himself looking for his sometime girlfriend's hotheaded son, a prime suspect. King's wry humor ("Thumps liked women who knew what they wanted, but... like most men, he liked them better in theory than in practice") goes over well, as does Thumps's laconic but effective investigative style. King's quirky characters play some lively variations on familiar stereotypes, from the wise Indian sage who always knows when to expect visitors to the lady coroner who refers to the morgue as her "kitchen." The author's mostly gentle satire evokes appreciative chuckles rather than belly laughs. Readers who'd like to see more of Thumps and the denizens of Chinook will be pleased to note several clues suggestive of a sequel.
DreadfulWater Shows UpWhile neither the writing nor the plot is exceptional, they're both wholly adequate, with room to grow and the potential to deepen and develop. The cast of small-town characters is believable if not totally fleshed out. Although thin, the linear plot is well thought-out, with a credible twist and unusual untidy ending.

Thumps is clearly set up to become a series character, and I suspect, quite a popular one among the soft-boiled mystery reading set. He's quirky enough to be memorable and his self-deprecating persona is endearing. Any novel with an Indian character will invite the inevitable comparison to Tony Hillerman's Leaphorn and Chee, a comparison augmented by Hillerman's blurb on the back cover. Don't go there. There's minimal Indian lore in 'DreadfulWater Shows Up' and no Native American versus white man cultural conflict. Hillerman is Hillerman, and GoodWeather isn't, nor does he pretend to be.

'Dreadful Water Shows Up' starts out in the slow lane and gradually picks up speed. It moves from mystery lite to semi-soft-boiled, an entertaining light read that doesn't tax your brain but doesn't insult your intelligence. While it never gains the momentum or energy of a high-speed chase, it delivers a better than average ride.
Rob's review

DreadfulWater Shows Up is set on a fictitious reservation seemingly located in northwestern Montana, perhaps near the Idaho or Canadian border. The tribe isn't specified, but it could be Blackfeet or a neighboring culture.

As the above comments indicate, the story is more about the quirky characters than the mystery. A few nice touches:

  • The chairwoman is a single mother who lives in a trailer.

  • The wise elder has salvaged old computers and become an information-gathering expert.

  • The tribe has a casino resort but it hasn't seriously affected life on the rez. There aren't a lot of casino customers in western Montana. The real money is in a luxury housing development with spectacular views.

    Tony Hillerman's mysteries are usually dense with characters, culture, and plot twists. Indeed, they're too dense sometimes. DreadfulWater Shows Up is the opposite--a bit on the light side--but enjoyable nevertheless. Rob's rating:  8.0 of 10.

    For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Books.
  • Arts foundation requests submissions

    Foundation announces inaugural grant guidelinesThe Native Arts & Cultures Foundation recently announced a call for submissions for its first round of grants to support the creative work of indigenous people in the contiguous United States, Alaska and Hawaii. Funding will be awarded to individuals, programs and organizations.

    A total of $300,000 is available for distribution in amounts of up to $20,000 for individuals and programs. Applications and eligibility rules are available at www.nativeartsandcultures.org/programs.

    “The Native Arts & Cultures Foundation celebrates the role of artists as culture bearers and critical thinkers,” said Reuben Roqueñi, NACF program director. “The creative process makes a profound contribution to intellectual inquiry and to the strengthening of communities.”
    And:Earlier this spring, the foundation announced several new additions to its boards. Actor Adam Beach (Salteaux Tribe), known for his work in films such as “Flags of Our Fathers” and television shows such as “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” joined the NACF board of advisors, alongside singer Buffy Sainte-Marie (Cree). Keller George (Oneida Nation), well-known in Indian country for his work with the National Congress of the American Indians and the National Museum of the American Indian, joined the NACF board of directors.

    NACF is supported in part by gifts from the Ford Foundation, the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.
    Comment:  Sounds like Indian gaming is a major force behind this foundation. Which is good. As I've said many times, gaming is helping tribes in innumerable ways. Not only by funding necessary social services, but by contributing to projects such as NACF.

    But $300,000 is akin to a drop in the bucket. I'd like to see gaming tribes put much more into artistic and cultural projects. When the amount hits $30 or $300 million, then we'll have something to talk about.

    For more on the subject, see Casinos Fund Cultural Projects and Casinos Promote Culture.

    Below:  How San Manuel pays for all its charitable investments.

    Native skateboarder in Dew Tour

    Native Threads’ Skateboarder Bryant Chapo to Compete in the Dew TourThis summer, clothing from Native Threads will be seen flying through the air at the 2010 Dew Tour as Native American skateboarding sensation Bryant Chapo competes for the Dew Cup.

    Chapo, one of the most popular up and coming personalities in the Native American community, has been invited to compete in the skate park events during the 6th annual Dew Tour running June through October 2010. As a Native American skateboarder, Chapo will be representing his community and heritage as he competes on the big stage in front of a worldwide audience.
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see Chapo Skates to Red Bull Victory and Skateboard Replaces Pony on the Rez?

