So, Adam Sandler, Yeah…

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adam-sandlerBy now the story is pretty well known. A number of Native Americans recently walked off the set of an Adam Sandler movie (The Ridiculous Six) citing offensive jokes as the deal-breaker triggering their decision to leave. Most had been cast as extras, but the group also includes a cultural consultant hired for the film. Other sources have detailed the story better than I could, but let’s just get a few of their objections on the table so we all know what we’re talking about:

– The Indians in the movie are supposed to be Apache, but their outfits and material culture generally represented in the film would seem better suited to Comanche (and that not too accurately there either).

– The movie used offensive names for female characters. “No Bra” and “Beaver Breath” come to mind. “Sits-On-Face” was apparently in the script at one point.

– Come to think of it, the movie gives men offensive names too, “Five hairy Moles,” and “One Eyebrow,” for example.

– In the movie a woman is supposed to squat to pee at some point while smoking a peace pipe.

– The extras found a feather arrangement on a teepee inappropriate.

– In the movie, Adam Sandler is supposed to utter the line; “Say honey: how bout after this, we go someplace and I put my pee-pee in your teepee?”

…you get the idea.

I certainly hope that I don’t have to explain why any of this would be offensive. The question is of course what to make of that offense? Someone is almost always the butt of a joke, and so it sometimes seems arbitrary when a particular set of jokes like this one draws a vehement response. Those with little or no connection to the offended group are often that much more mystified, because they simply don’t understand all the implications, and it can be damned tempting to pass the whole thing off as political correctness.

The notion that these extras (and those who support them) are just being too damned sensitive about the whole thing is rolling rather predictably out in various tweets and blog posts. A spokesman for netflicks reportedly characterized the film as ‘broad satire’. Breitbart News carried that theme even further, denying that satire could be disrespect in any context and congratulating the film crew for standing their ground in the face of an overly sensitive group of extras. Sandler’s camp appears to have adopted the stance that his movie is meant to be all in good fun, and that it’s full of low-brow humor to begin with. One of the cast, Vanilla Ice, for example assured us that Sandler is not trying to make something on par with Dances With Wolves. So, it seems we in the public are supposed to give Sandler a pass, because he is just joking.

I’m usually pretty open to raunchy humor, but I find it very hard to imagine a context in which the jokes mentioned above would be anything other than toilet humor fit for a five year old.

…and let’s be clear. there is another context to consider here. For those of us who haven’t seen the film, it’s difficult to assess the context behind the jokes, but for those of us who haven’t lived lives as Native Americans, it’s hard to say what the overall context of life is for determining how these jokes must feel.

Context is a two-way street.

No, actually, it’s more like a giant roundabout with a lot of busy traffic.

The question here is just what makes these jokes funny to begin with (at least for those that find them funny)?  It’s easy enough to say that a name like “Beaver Breath” is just a joke, but is there really any reason to suppose that joke doesn’t turn on a point of prejudice? These names don’t appear to be an in-joke, and they don’t turn any non-native prejudice on its head. They reflect little other than the sensibility of a child snickering at someone different. These jokes turn that difference into an object of brutal and straight-foreword mockery. and there is simply nothing in the accounts given so far to suggest that the target of this humor is anything other than Native American naming practices themselves. If this is satire, it is indistinguishable from racist propoganda.

That the jokes in question may be delivered with a congenial smile doesn’t change the fact that this humor is at face value quite demeaning. Some people don’t even seem to know when they are insulting others; either that or they simply assume the right to do so without being called to account for it.

This is why the claim that The Ridiculous Six is all just satire fails. Oh yes, the movie may well be a satire, but whatever it’s satirizing, there is no reason to believe these jokes aren’t actually directed at the Native American community.

There is nothing in these jokes that suggests familiarity with their own subject matter, much less appreciation for the people close to it. This is why the costumes matter, not because the movie was meant to be historically accurate, but because knowing the difference between Apache dress and Comanche dress might have communicated at the trace of a capacity to give a damn. When such things become too much to ask, the benefit of the doubt slips out the door. And when those who raise the issue, as these extras did, are told by a producer they are being overly sensitive and they should leave, well that pretty well slams the door shut altogether. If there was any chance this humor could have reflected anything other than outright prejudice, the treatment these extras received on the set would appear to have set that prospect to rest.

…which puts the claim that no offense had been intended in this script in an awkward light. It would appear to mean little other than that Native Americans themselves are not supposed to take offense at such things. Sandler and company have produced a highly offensive script, and when called on it, they have done little other than to beg others not to see the plain point of their own jokes. In effect, they have put the responsibility for the insult on those that have called attention to it (which is an awful lot like the strategy taken by Dan Snyder and the Washington football team). in effect, they blame those they insult for knowing they have been insulted. Does that rhetoric sound familiar? It should. This is of course precisely why conservative culture warriors are beginning to weigh in. It isn’t that they don’t know the movie is offensive; the folks at Breitbart for example are defending it precisely because they know that it is.

