Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Real Indians vs. Fake Indians

Note: This isn't going to be one of those posts where the clueless white woman gets all indignant on behalf of the Indians. Such politically correct rants are condescending, patronizing, and irritating to the ninth degree.

Instead, this is post is just my observations on a recent compare and contrast moment, okay? So please, keep all indignant condescension to a bare minimum. I have enough irritation in my life right now, thanks to the swarms of mosquitoes circling the house.

So, if you read last week's blog, you know that I went and saw Brule', the Native American show down in Branson. If you've read this Thursday's blog (which, admittedly, might require time travel), you'd know that the next night, the family and I went to one of the most popular shows in Branson, Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede.

To recap, Brule' is a show that's half rock opera, half Lakota powwow. It is produced by Lakota Indians. It stars Lakota Indians. You can buy things handmade by Lakota Indians in the gift store. It's the real deal (although slightly Bransonized, but still).

Dixie Stampede, on the other hand, is a so-sanitized-it-squeaks edutainment version of select events in America's past, usually centered around the 1860s. We sat on the North side (not the north side of the building, but the side representing the Union--the capital 'N' North) and booed the tourists sitting on the South side (in between bites of chicken, of course).

At one point in the proceedings, after the pork loin but before the hot wipe, and after the performers (dressed as extremely attractive settlers) had a rousingly well-coordinated hoedown but before the bright, happy saloon 'girls' did a tasteful dance number, the Dixie Stampede had an 'Indian' dance number.

A dancer in a craggly face mask and a blacklight-friendly costume came out and released a bird as he danced around. The bird flew up to the ceiling, and then a female dancer dressed as a Thunderbird with blacklight stripes dropped from a wire from the ceiling. A third guy dressed in day-glo fringe rode around on a horse, pulled the Thunderbird dancer around and sending her flying through the air on her wire, all while the first dancer was getting down to a song that sounded a lot like something Tim McGraw would play in a stadium.

Now, aside from the artistry of combining a (figurative) bird on a wire with a guy riding a galloping horse--it was cool--the contrast between the 'real' Indians we had seen the night before with this 'fake' Indian dance number was stunning.

And again, let's not get indignant here, shall we? I'm fully aware that every danged thing in the Dixie Stampede has been sanitized for my protection. The North and South didn't do battle over pig races; saloons were never so friendly, and settlers have never been so clean and shiny. The only real thing about the whole production were the horses.

And I also want to be clear that I enjoyed the Dixie Stampede. It was fun, in that weird dinner-theater kind of way. The trick riders were amazing--a guy jumped through a flaming hoop while standing on the backs of two horses! Awesome!

But even my husband, who, prior to the Brule' show, had never seen traditional dances or really even seen an American Indian in person, was surprised at the difference between the real and the fake. I wasn't going to say anything, but he pointed the difference out to me (along the lines of "Funny that last night we saw real Indians and tonight . . .").

It was like going diamond shopping at Tiffany's and then spending an hour browsing the 'gems' at a Claire's Boutique in the mall. After you've seen the good stuff, the imitation just doesn't cut it. So, in the future, demand the good stuff. It's worth it.


Barbara Marshak said...

Excellent comparative, Sarah, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. As the author of Paul LaRoche's (aka Brule') biography I'm a bit (okay, a lot) partial toward his shows. Which brings up another point to make... Paul's concerts are much more than a "good show" for tourists to go see. Many times I've seen firsthand how audiences are captivated by the uniqueness of a Brule' performance, I've witnessed hearts being touched, tears shared, and sometimes lives changed. There's a purpose from deep within Paul's heart that drives the Brule' spirit forward, in a way that connects with the audience. They're the real deal, like you say.

So many times I've sat through a concert, sometimes famous people I've waited a long time to see, only to be disappointed because in the back of my mind I'm thinking, "This concert is not as good as Brule'!" So as one of their avid "cheerleaders", I'm happy to see someone who "gets it".

Thanks for sharing!

Kaki said...

What a fun post. I wish I could have been there to see it all. But you do touch on a good point--that fine line authors have to tred when portraying a character from a different gender, race, religion, culture, whatever. We don't get to walk in the shoes of our characters. We can only imagine how they feel or what they think. Most of us work hard to get it right, although sometimes we fall short. Therein lies the rub. Do we try, and run the risk of trivializing the subject/character through our lack of first-hand experience? Or do we shy away from it altogether and stay safe? Seems like we get in trouble either way, but hey, who said this was easy, right?

Sarah M. Anderson said...

Kaki, exactly. After all, I'm writing fiction--how different is that from what I saw at the Dixie Stampede? The shades of gray are particularly grayish in this situation (and yet another reason to avoid indignation).

Barbara, Brule' was so worth the 8+ hours in the car to get there! I think the purpose is the difference--Dixie Stampede is just an entertaining distraction, while Brule' has actual, real meaning. I'm glad you enjoyed the blog!