Saturday, November 23, 2013

Sin of Omission

Red-cheeked, I have to admit that I went through my own phase of American Indian obsession as an adolescent, born out of, yes, noble savage romanticism. Oh, I was ridiculous. Bone jewelry. Long hair dyed raven-black. Books on everything from Indian languages, at the respectable end of the spectrum, to money-grubbing pseudo-mysticism written by pale people of dubious ancestry with names like Samuel Squatting Bear on the other. To be fair to myself, I outgrew it because even then, I was aware that such interests were widely seen as clichés. So I kept my eyes and ears open and eventually ended up paying more attention to the American Indian Movement than dreamcatchers and handcrafted medicine pouches. There's no real moral to that story, though — you generally just come away subdued and depressed by the immensity of the hopelessness. I certainly realized in a hurry that I was not made of stern enough stuff for devoted activism. (I did meet Dennis Banks once, which was cool.) No, I just mention it to lay my cards on the table, to stress that I have more than a passing interest in the topic.

You've probably heard that the twitosphere is in the midst of another frenzied point-and-denounce episode, this time over the Alabama high school which mixed a reference to the Trail of Tears in with the usual pre-game trash-talking. "What? Too soon?" Yes, I'm afraid so. Bad taste indeed. Give it a few hundred years. By then, it should all be good, clean fun, just like how you don't see any groups of indigenous Orcadian descendants today claiming to be triggered by the existence of a football team named in honor of the vicious, colonialist Norsemen who raped and pillaged the villages of their ancestors. You know what, I think I might just do that to entertain myself. Look for me crusading on behalf of the memory of my people on Twitter in the upcoming days! #IndigenousOrkneyNeverForget

But I digress. So, yeah, there are already a thousand unimaginative bloggers telling you what you already know like they think you're a fucking moron or something — teenagers are impulsive and often stupid, racism is a Bad Thing, and hey, since this is not the first but the second American Indian issue to seize the public's imagination in recent months (up from the usual number of "zero"), maybe we can have us one of them Teachable Moments. Oh, for the love of the Great Spirit, go jackhammer-fuck yourselves, you tedious bastards. Stating the bleeding obvious bores the fuck out of me. Instead, I will just point out that these kids likely thought the play on words was more clever than offensive because as far as they're concerned, American Indians only exist as abstractions, barely more than an artifact of this nation's collective mythology. I mean, how many do you know? How many reservations have you visited? How many popular movies, books and cable docudramas have been devoted to the reality of Indian life today as opposed to rehashing Dances With Wolves-territory? Hell, for all the link-aggregator-type sites I read each day, Metafilter provided the only instance in my recent memory of a link to a story about the grim reality of reservation life. It's not exactly what they would call a trending topic.

Which brings us back to that other issue. And honestly, the only really interesting thing about all of this is the delightful coincidence of seeing the crusaders for changing the Redskins' name simultaneously treating natives as equally abstract symbols.

Exhibit A: the article I linked to last month. This was so unbelievably "meta", it just floored me. A bunch of white jerkoffs talking about their feelings about a satirical newspaper's take on an abstract logo from the sports/entertainment world. "No Native Americans were affected, adversely or otherwise, during the making of this navel-gazing episode." Except in the most generic, superficial way, they don't care about the minorities on whose behalf they are so generously offended, any more than they deeply care about the few dozen other things they tweeted about that day. The most "problematic" aspect of this, to use that beloved buzzword of the social justards, is the fact that it impinged upon their ability to enjoy their entertainment with a clear conscience. As is so often the case, this was just another opportunity for typical guilt-ridden, Internet-savvy progressives, like modern-day Victorians, to project their neuroses and obsessions onto the backdrop of the wider world. These people are pathetic truffle pigs who squeal in delighted outrage whenever they root out another trivial instance of this-ism or that-phobia; once their flickering attention span is distracted by the next pseudo-issue, they'll go right back to knowing and doing absolutely nothing about the lives of actual, living American Indians.

Don't get me wrong — sure, the name is embarrassingly outdated, go ahead and change it, whatever. It very well could happen at some point, but likely not until after Daniel Snyder comes to an agreement with the NFL for tens of millions in compensation over the inconvenience of having to completely overhaul his franchise and rebrand it. Money talks, cheap outrage walks. I'm not sure how paying a rich guy tons of additional money in exchange for a feel-good victory would advance social justice, but sure, fine, should that be the case, give yourselves a congratulatory handjob and settle back for some guilt-free fun. Until the whole brain-injury issue starts to gain serious traction...