It’s easy to dismiss Sandler himself. He has often (almost always) presented himself in a rather juvenile manner. His characters are often simpletons, and the humor they produce is accordingly full of foolishness. When this fails, as it often does, Sandler leaves behind more than a trace of disappointment in the jokes. He also leaves us with that slightly creepy feeling that we’ve seen too much of someone’s personal baggage. Still, the man is capable of outstanding humor, often using this very approach. I do recall some brilliant moments in Sandler’s career; Lunch Counter Lady and The Hanakka Song come to mind. I don’t exactly pine for new examples of his work, but I can honestly say that he has brightened my day once or twice over the years. I say this, not because I feel like defending the man at the moment, but because I think it’s important to note that he is at least capable of doing something better than this.

Unfortunately, the man is also capable of turning out utter trash. Case in point, putting a peepee in a woman’s teepee. Try as I might, I cannot find any context in which that line reflects anything but the crudest sensibilities of a petulant child. Reading about this, I can’t help thinking Sandler has gotten entirely too comfortable passing the naughtiest jokes of the playground off as professional comedy. I for one hope that he will take a lesson from his extras, and try once again to produce comedy worth watching.

***

Postscript: I noticed an interesting pattern in this video showing the conversation, the film-makers continually insist that the movie is sympathetic to the Native American characters. Why? Because Adam Sandler’s character loves them.

Speaking of Dances With Wolves…

Suffice to say the notion that respect for Native American characters rests on little other than the values of a non-Native character would be ironic at best.

Actually ‘perverse’ is more like it.

Ah the Simple Pleasures of Spring!

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Yes, I am rather easily amused. how about you?

Want to Hear Gay Porn? Listen to a Homophobic Crusader!

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I suppose it really shouldn’t surprise me, but it’s amusing to see just how fascinated some folks are with the mechanics of gay sex. It wasn’t that long ago that Phil Robertson treated us all to a sermon the advantages of sticking your penis in a vagina rather than into an anus. No, I’m not talking about his more recent rape fantasies. I’m referring instead to Phil’s interview with GQ Magazine, the one in which he shared this little gem:

It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.

Countless conservative Christians came to the man’s aid in the dust-up over that interview, most praising him for taking a Biblical stance on the issue. Okay, so the Bible has some interesting passages, I know, but somehow I just don’t think Phil got that comparison from scripture. But of course what counts as a Biblical stance in some circles would seem to mean whatever most holds some folks feet to the fire. Celebrity Christians don’t curry favor with cultural conservatives by talking too much about anything Jesus said or did. (The Prince of Peace bores them to tears.) No, to get in on that market you have to hurt someone in Jesus’ name.

If the American movie industry has taught us anything, it’s that sex and violence go together like bees and pollen, or better than bees and pollen, I guess, cause, well that’s a damned tragedy too. Anyway, the point is that it shouldn’t surprise us that an industry celebrating verbal violence would invariably sex-up the narratives, albeit with an ironic angle on the topic.

So it should come as no surprise that Phil Robertson is not the only one to add a little pornography to his apologetics. Take for example Brian Klawiter, one of the latest folks to put his business on the line against homosexuality. It seems that Brian’s auto repair business won’t be serving those of an homosexual orientation. According to Media Matters, Klawiter has the following to say on the topic:

My company will be run in a way that reflects that. Dishonesty, thievery, immoral behavior, etc. will not be welcomed at MY place of business. (I would not hesitate to refuse service to an openly gay person or persons. Homosexuality is wrong, period. If you want to argue this fact with me then I will put your vehicle together with all bolts and no nuts and you can see how that works.)

He later offered that he would repair a vehicle, apparently even for gay customers, providing they didn’t make a display in his shop. …which is almost reasonable, or at least it would be were it not for the rather irrational fear that his business may soon become a hot-spot for make-out sessions among the homosexual community. Anyway, the point I’m trying to make here is; look at that man’s poetry!

Putting a car together with nothing but bolts?

Nailed it, bro!

But seriously, does anyone else get the idea that some people are just a little overly concerned with the mechanics of other people’s sex lives? I’m not just talking about the moral question about what other people oughtta do. That’s old hat. What I’m talking about is a rather insipid interest in just how the act gets done.

As if we all know what act we’re talking about to begin with!

It does seem a common assumption amongst straight people that gay sex means butt-sex. If you remind straight folks that gay sex could also mean lesbian sex, well that just throws a wrench in the whole works, and then some guys start to pine for their late-night cable sessions. That standard bit of hypocrisy aside, what the fuck would any of us straight guys know about it anyway? There are lots of ways to get down, even among the square crowd, so why is anal penetration the heart of this issue?

…perhaps we could even ask why love isn’t the heart of the issue, at least for gay marriage, but that would just be way too mature. People would yawn and wander off to talk about something else. So, it won’t be the way folks talk about gay rights three beers into a Friday night, and it won’t be the way they fill the seats of a straight-shootin’ church on a Sunday.

Love? …yawn!

