Warehouse 13: “Elements” and Race Issues

5 08 2009
Warehouse 13: “Elements”
I started this episode with an audible “OH, NO.”  The scene opens with New Agey flute music and a generic Indian performing a generically Indian ceremony over some sort of tiny generic statuette in a generic cave under the surface of Manhatten.  Visually, this is not promising, but I really wonder what language he is speaking, and how well.  If the voiceover is relatively accurate, that’s something, at least.
Cut to present-day NYC, with someone pulling up the hood on what looks to my admittedly non-expert eyes like a generically Indian  magic cloak that enables the wearer to walk through walls (and also carries its own hip-hop soundtrack, too!).  This is not a particularly sophisticated invocation of the Lenape: they’re figured, as First Nations people usual are, as mystical Others with a unique connection to the land.
Also, Artie takes one look at a <em>feather</em> and says “Looks Native American”?!  Because only the First Nations ever use feathers?  Later he gets more specific: we’re meant to be looking at a Lenape shaman or something in that first scene (did the Lenape have shamans?).  So that gets a bit better, I suppose, in acknowledging a tribe at the very least.
I do feel like Weaver’s repetition of “It’s not meant for you” in the climactic cave scene acknowledges the imperialist creepiness of
I also still really like Leena and I wish she were given a chance to talk about anything that does not involve helping  the white people ~*~understand themselves~*~!  For the first few minutes of the scene between Leena and Claudia, I thought we were going to pass the Bechdel test.  But I think it violates the spirit of the Bechdel test to have the two women characters talk about something that isn’t a man if one of them is still falling into skeevy racial stereotypes.
A note on terminology: I interchange “Indian” with “First Nations” because those are generally the terms that I have seen people of Native descent prefer to use themselves when they don’t use tribe names.  “Native American,” as I understand, is a term that was decided on by white people.

I started this episode with an audible “OH, NO.”  The scene opens with New Agey flute music and a generic American Indian performing a generically Indian ceremony over some sort of tiny generic statuette in a generic cave under the surface of Manhatten.  Visually, this is not promising, but I really wonder what language he is speaking, and how well.  If the voiceover is relatively accurate, that’s something, at least.

Cut to present-day NYC, with someone pulling up the hood on what looks to my admittedly non-expert eyes like a generically “Indian”  magic cloak, which enables the wearer to walk through walls (and carries its own hip-hop soundtrack, too!).  This is not a particularly sophisticated invocation of the Lenape: they’re figured, as First Nations people usual are, as mystical Others with a unique connection to nature and the land.  In this case, that connection is so pure as to allow supernatural manipulation of the elements.

It all just seems so very stereotypical!  I am, of course, more than willing — excited, even — to be proven wrong.  I don’t know enough about Lenape culture to know how accurate any of the representations of Lenape art and language are.  But it all seems pretty generic to me.

Also problematic for me was when Artie takes one look at the feather and says “Looks Native American.”  Because only the First Nations ever use feathers?  Later, however, he at least acknowledges the name of the Lenape, which is one tiny step in the right direction.

I do feel like Weaver’s repetition of “It’s not meant for you” in the climactic cave scene acknowledges the imperialist creepiness of the white dudes collecting Lenape and Lenape-related artifacts in order to find the sacred cave and therefore master the elements.  We’ve had 500 years of fantasies of white domination already; without Weaver’s saying that, this episode really would feel like yet another un-self-conscious instance of it.  And yet the elements are themselves white fantasies: the Water of Eternal Life, in particular, plays into the same myth of the Fountain of Youth that Ponce de Léon kept pursuing.  In fact, the four “superpowers” bestowed by the four elements in the cave all represent what Europeans dreamed they would find in the New World, and the idea of there being a secret cave hidden underneath NYC that would provide all of those things only contributes to the notion that the Lenape and other tribes had Secret Knowledge about how to dominate the earth, but that they nobly safeguarded that knowledge (and therefore the earth) from the greedy rapaciousness of others.

It’s another aspect of the myth of the Noble Savage.  The problem is really that even though this story has an American Indian artifact at the center, the Lenape themselves don’t matter at all to the story.  The artifact is just a plot device, something to enable the white characters to work through conflict and save the day.  There’s no depth to the representations of non-white characters.

