September 22, 2010

The harm of fake Indian art

The difference between things and performances

By Steve RussellWho is harmed by fake Indian prose, poetry, or music? Real Indian artists, but only in the sense that art is a zero sum game. That is, artists face limited markets and fierce competition. This is the fact of the matter, says the Indian poet who has won a major competition (Native Writers Circle of the Americas) but never found a publisher while many fakes have whizzed by in the fast lane. But how in the world can I prove that if Princess Cherokee Sunflower Hair Spray had not published her book I would have published mine?

We know at the gut level that Indian fakers are misrepresenting in a manner that will affect tribes in the long run, because books and recordings tend to crowd out performances. In the long run, the real culture is swallowed by the fake one.
Comment:  This statement applies to more than just art. It applies to all the cultural things I talk about here: Indian mascots, hipster headdresses, New Age sweat lodges, etc.

People claim they're honoring Indians, but that's as far as they go. They rarely if ever learn more about Indians, get to know them, try to help them. The mascot, headdress, or whatever isn't a gateway to increased understanding, it's a substitute for it. People do the phony Indian thing and think they've done it all. They've "honored" pretend Indians so now they can ignore real Indians with a clear conscience.

So all these fakes are crowding out the truth. People see and use the stereotypes to form their impressions of Indians. Once they've decided what an Indian is (formerly a savage Plains warrior, now a drunk freeloader), it's almost impossible to change their minds.

When new information contradicts the old images, they tend to ignore the new information. Why? Because it's more comfortable not to rethink your preconceptions and prejudices. To admit you were wrong.

If Indians were decent human beings and we conquered or killed them, what does that say about us? What does it say about our history, religion, morality? That we're a nation of liars and cheaters, thieves and thugs? How many self-righteous, self-satisfied Americans want to deal with that?

For more on the subject, see Culture War Over Who's American and National Day of the American Cowboy.

Below:  America's self-image as bringers of light, civilization, progress.

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