Pat Robertson will get us right back on track with a little bit of porno-preaching here (compliments of the Huffington Post). According to Pat, the gay rights crowd won’t stop at acceptance or equal rights, they want us to do it too, and by ‘it’ I mean whatever icky it your mind can iterate! …or his anyway. You can give the whole rant a listen on the Huff Post link. It’s a “weird world” we live in, Pat assures us, and I almost agree. It certainly is a weird world that he lives in.

You’re gonna say that you like anal sex, you like oral sex, you like bestiality,” he added. “Sooner or later, you’re going to have to conform your religious beliefs to the group of some abhorrent thing. It won’t stop at homosexuality.

Yep, there you have it, gay rights means anal sex for every-one, and that’s just the start.

No doubt the whole thing leads to dancing!

Not to worry though Pat, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association assures us that God and humanity are both naturally disgusted by the very act of gay sex. Check out his speech, quoted here on Towleroad. According to Fisher (and I’m using Towleroad’s transcription), God himself can hardly stand the site of gay sex:

When God sees it, it causes him to recoil. And when we think about the actual act of homosexuality, we have exactly the same reaction. Most people think about that, they don’t want to think about that, they don’t want to visualize it because it is disgusting. And if people aren’t politically conditioned to accept it, their natural reaction is that’s just not normal, that’s just not natural, that’s not what human beings were designed for, that’s not what they were made for.

…so, yeah.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve certainly heard enough of this argument from other sources to get the impression these guys are hardly working a novel line of reasoning here. And I’m continually amazed that so much free-form sex-fantasy counts as Biblical reasoning. Some of these guys really are dancing to the beat of a different drum here; they just don’t seem to know it.

My point is that there is actually something a bit perverse about all this, not the gay sex of course, but the narratives these guys tell about it. Long before these crusaders get to the politics, read the scriptures, or try and address the psychology of the issue, a good number of them have already defined the entire thing in terms of the sheer physical act of anal sex. If that is what the issue means to them, it certainly isn’t because gay rights advocates have been framing the issue in those terms. Quite the contrary! It’s almost as if some folks might be using their attacks on the gay community to explore a few creepy themes of their own. And no. I’m not suggesting that this is latent homosexuality. That would be a tired old cliché. Homophobia is it’s own kink. It’s one that some folks seem determined to share in the most public of places.

An Uncommon Morning

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Not much to say about this, other than that the video doesn’t really do it justice. I took this on my old blackberry in 2011. I was standing just outside the casino on the Standing Rock reservation getting ready for a trip to Sitting Bull College. I expect locals might find the sight rather ho-hum, but to me anyway, it was pretty cool.

Do I really talk like that? I should never speak.

…ever!

The Problem with Deepak.

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I consider skepticism a way station on the way to a higher, more fulfilling kind of spirituality.

Millions of people have walked away from organized religion to become more spiritual, not less. They call themselves seekers; their disbelief is a starting point for starting their own investigations.

121021131717-deepak-chopra-medium-plus-169Deepak Chopra wants something from atheists. I somehow doubt he knows what that is anymore than the rest of us do, but his efforts to feign dialogue with unbelievers are among the creepier things one can encounter on the net. If you’re not careful you may encounter his particular brand of word salad on the #atheism hashtag at twitter, but don’t try too hard to make sense of his posts. That way lies madness!

And then the man lays this egg just before Easter weekend. It purports to be a critique of atheism, but of course it isn’t. What Chopra is doing in this post is passing off a story for a criticism, and it isn’t really a story about atheism at all. It is a story about the heroism of those who struggle with skepticism and in the end emerge victoriously with some sort of faith intact. What that belief is, or even how much the hero of his story is supposed to believe it, Deepak does not exactly tell us.

…but they will surely believe in something.

…kind of.

What does atheism have to do with this story, you might ask? Well we are one of the monsters to be encountered along the way. Near as I can tell, we represent a kind of undead to him. We are people who lost the struggle. Somewhere along the way, it would seem that we gave up all religious beliefs and thus fell into outer darkness, condemned to haunt the world of spiritual questers for the balance of our lives (or at least until Aragorn releases us from our obligations after helping in some epic battle). It is our role to test the faithful, and perhaps to bring down the champions of bad beliefs, but not to taken too seriously in our own right. Those on Deepak’s spiritual quest must ultimately get past us.

Okay, so Deepak didn’t mention Lord of the Rings. I know. But what he did do is tell us a story in which organized religion (presumably conservative Christians) and unbelievers both simply fail to meet his ideal. What that ideal is, Deepak doesn’t say. And given insistence that beliefs fall upon a sliding scale, it seems fair to suggest no answer will be forthcoming, or at least that no answer will take the form of a definitive belief. It isn’t a straight forward belief that interests Deepak so much as a kind of belief, well-hedged, and almost asserted, kind of. This belief is something about which people are not quiet certain, but certainly haven’t given up altogether. He can describe this state in the third person, but cannot assert it directly without contradicting himself (or at least in some sense preserving the option to disavow it at some point or another). Thus, it is easier for Deepak to tell us a story about the quest for this state than it is to outline the features of the beliefs in question.

