An Inconvenient Indian: Part 1

I’ve never known a lot about Aboriginal history in North America, and I would fall asleep in history class, so reading about it from the witty perspective of Guelph author Thomas King seemed like the perfect fit for me.

Note: This book is non-fiction and is about an ongoing issue, so my analysis of it may be different than others.

An Inconvenient Indian is, as the cover says, “a curious account of Native people in North America.” It’s author, Thomas King, is Native himself, and does not shy away from including his own remarks and frank explanations of how Western culture shaped the image of Indigenous people. You can tell he is done holding white peoples’ hand and rightly so; it’s been decades, centuries, and though mass genocides have generally stopped, the government and society as a whole have been dragging their feet to right their wrongs or to have any native representation in the media. Their only representation is when their culture is commodified, either as a racist symbol on a sports team or tub of butter, or in the ways their cultural practices have been whitewashed into “luxury retreats”.

King remarks that “‘Our relationship with the earth’-sounds worn out and corny. But that’s not the fault of Native people. Phrases such as ‘Mother Earth,’ ‘in harmony with nature’, and ‘seven generations’ have been kidnapped by White North America and stripped of their power.” (King 67) He then went on to list the many brands and products in our daily life that have taken Native phrases or titles and made them the name of a thing that has absolutely nothing to do with Indigenous culture. One of those products I actually own. I use all natural cleaning product “Seventh Generation,” and had no idea that it was a phrase from Native culture-I just thought it meant that the company was in the family for seven generations!  Obviously, I won’t be buying it again, but the point King makes connects to his theory of “Dead Indian”: Western culture does not see Native culture as an evolved, modern society, and doesn’t want to. What they (or we) want instead is to see the stereotypical “Indian”, with a headdress and bone necklace, who is stoic and speaks “wisely” and lives in a tipi, because God-forbid they stray from that image and live in a wigwam or a longhouse.

As a reader, I find this book to be incredibly educational so far.  I’ve never felt educated enough on this important topic, and I want to be able to encourage discussion and be an ally to Indigenous rights without becoming a “White Saviour.” This book serves as a reminder that while yes, Native people have been treated horrendously, they are not a charity case. Most media outlets covering Indigenous rights paint them with a broad brush stroke as one group. An Inconvenient Indian brings back the humanness to this issue, making it about individuals instead of one, historically obscured, cause. I can’t wait to read the rest.

Is Anything Original?

I love July Talk, in case I’ve never mentioned it before. An amazing Canadian indie-rock band that actively makes an effort to make their concerts safe spaces and does not shy away from politics, baring a very feminist philosophy and using their platform to point out social injustices, particularly in Indigenous communities. Their new record, Touch, came out in September 2016, for which they’ve already won a Juno and a Prism prize for. My favourite track from that record is Beck + Call, a song about being stuck under a lover’s thumb, featuring backing vocals of Inuit throat-singing from Tanya Tagaq.

So imagine my shock and horror when I read his tweet, retweeted by Ian Docherty, a member of July Talk:

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This couldn’t be true. Indie bands are supposed to be independent, original! Could my beloved alt-rock band July Talk sound the same as my beloved alt-rock band The Black Keys? I had to google this.

Sure enough, the intros have the same beat/rhythm. (Please do yourself a google as this basic plan won’t let me upload video/audio.) I was shocked, shocked I tell you! How dare something not be completely original and never heard of before and – you get the point, I didn’t really care. Sure, they have the same beat, but the songs go in different directions and have different sounds to them. I don’t consider a single beat/rhythm/note to be exclusive and that to use it in more than one song to be a copy- it’s when more than one of those elements are used. For example, Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” uses all the same bass-line, piano keys, and cymbal “tsk”s as Queen’s “Under Pressure”. It was a blatant copy. Beck + Call vs Howlin for You, though? Just a similar beat.

The argument really begins to flare up when we talk about remixes, particularly in hiphop, an entire genre built upon the concept of cutting and pasting sounds. I love Netflix’s The Get Down, so when Grandmaster Flash was referenced in this video I got very excited, mainly because it reminded me that he’s actually a real guy and not just a character from the show.

One of the bigger themes from season 2 of The Get Down is questioning the legitimacy of hip hop music. Set in the Bronx in the late 1970’s, The Get Down explores the birth of hip hop through the eyes of (dreamy) Ezekiel, as he explores his passion in poetry through hip hop, while his (even dreamier) girlfriend Mylene pursues her career as a rising disco star.

Mylene hates that Ezekiel is into hip hop, stating that it’s not even “real music”, and that it won’t get him anywhere in life. (Uh, way to be a supportive partner, Mylene!) The Get Down also faces the problem of copyright laws; they want to get big but how can any label sign to them if the work they make is with copyrighted songs? They’ll get sued into oblivion, causing them to be stuck in a rut of only underground gigs, with no way up.

The messages brought up in The Get Down are ones that I personally don’t think about very often, but that I agree with. I don’t believe that remixes are complete ripoffs, in fact nowadays most remixes have the title(s) of the original songs used as their titles. It’s in cases like Led Zepplin, where they use iconic bits but perhaps play it in a different key and refuse to credit the original source, that it turns into copyright infringement. I feel like certain remixes could almost be classified as parodies sometimes. If it’s just 2 or more songs cut and pasted together, with nothing original added from the DJ, like a mashup, then they didn’t really rip them off, did they? They never claimed to have written the songs they mashed together, they simply reworked them. But a remix with only a few distinctly recognizable elements of another song with added orignal work from the creator? Well then, that needs some credit.