    June 24, 2010

    Savage Maori in The Wives of Henry Oades

    Here's a hot new novel from New Zealand:

    The Wives of Henry Oades: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle)From Publishers Weekly

    An English accountant and his two wives are the subject of this intriguing and evocative debut novel based on a real-life 19th-century California bigamy case. A loving husband and attentive father, Henry Oades assures his wife, Margaret, that his posting to New Zealand will be temporary and the family makes the difficult journey. But during a Maori uprising, Margaret and her four children are kidnapped and the Oades's house is torched. Convinced his family is dead, Henry relocates to California and marries Nancy, a sad 20-year-old pregnant widow. When Margaret and the children escape, eventually making their way to California and Henry's doorstep, he does the decent thing by being a husband to both wives and father to all their offspring, a situation deemed indecent by the Berkeley Daughters of Decency. Moran presents Henry's story as if making a case in court, facts methodically revealed with just enough detail for the reader to form an independent opinion. But it's Margaret surviving the wilderness, Nancy overcoming grief and the two women bonding that give the book its heart and should make this a book group winner.
    Sounds pretty benign, right? But in Savage, Farting Maoris and "The Wives of Henry Oades", Adrienne Keene notes that the book depicts the Maori as subhuman beasts. A sample of the prose:"The Maori filled the room, brandishing rifles and whips, a hideous tattooed four, with mouths yawning wide, tongues wagging obscenely."And Adrienne's summary of the book's problems:The family is "enslaved" by the Maori for a long time, like years and years, yet even until the day they "escape," Margaret never refers to them by name, never uses a positive adjective to describe the village, and continues to see their ways as completely backwards. There is absolutely no nuance in the portrayal. They are savage, through and through.The book's source

    Author Johanna Moran based her novel on an old newspaper article. But that article turned out to be a hoax:

    History pulls a fast one on author

    By Matt NippertTracing the original reportage, Walzer reprints the widely circulated Evening Express story from December 16, 1873--and also includes a little-publicised follow-up published two weeks later: "A short time ago, we published an imaginary case of bigamy, to show that under the new California Codes a man may have two legal wives.Oops.

    What's interesting here is the whole literary process. A Florida-based author reads one old newspaper article and decides she's qualified to write about the Maori culture of New Zealand in detail. She depicts the Maori as the worst kind of savages--no different from a dime novel's depiction of Indians a century ago.

    Worse, a New Zealand publisher put out the novel this year. Apparently, no one thought it was a problem to stereotype the Maori as inhuman monsters in 2010.

    I'd be surprised, but this is the same attitude behind such works as Apocalypto, Comanche Moon, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Indigenous people may be civilized now--since we've introduced them to Christ, clothing, and Coca-Cola--but they used to be bloodcurdling demons from a horror movie. Or so the average person thinks.

    For more on the Maori, see Maori War Chant in Invictus and "Go Native" at the Visionary Village. For more on Native-themed books, see The Best Indian Books.

    Mock trial for Ned Christie

    Trial of Ned Christie called to order after 118 years

    Mock trial will be an educational experience for the communityNed Christie will finally be tried in the Cherokee courts on the accusation of the murder of U.S. Deputy Maples. Christie was accused of the murder, but was never tried by a jury of his peers, until now–June 25 and 26, at the Cherokee National Capitol at 100 South Muskogee Ave., in Tahlequah.And:Christie was assassinated on Nov. 3, 1892, after a five-year standoff with the federal government following the allegation of murder of Daniel Maples in May 1887. Denied the right to an Indian court trial due to the federal government’s intervention, Christie was bound to the jurisdiction of the United States Court for the Western District of Arkansas in Fort Smith, Ark., which had oversight of Indian Territory under Judge Isaac C. Parker. Refusing to stand trial in a “white man’s court” under the “Hangin’ Judge,” Christie elected to remain at large while justice was sought. In 1918, 26 years after Christie’s assassination, an individual who was also at the scene on the night of Maples’ murder exonerated Christie for the crime with testimony of the facts and the naming of the true killer.Some background on Christie:

    Ned ChristieNed Christie (December 14, 1852–November 3, 1892), also known as NeDe WaDe (Cherokee), was a Cherokee statesman. Ned was a member of the executive council (1885) in the Cherokee Nation senate, and served as one of three advisors to Chief Bushyhead. He was notable for holding off US forces after being accused of murdering a US marshal. This gave him notoriety as an outlaw, and he was eventually killed by US Marshals.

    Native foods at Fancy Food Show

    Tribal specialty foods on display at world’s largest F&B eventThe Intertribal Agriculture Council which directs the American Indian Foods program, announces multi-tribal participation in the world’s largest food and beverage event being held at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City, June 27-29.