One might suggest that those beliefs reside somewhere in the space between the hard problem of consciousness and current state of modern science. (We could call this land Adignorantia!) Alternatively, it could lie somewhere in that layer subatomic mysticism in which Deepak imagines Quantum Mechanics to have found a playground for wishful thinking. Either way the place in which Deepak’s beliefs reside is a place in which his word salad will actually mean something, so we are invited to imagine. It lies at the end of a never-ending quest, and if we can’t quite make sense of it today, well then that is because we aren’t there yet.

Keep trying!

One of the more amusing aspects of this game is that everyone can play it. The secular version is at least as old as Auguste Comte and his stages of progress (in which man progresses from theology, metaphysics, to positivism in every branch of study). Modern unbelievers play it every time they call religious beliefs superstition or speak of secularism as something that arises naturally from scientific progress. Conservative Christian variations are usually more personal (and hence far more interesting), but of course the tradition goes back far in the history of apologetics. The process of coming to believe appears in the all-better-now narratives of Christians throughout history (from St. Augustine or C.S. Lewis to – I’m sorry about this… Kirk Cameron). Some of these stories are profound. Some of them are damned trite. Either way, it is a common enough gambit for folks to ensnare their opponents in their life stories, the passing off a story in which unbelief appears quite as a matter of fact to be a plague in one’s life for a direct criticism demonstrating that it really is so, or even that it is simply wrong.

…or better yet, that what one actually believes is correct.

Whether it be an argument from personal biography or faith in some universal arch of progress, stories in which the happy ending takes the form of what one chooses to believe are a dime a dozen. If Chopra has anything unique to add to this it is little other than his own unique brand of obscurantism and pseudo-science. he is otherwise, treading in tired waters. It’s an easy enough game to play, telling a story in which someone else’s way of thinking is but a stage on the way to some higher calling. There was a time when I once enjoyed telling such stories mys… Oh wait a minute!

So, in the end what is wrong with Atheism according to Chopra? It would seem to be that it’s simply our role to be wrong in his script.

Meh, …I can live with that.

Uncommonly Slow on the Uptake

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MV5BMjA4NjkxNzMxNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTM1MDQ3Nw@@._V1_SY317_CR2,0,214,317_AL_Sometimes it takes a moment or three to get a joke. And sometimes it takes about a decade and a half.

I think I was about 9 when I watched Yellow Submarine. I didn’t know much about the Beatles at the time. I remember a bunch of 45s my older brother kept in a case with a zebra pattern on it, and I remember a walrus picture and the associated lyrics had made quite an impression. Beyond that, …well I was nine!

But there I sat watching Yellow Submarine on TV with my sister and her friends. Blue meanies made a strong impression, as did something about a hole that ended up in Ringo’s pocket. I remember being very confused about that.

I also remember quite a few songs, and then there was a scene where someone tells Ringo not to pull on a lever, and he says “I can’t help it. I’m a born Lever-puller.”

University of Whales I don’t remember, but I read that line and it looks funny.

So, one day I’m lying in bed one morning at the age of 23, and I’m thinking about speaking accents. I do accents sometimes, …terribly. Anyway, I’m thinking of British accents in that half-asleep state that might just as easily slip back into a full dream, and I’m pretty sure I can do Ringo’s accent, and then …

“Ooooooooh! …a born Leever-pooler!”

Guess I can be a little slow sometimes.

 

Adam and Eve and the Sewing Needle

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p194794_p_v7_aaY’all know the story. The Serpent tempts Eve with an apple, and she in turn tempts Adam with the same. …Okay, some say it’s more likely to be a pomegranate. That’s not the point! In arctic cinema, the temptation is more likely to be a knife or a gun.

…or a sewing needle.

The analogy isn’t perfect, but with Eskimo populations, cinematic stories of a tragic fall from grace certainly do seem to start with the temptations of trade. Much as the fruit of a certain Biblical tree, these trade goods come with a cost, and with a sudden awareness of things that might best be left out of the world altogether. And just as with the story of Adam and Eve, it seems sex is very much at play in these stories.

The movie Before Tomorrow (2009) begins with a story about the Raven, which is certainly a more fitting motif than Genesis for use in an Inuit production, but its implications are no less ominous. This narrative ends badly, as does that of the movie itself. We are then treated to a joyous reunion between friends and family, one of whom carries a brand new knife made of strange materials. It’s extraordinarily sharp and very sturdy. The same guest soon produces an extraordinary set of sewing needles, along with a story of the strangers from whom these items had been obtained. Everyone laughs and marvels at the wonderful goods.

Sadly, it wasn’t simply trade goods these this fellow and his family picked up from the strangers, and the laughter of these opening scenes will lead us only to tears.

…many tears.

But I left out an interesting detail. You see the needles had to be obtained through sex, one night with a young woman for each needle. That was the price, so we are told. This too is cause for laughter and bawdy humor in that happy moment when the characters in Before Tomorrow can still laugh at the whole story and count the encounter with strangers as a blessing of sorts.

