A year ago, I finally had the chance to see Mastodon play with Ghost and Opeth in Saskatoon. I was front row center, pressed against the gates for the first two sets. It was easily one of the best lineups I’ve seen, and an amazing night–made even cooler when Bill tossed me his pick.
Which is why my heart sank when I saw the new Mastodon “Thanksgiving” shirts.
Metal and hard rock music are still viewed as the domain of straight white men–I’ll assume you don’t need proof of this beyond the sausagefest crowd at an average metal show. But there’s plenty of us who don’t fit that category and still want to feel at home in your music. This shirt does the opposite of that for me as an Indigenous woman.
I want to believe that the shirt was designed with the intent of trying to disrupt the lie of American Thanksgiving; a holiday based on the story of Pilgrims and Indians coming together and sharing a nice meal, when in reality what occurred was genocide. And of course, a critical element of “conquering” Indigenous people used in the United States and Canada is the rape and enslavement of Native women.
I want to believe that you knew all of that when you approved this shirt.
But there are better ways to make political statements than printing t-shirts with disturbing imagery that reinforces racist myths rather than challenging them. Indigenous women are not (and never have been) subservient, silent, compliant, helpless on our knees, always ready and willing in buckskin bikinis–but that is how we are viewed, and this image contributes to an already bursting repository of that crap.
If the band’s/the t-shirt artist’s intention was to challenge historical injustices, the reaction that is already coming from the Native American community should be an indicator that it was misguided.
There is nothing subversive or edgy about a scantily clad Native American woman on her knees serving a white man who is pointing a gun in her face.
Mastodon responds to critics
Mastodon Say Their Thanksgiving T-Shirt Is Not Racist
By Scott Lapatine
The tee highlights the atrocities of American colonialism by depicting a pilgrim holding a musket to the head of a scantily clad Native American woman. As Pitchfork points out, Mastodon have responded to criticism with this Facebook post:
this shirt represents this atrocity and celebrating in the face of this atrocity is chilling.
we may have a sick sense of humor, but we are far from being “Racist” as some of you who might not get it are calling us.
Critics respond to Mastodon
From the comments on the second posting:
Scantily clad Native woman on her knees with a gun pointed to her face? Yeah, not racist at all. Looks like the bullshit costumes ignorant white women wear on Halloween or to music festivals… and I want to give the band the benefit of the doubt and say that was part of the satire, but then they posted their response to the criticism completely not understanding why people were offended to begin with, trying to turn any backlash to the shirt as white people being upset that the band was ruining their idea of Thanksgiving.
And even if it WAS part of the satire, it’s really just another image furthering the fetishization of Native women. It’s not challenging stereotypes at all. Native American women are sexually assaulted and raped at higher rates than any other group in the US, and mostly by white men.
Regardless of their intent, they are garnering a ton of publicity and are currently sold out of the shirt. Using a genocide as a marketing tool is gross.
Today I learned that this band sells their own autographs on Ebay, which is fucking hilarious. Good on ya, dudes.
Regardless of the intent, since a huge number of real native Americans are outraged over the imagery on the shirt, and the fact that it can also be worn proudly by non-native men who rape native women as a “badge” if you will, the shirt is an epic fail. Thank you Mastodon for trying to bring light to the horrible treatment that us native American’s have received since first contact, but if this is the way you are going to go about bringing us into the light, I think I can speak for the majority and say we will just go it alone. Again thanks, and if you would like to try again with some real native input, there are many knowledgeable natives who would be happy to help prevent another tragedy like this shirt.
Stop Helping! Band Angers Natives With Shirt; Insists It's Pro-Native
We've seen offensive t-shirts that make light of Native suffering and depictions of sexualized Indian maidens. But the hugely popular metal band has combined the two in a Thanksgiving themed item that it has defended as an image that will raise consciousness to the Native side of the Thanksgiving myth.
“All I know is that I’m thankful for smallpox blankets lol”
"Fuck em, they all just drunks anyways"
“No the Indians gave us the land… And now they want it back… Indian givers… Who cares it’s a shirt u don’t like the shirt, use it for a diaper u cry ass cry babies”
"I’m sorry some of my ancestors were smarter, more industrious and slightly more ruthless than the peoples they found when they got here."
"Grow up and quit be bitches. If the Indians wanted to land, they should of fought harder. Fuck em"
"Rock and roll mother fuckers, man the fuck up! Dude has a gun pointing it a hot Indian with big tits!"
Not only did they like the sexy "Pocahottie," but they seem to have absorbed the notion of Indians as inferiors. Perhaps because the Native woman was scantily clad and kneeling with a gun to her head, which makes her look inferior...duh.
One obvious way to convey the alleged message would be to have a well-dressed man, perhaps a Wampanoag sachem, offering a turkey to the Pilgrim. But without an Indian woman as a sex object, that presumably wouldn't have sold as well.
We don't know if Mastodon thought about this issue, but they--as well as their fans--failed to understand the protesters' point. It's not about the shirt's anti-Thanksgiving message, it's about its anti-woman message. One has to be as dumb as a mastodon not to get that.
In short, this shirt is a colossal fail.
For more fashion fails, see "Dreamcatcher and Skull" Clothing Line, Vanity Fair's "Favorite" Indian Costume, and Natives Criticize "Inukt" Fashion Line.