Serial Kills It

I’m not really a podcast listener, so the fact that I’m on episode 9 as I write this should be telling enough about how intriguing and addictive Serial is.

Serial, although hard to keep up with at times due to all the facts and theories involved, is nonetheless an incredibly in depth look at the criminal justice system in America, particularly with the focus of a 1999 murder where the man convicted may have been wrongfully accused. Sarah Koenig takes investigative journalism to new levels in this podcast, ones that she probably would not be able or allowed to take in print media. She makes quips and provides her own theories if she believes them to be solid enough to responsibly share. She’s observant and leaves no stone unturned, managing to fill up just under an hour of time, making for an interesting background conversation while you work on other tasks.

Podcasts are a portable and convenient form of media, making them more accessible and giving them the ability to reach a larger audience – and this certainly shows in Serial, with it being one of the most popular podcasts in North America.  It’s popularity does make me wonder about the effect it would take on the victim’s family. Hae Min Lee was a bright, well-liked high-school student who came from a conservative Korean family; to have this all torn open again as entertainment must have been traumatizing for them. It’s never even mentioned in this episode whether or not the creators of Serial got permission from Hae’s family to talk about this, which personally I find very disrespectful, especially since the podcast was created to question the idea that her accused killer was actually guilty.

Overall, I do find Serial to be a very enjoyable, albeit macabre podcast. As someone who cannot stand gore or jump-scares, I’m glad that Serial decided to take an analytical approach and wasn’t hyperbolic, while still maintaining a creative edge of including interviews with people related to the case, including Adnan himself. It adds to the realism and reminds viewers that this murder actually happened, and was not fictional.

Sarah’s questions about memory connect the audience to the podcast and make them think, thus causing them to really listen and get involved with the episode. I personally have a terrible time remembering things in the chronological order in which they happened. I was a victim of gaslighting for many years that leaves me with trauma to this day; I simply don’t trust my own recollection of reality and would be very easy to pin a murder on. If you asked me what 2+2 was, I’d answer 4, but still whip out a calculator just to be sure. I believe this question already puts the audience in Adnan’s corner; especially when it comes to Jay and his confident, detailed, yet ever-changing stories.

I’d be a fool not to recommend this podcast to anyone who’s a fan of true crime, and feel that although Serial is the recipient of controversial attention, it may serve a good purpose, and if Adnan really is innocent the popularity of the podcast could cause a public uproar and give him justice. I mean, the man’s been in jail for half his life…which is still more than Hae ever got.

Should University English be a requirement into post-secondary programs?

Short answer: No.

The longer answer is more complex; I honestly do not know. I am not a scholar, nor an expert of any kind on this subject matter. However, throughout my life I have read about and listened to stories that come from people of all walks of life. I have read articles and seen arguments from both sides, and I personally feel that the argument for university level English to be a requirement comes from a basis of racism, classism, and a light sprinkling of ableism.

I’m aware that the original statement only asked if senior English should be a requirement for universities, but I’ve decided to look at this in the context of all post-secondary institutions, most of which, by the way, are run by old, white, cisgender men with large salaries.

Our society in North America comes from centuries of imperialism, and much of it has been so heavily ingrained in our modern culture today that we just accept and never question it.

I was born white, I was raised by white parents, and English is my first language. I also live in a society where the main language spoken is English. I have a lot of privilege, so it enrages me when someone who also comes from the same background as me is a stickler for “proper grammar” and “proper English”. I was raised to equate intelligence with how well I could speak, read, and write English. Heck, I even joked that I was a “Grammar Nazi”, an offensive term my parents were proud to call me.

My entire education system taught me that, and it continues to teach this. But as Canada becomes a cultural mosaic, we must step back and take a look at how this impacts others. I know many people far more intelligent than I, who have come from different backgrounds and speak different languages, and therefore may not have great English. This poses a problem as the gateway to their education is heavily based on how well they can write a detailed, properly sourced and cited English essay. I can’t imagine the feeling of shame from the condescending message that you are not as intelligent as someone else because English is not your first language. I know people who have disabilities such as dyslexia, and although it may seem minor, think of all the times you’ve read something with many spelling mistakes and thought that the person who wrote it was less intelligent than you, joked that it looked like something a toddler might do, because you’ve been taught that only “dumb” people don’t know how to write. I know people who come from impoverished backgrounds, who have worries bigger and far more threatening than remembering to use MLA format to get those extra marks.

However, the people who created this education system did not bother to think about that. They had money, they got a good education, and they were surrounded by English their whole life.

I understand that some university programs are very theoretical and essay-heavy, and that ENG4U would properly equip someone going into that field; but for the rest of people going into different areas of work, college-level should be just as acceptable. It teaches the basic necessities of English and how to write an essay, and the ideas of the writer are still communicated effectively to the reader.

I could go on for hours about this, but I don’t think anyone would be bothered to read that, so I give you a general idea of my reasoning. I hope this post serves as a coherent argument that may change the ideology and prejudices some may have. Back to binge-watching Workaholics!