Before Tomorrow is an indigenous production. It handles this theme with grace and sensitivity, but of course the scene echoes others that have come before. Few things about the arctic seem to interest movie makers more than Eskimo sexuality, or more particularly those practices giving rise to phrases like ‘Eskimo hospitality’ or ‘Eskimo Brother’. Aware that arctic natives engage in something akin to wife sharing, a number of film-makers have given this theme a prominent place in several productions. The treatment is almost always short on ethnographic detail and long on prurient interests. White Dawn is perhaps the most indulgent of these films, but the theme has a long-standing presence in the history of arctic film. It is commonly bound to the topic of trade.

…and to narratives of the fall.

(Speaking of terrible things, I must warn you that spoilers are coming.)

220px-The_Savage_InnocentsIn the year, 1960 (when Anthony Quinn was an Eskimo), his great source of temptation was a gun. I say he was an ‘Eskimo’, because it really wouldn’t be appropriate to saddle any specific people with the cultural baggage of Savage Innocents. a pseudo-documentary narrator notwithstanding, this film is not about any real-world population so much as a certain imaginary people best called to mind by precisely this grotesque term. Like so many films about natives of the Arctic, Savage Innocents really isn’t a film about Inupiaq, Inuit, Yupik, or even Chupik. It is most certainly a film about Eskimos, and that is a topic that has interested movie-makers long before the general public learned to think twice about such vocabulary. Anyway, when Anthony Quinn was an Eskimo, it was his introduction to the gun that kicked off a crises (and hence the story) of Savage Innocents.

For all its crudeness, Savage Innocents does throw a curve ball into my analogy here. Inuk (Quinn) is the one who first falls for this great temptation. Upon learning that white men will trade a gun for a hundred fox furs, he immediately sets about getting one. His wife, Asiak (played by Yoko Tani), will have none of it. She ends up giving away the gun, because she doesn’t want to live on fox meat while Inuk tries to put together enough furs for the bullets to fire it.

That’s a damned sensible Eve if you ask me!

Too bad Asiak is too late in her efforts to get free of the white man’s influence. A visit from a priest goes rather poorly when he refuses the food she and Inuk offer. It goes even more poorly when Inuk and Asiak offer to let the man ‘laugh’ with her (yes that’s an innuendo). When the Priest denounces the offer in the harshest of terms, a foul-tempered Inuk accidentally kills him. (h meant to crack the man’s head a little, inuk will later explain, but the man’s head “cracked a lot.” Legal troubles will soon follow in the form of Peter O’Toole who plays a trooper sent to catch Inuk and bring him back for punishment.

In savage Innocents, it is the gun which gets the action rolling, but it is sex that provides the tragic turn. It’s an interesting variation on a theme, and of course the movie’s title helps to underscore its relevance to stories of the Fall. Inuk and his wife are savages, yes, but they are also innocent (one might even say ‘noble’). Their encounters with the white world bring little other than the threat of guilt. It is the wisdom of this particular Eve that saves them.

But of course all of these plot developments emulate those of the far more famous film, Eskimo, starring Ray Mala. As in Before Tomorrow and Savage Innocents, visitors bring the temptation to our main characters in the form of trade goods acquired from strangers. A sharp knife is the first temptation to make an appearance in this film, followed shortly thereafter by iron sewing needles, and then a gun. Mala and his family are suitably impressed.

220px-Eskimo-FilmPosterMala’s wife, Aba (played by Lotus Long) asks a woman in possession of the sewing needles if she had received them from a ship’s Captain. No, her guest answers; “I was only able to please the man who did the cooking.”

And thus we learn the price that will be paid for these goods. Mala will of course trade many furs for his gun, but he will also have to share his wife with the strangers. Far from accepting this arrangement as the normal course of things, Mala is outraged that the strangers have taken liberties without asking for permission. this is not the sort of spousal sharing that occurs in his own village; it is violation carried out by men with no respect for either Mala or his wife, Aba.

But of course, it gets worse.

What interests me most about this, howeever, is not the he terrible consequences of trade with outsiders; it is the moment of temptation. In Eskimo that temptation plays out much as it does in Genesis. It is Aba who asks Mala to go trade with the strangers.

The white men have iron needles-

One could be even a greater hunter with a gun.

Like Eve tempting Adam with an Apple pomegranate, she urges Mala to begin the quest that will end their simple, happy existence. “The white men have black hearts,” so an elder assures the both of them, and yet Mala agrees to the trip. they will go, explains, after the long winter night has ended. Aba will herself pay the highest price of the two for this decision, but that too seems rather appropriate for stories of the fall. When such stories approach the status of mythic narratives, at least in the wester traditions, women always seem to fall harder than men. Perhaps that is why they are so often portrayed as the ones most responsible for that very fall.

Of course, the story of Adam and Eve is hardly a narrative indigenous to the arctic, but then again, only one of the three stories listed above is an indigenous production. One can almost see the story of Adam and Eve pulling on the the tragic tale in Savage Innocents and Eskimo, even as each movie grapples to one degree or another with the sensibilities of the people it depicts. And yet elements of this trope overlay nicely (though not precisely) with those of Before Tomorrow. In each case, trade with outsiders would seem to constitute the original sin, and in each case sex would appear to be part of the picture.