    The AIF is a critical economic program that recognizes and promotes the efforts of thousands of American Indian farmers and ranchers.
    And:Several American Indian producers will feature their products at the show, including:

  • Lakota Foods featuring popcorn.
  • Native American Natural Foods showing Tanka Bars and Tanka Dogs.
  • Red Lake Nation Foods with wild rice and walleye.
  • Sugpiaq Inc. showing wild seafood and wild salmon.
  • Raven Seafoods showing smoked salmon and salmon jerky.
  • Umpqua Foods with jerky, meat sticks and snacks
  • Comment:  For more on the subject, see Native Foods Changed the World and Bringing Native Foods to the Fore.

    Greek sorority at Haskell University

    Native sisterhood comes to Haskell Indian Nations University

    By Lorraine JessepeFive women at Haskell Indian Nations University stepped up to make a positive difference in each other’s lives by bringing the first greek letter organization to campus in the spring of 2010.

    Alpha Pi Omega, the nation’s oldest American Indian sorority, is a sisterhood of American Indian women committed to family, community, tribe, academic excellence and self-empowerment. Established in 1994 at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, the organization has grown to 13 chartered university chapters in five states.

    June 23, 2010

    DC's "green, pink, and blue characters"

    DC Comics is receiving a lot of criticizing for killing off or eliminating several minority superheroes. Editor Ian Sattler tried to defend DC's actions and came up with this gem of a line:We don’t see it that way and strive very hard to have a diverse DCU. I mean, we have green, pink, and blue characters.Blogger David Brothers ripped DC for this "defense":

    DC Comics:  Run the NumbersThe problem with this statement is that green, pink, and blue people don’t exist. In fact, comparing actual, real-life people to fake people when discussing real-life issues is a pretty screwed up thing to do, isn’t it? It’s saying, “Yes, I understand your complaints, but look over here! This thing that we made up is just like what you want, just a different shade! That’s the same thing, right?”

    No, it really isn’t. The point of diversity is to reflect reality. If you’re bringing up imaginary people when talking about actual people… you probably should just stop talking. A real life example: you’re making a cartoon for kids. Your boss asks why there aren’t any kids in your show. You respond that there are several kids, like this dwarf, this baby dragon, this baby goblin, those are like kids, right? No.
    Brothers looked at 73 DC comic-book covers from August 2010 and found seven minority characters. The ideal number would be more like 20-something. (30% of 73 = 21.9.) Brothers's snarky summation of the situation:There’s an equal number of talking monkeys and black women on your covers. Scooby Doo is on more covers than that.Brothers notes that eliminating a particular minority character isn't necessarily racist, but the overall pattern may be:The problem is the trend. Jason Rusch gives way to Ronnie Raymond. Kyle Rayner and John Stewart give way to Hal Jordan. Wally West and his multiracial family is replaced by Barry Allen and Iris West, a good ol’ down home American couple. Ryan Choi is replaced with his equally unlikely to support an ongoing series predecessor. Milestone is publicly courted and wakes up to find money on the dresser, with a note saying “Lose my number.” Despite the fact that white people are a global minority today, the official future of the DC Universe is about as lily white as it can get and most of the aliens are white people. In what world does that make sense?Comment:  This echoes a point I've been making for decades. The original Legion of Super-Heroes had green, blue, and orange members but no minorities. The original Green Lantern Corps had blue, orange, and pink members but no minorities. DC's foreign and alien heroes--Superman, Wonder Woman, Hawkman, Aquaman, et al.--are almost all white.

    This applies to many fictional universes: Marvel Comics, Star Trek, Star Wars, etc. Whether the characters are human or alien, Caucasians seem to dominate. A universe dominated by people who look black or Asian seems to be beyond America's comprehension.

    What about Native superheroes?

    This clash of views applies to Native superheroes too. Other than the insignificant Manitou Dawn, DC basically has no Native superheroes in its present-day comics. It should have a dozen or so, as Marvel does, but it doesn't.

    To make Native or minority superheroes popular, DC has to make a concerted effort. It has to do something like what Marvel did with Wolverine. First, have minority writers and artists create complex characters they care about. Guest-star them in a high-profile comic like INCREDIBLE HULK. Make them supporting characters in a team book like UNCANNY X-MEN. If the characters "break out" in terms of popularity, showcase them in a mini-series or two. Then give them their own series.

    And make them important to the DC Universe--the way Wolverine has become to the Marvel Universe. If there's another Crisis, let a minority hero resolve it rather than Superman or Batman. If the Greek gods or New Gods tackle a world-destroying foe, throw an African, Asian, or indigenous pantheon into the mix.

    In short, if you're committed to diversity, then truly commit to it. That means fewer storylines that depend on the big three (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman) for their resolution. It means more sharing of the spotlight with a wider range of characters.

    It means taking a successful experiment like the 52 series and making it the norm. 52 proves people will read something other than Superman or Batman comics if they're central to the DC experience. The trick is to turn that one-time event into a permanent way of thinking.

    For more on the DC debate, see Race + Comics Notes:  Black Panther & DC Comics Update and Sunday Brunch:  6/20/10.

    For more on minority superheroes, see Do Superheroes Reflect Society? and Some Thoughts on Minority Comics.

    Below:  Manitou Dawn.