March 11, 2012

Bon Iver's Towers video

Adrienne Keene dissects a recent music video in her Native Appropriations blog:

Bon Iver's "Towers": A "Tribute to Native American Preservation Land"?Nothing inherently wrong with the video itself. An old white dude with a beard drives around in his truck, wanders through the woods, across a beach, and rows out in the ocean where we see some massive wooden towers. Then one falls, and SPOILER ALERT the old man dies. or something. It is so magical and mystical! We don't know what it means!Nabil Elderkin, director: "The video was shot in Washington State, mostly on Native American preservation land. The idea came from when Justin sent me a breakdown of what certain parts/lines of the song meant to him, so I did my best to decode it and curate into something simple, and hopefully the viewer can take from it their own feeling of what the towers represent."

In these quotes, the Native land becomes a novelty, an unnamed backdrop for the "art" of the video. Why mention it was on Native land at all? Because it adds to the mysticism. It gives it a hipster-edge. "We didn't just shoot a video in nature! we shot it in NATIVE AMERICAN NATURE!"

The unnaming of the land bothers me too. If they shot on tribal lands, I sure hope they got tribal permission, and therefore, you know, had to know whose land they were on. There are 30 or so tribes in WA state. They're all different. They're not generic "Native American." By just calling it "Native" they're contributing to that whole Native-American-culture-is-a-monolith myth that I bring up again and again.

So then the whole evolution of reservation-->preservation-->Native preserved-->preserved Native-land is fascinating. Let's assume the original slip was a typo/mis-quote, but I think how quick the other media sources were to pick up on it says something about the imperialist nostalgia hidden right under the surface in the US. "Reservation" sounds sad, a reminder of how "we" (dominant culture) subjugated "them" (Natives). But "preservation" sounds nice. Like "we" saved it for them. Set it aside. Cause we're thoughtful like that. And "preserved" sounds even better! Like "they" held onto those traditional old ways that we tried to get rid of, remained stewards of the land, and kept it pristine and beautiful so "we" could come shoot our music videos on it. How wonderful for everyone involved.
Comment:  For more on Native-themed videos, see Patriots Kick Indian in Super Bowl Video and "Shit People Say to Native Americans."

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