Sex, occupies a more tempered role in Before Tomorrow than it does in either of the mainstream productions. It’s characters relate the terms of exchange (sex for needles) in matter of fact tones. They laugh yes, but they are not shocked. Perhaps we as the audience are meant to grasp the exploitive nature of the strangers approach to trade, but in Before Tomorrow that is of little consequence. In both Eskimo and Savage Innocents, it is sex itself (or the prospect of it) that triggers the coming hardship. It does so through conscious decisions of the parties involved. In Before Tomorrow, it is something far more subtle, an exchange understood by no-one present in those opening scenes.

It isn’t hard to see a trace of tragedy in the globalization of the Arctic. So, I suppose it should also come as no surprise the onset of trade would provide a ready subject matter for epic narratives about loss of innocence. These stories carry different inflections, but they also carry a few common themes.

…such as , “beware of strangers with really cool sewing needles.”

A Damnable Dilemma!

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Ah to be just as cool as this! (pun intended)

Ah to be just as cool as this! (pun intended)

Seems like I’m always reading (or hearing) that atheists are just as bad as religious folks. This theme has a few funny variants! Pushy atheists are just as bad as pushy  believers, or maybe they are just as closed minded as fundamentalists. Atheists who force their views on others are just as obnoxious as Christians who do the same.You can add all manner of pejorative adjectives and get the same formula. We non-believers always seem to be just as annoying, just as rude, and get on people’s nerves just as bad as those we criticize.

I guess atheists are justazzy people.

…which I suppose is fair enough, but is being ‘just as’ really just as bad as being what others just are when someone accuses them of being justazzy?

It’s a bit of a dark night where all cows are grey, this world of justazzyness. I guess it’s a question of priorities, and some folks’ priorities don’t leave much place for the the particulars. Those without a damn to give will hear only that others talk too much about a thing and not much about what each has to say about it.

…which makes for a whole lot of justazzyness.

It’s easy enough to imagine the possibilities. We’ve all met the assholes who could easily square this equation off quite nicely. But of course, folks complaining about the justazzyness of non-believers are rarely clear about just what it takes to cross the line into justazzyness. It could as easily be a thoughtful question as a bit of snark; just likely to be respectful disagreement as a bitter bit of insult. I can’t help thinking in most cases one enters the land of justazzyness simply by stating a point of view in the first place.

My old high school used to suspend both parties in a fight, even if one clearly attacked the other. To them defending yourself was just as much a ticket to the principal’s office as picking a fight to begin with. This would seem to have been just as much a case of justazzism as the one that has me up at this fricking hour. It’s 3:30am fer fuck’s sake! And my dreams no doubt find this topic just as poor an excuse for keeping them waiting as any other.

Soon, dammit!

Oddly enough I can’t help thinking this justazzitude is just as unfair to the justazzinination as it is for the justazzinandum. It can be no better to be a measure of damnation than it is to be damned for opposing the damnable. But of course that’s just as one would expect it to be. But is it really a forgone conclusion that faith imparts an evil to anything that shares a measure of whatever it may be? Is belief really such a settled villain that the only question left is will it take its foes down with into a Hell of great peevishness? I’m no friend of Jesus, and even I wouldn’t say it’s such a settled matter as that. But who could fault a fellow for saying no to anything so easily dismissed as that? Who but someone who really just wants the issue off the table whatever the costs ad whatever the merits of the parties involved?

What a damnable state it must be to live in a world where one can neither affirm nor deny with anything more than a shrug and a meh!

It’s a tragic narrative I suppose. An unbeliever confronts the monsters of superstition and gullibility only to find himself becoming a monster in the eyes of a third party. Try as he might, our soldier of reason can only see in those eyes staring back at him  the very darkness he seeks to combat. There is no argument against apathy. But is faith not the original sin for this tragedy, a seed which bears fruit in the form of a rotten dilemma? One may accept it, or one may just as well accept it in the act of denial. Damned if you do and damned if you might as well have anyway.

You have to wonder! Will those impatient souls who make no distinction keep to that mood Saturday and Monday as well as Tuesday and Friday? Or will they take a side some day, perhaps one which is just as present today in their thoughts as it will be when they at least choose to voice it? Not that they will wish to discuss the matter then, now, or ever.

…which is just as frustrating to some of us anyway.

I expect this rant makes just about as much sense as a kite in a bowl of soup, but then again, I’m feeling kinda justazzy tonight.

Anyway, I guess we’ll have cause for concern when folks start talking more about how religious folks are just as bad as unbelievers.

RedskinsFacts Does the Meta-Hypocrisy Shuffle

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(Click to Embiggen)

The accusation of hypocrisy can be a very effective means of facilitating the same. Case in point? This little gem from Redskinsfacts.com. I hesitate to post it, because the link will take you to Blaze TV, which is Glenn Beck’s little neck of the net, but well… professional bigots must at times be answered, even if it means giving petulant children more attention than they deserve.