Which reminds me: I still really like Leena and I wish she were given a chance to talk about anything that does not involve helping  the white people ~*~understand themselves~*~!  I was so excited for the first few minutes of the scene between Leena and Claudia — I thought we were going to pass the Bechdel test at last!  But even though the two women only talked about Claudia, I think it violates the spirit of the Bechdel test to have the two women characters talk about something that isn’t a man if one of them is still falling into skeevy racial stereotypes.

But what do you think, friendly reader?

A note on terminology: I interchange “Indian” and “American Indian” with “First Nations” because those are generally the terms that I have seen people of Native descent prefer to use themselves when they don’t use tribe names.  “Native American,” as I understand, is a term that was decided on by white people.





Celebrities: Diversifying Power

15 07 2009

I just wanted to make a note of the Forbes top five influential women in media: in order, Oprah Winfrey, Diane Sawyer, Ellen DeGeneres, and Tyra Banks. I am impressed that of those five, two are African-American and one is lesbian.

Of Forbes’s top 100 celebrities, the top five include Angelina Jolie, Oprah, Madonna, Beyonce, and Tiger Woods; you don’t get a white dude until #6, Bruce Springsteen, who beats Steven Spielberg at #7, and then it’s Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt, and Kobe Bryant to round out the top 10.  So of the top 10 most powerful celebrities, five are men and five are women.  It’s like the general population is also half male and half female!  Amazing!  And, interestingly (to me), four of the top ten are African-American or mixed race.  Again, it’s almost as if a significant portion of the US is not white!  Astounding!

I’d like to see what smarter people with economic training have to say, but I’m struck by the methodology for calculating the Celebrity 100:

The Celebrity 100 is a measure of power based on money and fame. Earnings estimates, which include income from films, television shows, endorsements, books and other entertainment ventures, are calculated between June 2008 and June 2009. Figures were rounded off where appropriate. Sources include Billboard, Pollstar, Adams Media Research, Nielsen SoundScan, Nielsen BookScan, Nielsen Media Research and SNL Kagan. Fame is calculated using Web hits on Google Blog Search, TV/radio mentions on LexisNexis, overall press mentions on Factiva and the number of times a celebrity’s image appeared on the cover of 25 consumer magazines.

Which 25 consumer magazines?  What’s the demographic for each of them?  I’m just wondering about using magazine covers to gauge fame when as far as I know, magazine subscriptions have been dwindling.  I assume we’re talking about magazines like People, Vogue, Cosmo, and other checkout-line staples, where anyone who buys groceries ends up seeing the faces on the cover.  But I’d like to know more specifically which magazines count and which don’t.  Rolling Stone probably does, I would imagine, but how many magazines are included in their list that target Latin@s, for example, which make up a significant portion of the population?  Does Forbes, as I suspect they do, privilege magazines targeted at middle-class white women?

The list of the 400 richest Americans is more revealing, though: there are only four women in the top 60, and it’s not until you hit #60 that you finally see a face that isn’t white: Patrick Soon-Shiong, just ahead of Steve Jobs.  Don’t worry, white dudes: you’ve still got wealth and power locked in, in spite of the way you’ve voiced your fears over the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor (*cough*LindseyGraham*cough*).





Dollhouse 01×07: Echoes (SPOILERS)

28 03 2009

HERE is the Whedon I’ve been waiting for!  This episode grabbed me from the beginning.  It’s a premise that makes sense (except I kept wondering how her stockings stayed up), with emotional stakes that matter, and FINALLY we get the character conflicts that the show has been building up since the first episode.  It’s a shame that the first half of the season was so dreadful.  This is making even that part of it worthwhile.

Except — holy crap, why did it have to be the black guy who turned out to be the murderer?  Seriously?  Throughout most of the show I was so impressed that a black guy was cast as one of the grad students, and then he turned out to be less than honorable.  GAH.  They gave him a halfway decent motive — he wants to help his mother — but that doesn’t solve the problem.  And the fact that he is set up to become a new doll at the end of the show doesn’t really make it any better.  Is there a larger point here about certain experiences of black masculinity?  I’d like to think so, to see this as a condemnation of the structures that force young black men into untenable choices.  But I’m not sure that we get enough information about and sympathy for Sam’s character for that to be the best interpetation.

Still: best episode yet.