Glenn Beck is in rare form in that video, trying to turn “What’s up my Cracker?” into a thing. It is neither clever nor insightful, though I suppose he thinks it some sort of social commentary. What his use of the phrase does do is help us understand that some folks never outgrow the adolescent desire to piss off the adults in the room, and that those people frequently find their way into the heart’s and minds of those addicted to right wing political porn. You can also hear some bizarre comments about Hitler’s non-existent children in that video along with something about an alleged apology for his actions. There is nothing in the clip to suggest that Beck and company know this little trip through Godwin’s Law is utter bullshit. Rather, they appear to figure this narrative is true, because, well that’s what must have happened, right?

…which is pretty much how history works in the world of Glenn Beck.

All that aside, Beck’s main point (to the extent that he has one) is that the Oneida Nation of New York is building a casino to be named after The Wizard of Oz. What makes this disturbing is its author’s history of racism. L. Frank Baum advocated the complete annihilation of Native Americans. yes he did. They are right about that. Beck and Company find it absurd that a tribe which has been critical of Washington’s football team would honor the work of a racist. In fact, they find it quite hypocritical.

As you can see above, so do the folks at Redskinsfacts.com.

It pains me to say this, but they do have a point. Whatever the merits of The Wizard of Oz in literature, cinema, or simply marketing strategies, it’s difficult to explain why any Native American community would want to be associated with Baum’s work. We could debate the exact equivalent of naming a casino after a work done by an author whose also expressed racist views and the use of a name that directly perpetuates racist stereotypes with every mention made of it throughout the entire football season, but some might think that was splitting hairs (or giant redwood trees, …whatever!). At the end of the day, they do have a point; this is a problem.

Of course the problem doesn’t end there. Inconsistencies abound in politics, and one can hardly point at the second face of someone else without raising questions about his own self-presentation. Beck and company aren’t really trying to get the tribe to drop its plans for a casino named after Baum’s work, and they are certainly uninterested in spreading the word about Baum’s racism. No, this is an opportunistic moment for them, a chance to seize on a misstep by those who threaten their world in some tiny way. Beck and company are defending the name of the Washington football team, and that team is thoroughly invested in racism at every level of its organization. The Oneida Nation of New York could easily reconsider its pans (and let us hope they do), but a change of the Washington team’s name would require re-branding on a scale unimaginable to some folks. If this is a tale of two racisms it is a tale in which one of them is a Hell of a lot more important than the other. Beck and company know this, and they are hoping their audience doesn’t. As explained by one of Beck’s talking heads, the name of the team has always been used to honor Native Americans.

…he is of course lying.

It’s interesting to watch Beck and company run through the motions of pretending to discuss the issue as one of his talking heads plays good cop to the other guy’s bad cop. His sole effort in defense of the Oneida is to remind us of Washington Team’s name and to add that they are playing football. That’s it. That’s what Beck and company offer to speak for the case against the Washington team’s name. And of course they move on to suggest that the Oneida must be trying to accomplish something secret in attacking the team name. Bad cop can’t quite tell us what that is, and of course he’s somehow forgotten all the other Native Americans who also oppose the team name, but he can probably rely on most of Beck’s audience to forget this as well. Ultimately, the bottom line in this segment is a clear defense of the Washington Team by mans of a simple tu quoque fallacy.

If Beck and company say “what about you” loud enough, they hope everyone will forget about their own politics and those they hope to support through segments like this.

This is of course also the only reason the folks at Redskins Facts bring it up as well. They too are not the least bit interested in saving any indigenous people from exposure to the racist views of L. Frank Baum. They merely hope to embarrass a political enemy by pointing out the inconsistency of linking themselves to the work of a racist while opposing their own team name. They are right to the extent that there is an inconsistency in this, but that inconsistency stands like a mirror reflection of their own agenda. They hope to deflect attention from the racism saturating their own politics by calling attention to the hypocrisy of one of their principle critics. In doing so, they themselves become hypocrites themselves, and their sole hope is that no-one will notice the reflexive nature of the problem.

We can well ask if the Oneida should be building this casino while opposing the name of the Washington football team. We can also ask if RedskinsFacts.com, Glenn Beck, and all his talking heads ought to be complaining about what an Indian tribe chooses to name its casino while defending a sports team with an explicitly racist name?

I’m guessing the better answer is ‘no’ on both counts, but then again, we all know we won’t be getting that kind of answer from the folks pushing this story any time soon.

Underdogs All the Way Up!

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Sled dogs waiting patiently

So, I am enjoying the Alaska Native Studies conference in Fairbanks last weekend, and one of the many things that keeps catching my attention is a persistent use of outside authority for a kind of whipping boy. I hear about how ‘the media’ portrays Alaska natives and minorities i general. I hear complaints about The Federal Government, academia, and ‘the system’ in general. Different people have thought these phrases through to different degrees, so the quality of the references vary from the completely vacuous posture to reasonably well defined concerns.

Meh, nothing particularly new under the sun (unless it’s a rather Northy start for the Iditarod which began right in front of the Hotel I was staying at this year, …a couple hours after I flew out. …dammit!) I haven’t attended many academic conferences in the last decade or so, but this is hardly new to me. I just have to cast my mind back a bit to remember how often I used to hear this theme in the old days of my grad work.

…or I could just remember the last time I visited more conservative friends and family down South. They too like to complain about the Federal Government. They too like to complain about academia. (Oh yes they do!) And they too can sometimes be heard to talk disparagingly of something called ‘the system.’

I am keenly aware of the fact that these groups often argue for radically different political goals, but I am rather struck by the fact that they do so using remarkably similar narratives. Each seems rather consistently to present themselves as countering the effects of some overarching authority that resides somewhere out there, so to speak. But this is hardly unusual. In America, at least, most people seem to frame their politics in populist terms. That includes the most well-funded of incumbent political candidates and their supporters. It also includes people arguing for the clear and forceful exercise of political authority just as it includes those arguing against such authority, and it includes all manner of politics falling somewhere in between. It isn’t just that we can’t always tell who is exercising authority and who is objecting to it. What strikes me about this is the fact that the common preference lies on the down-side of the equation. It seems as though everyone wants to be the underdog, and you could take a lantern about in the day looking for someone who will happily cop to playing the man to all his low-brow critics.

In the culture wars lefties typically presented themselves as countering long-term abuse of authority by privileged parties; their right wing opponents bash PC politics and the liberal establishment that tells them what to do and what to say. Evangelical Christians complain of persecution in schools and other government institutions even as secularists fight against believer-bias in those same institutions. And how many religions count oppression somewhere in their founding narratives? (Probably as many as appear in each others’ oppression narratives, I should think.) Climate scientists struggle against well-funded corporations to counter the effects of powers both political and mechanical even as climate skeptics buck the authority of a plot to spread government authority. Some folks will burn a flag to protest the authority of government. Others will wave it to flaunt their patriotism in the face of ‘elitists’ who don’t like it. Even Hollywood actors sneer at the culture of Hollywood, and the educational reformers who crash upon the curriculum in waves of paperwork and conference panels always seem to see themselves as flying in the face of some institutional conventions. Retention and Persistence specialists complain about professor-sages who just want to pronounce wisdom to their students from a lectern and those same professors complain of reformers using administrative leverage to force dubious changes and undermine academic freedom. Advocates of gay marriage often appeal to personal freedom even as its opponents appeal to personal freedom to disregard such marriages.

Indie this and Indie that! (Just cross-apply this theme to movies, music, fashion designers, writers, and Hell, most likely fish-tank designers at this point. I wonder if guppies complain of pretentious betas while zebra fish moan about the abuse of authority of neon tetras.)

…okay, the fish tank bit was probably a bit of a stretch, but hey I’m trying to buck a system here!

Some of these narratives are more authentic than others, and I certainly don’t mean to suggest that all these agendas are really of equal value, but I am interested in the way so many different political views (some of them diametrically opposed) seem to vie for the moral low-ground. It really is fascinating to see just how ubiquitous the underdog status seems to be in contemporary political rhetoric. Sure, those with political power will exercise it, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who frames a political agenda in terms of a straight forward claim to authority and an equally straight forward intention to use it. Even those with tremendous power seem to present their exercise of that authority to some other regime at power.

When at last we meet the Man so to speak, he usually tells us that he is new to the job and only there to finally undue the damage done by the real Man, the guy with all the power who is only just out of office (and probably lurking somewhere nearby). That other man, the real man, is the real bastard. He has power even when he doesn’t, and it’s his abuse of that power that necessitates the use of power by real people in charge of real institutions.

…who always seem to be underdogs despite themselves.

I sometimes wonder at this vacuum into which all authority seems to escape. Is it purely a function of rhetoric? To listen to folks, the real power always seems to lie somewhere else. And yet it must really exist or all this rhetoric is hot air. And of course we do encounter power and authority in our daily lives, but its presence is almost always akin to a force of nature. It is a fact with which we must contend even if we cannot find a cogent case for it. And when one looks for that case, so often we find only a case against some other use of power.

Could it be that all this obligatory underdogging be a product of cognitive bias? Is it easier to see authority in others and damned hard to feel the power of authority when it’s in your own hands? There is often (perhaps always) a little bluff in the exercise of authority, a little sense that its successful use depends on the willingness of others to accept it.

I once TAed for a professor who liked to mock his own authority. The students were not reassured by his self-deprecating humor. He might have hoped to communicate that he didn’t take himself too seriously, but what his students heard was that he didn’t take his position seriously, and most particularly, that he didn’t take seriously the responsibilities of that position and the limitations of his authority. This was underdog failure at its finest and most cringe-worthy.

And I suppose this is what bothers me the most about it all. I can’t help but see in the collective impact of all this underdogging something a bit like the students saw in that professor a marked inability to grapple with the authority that people actually do have and very clearly will use. We can’t all be under-doggier than the next guy. Or if we can, then perhaps it says something rather sad and ironic about the value of low-brow politics. For one reason or another, it is often more effective to position oneself as the underdog than the authority.

And if you can get by with wielding authority while pretending to be that underdog?

Well, ain’t that just the cat’s pajamas!

 

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