Sunday, March 31, 2013
In her introduction, Kaplan is straightforward: she argues that we cannot understand American culture without looking at the interconnections between internal and external colonization, because in America, empire-building and nation-building go hand-in-hand. If Deloria argues that Indians are at the heart of American national identity, Kaplan takes that argument a step further and says that empire is at the heart of America; and unlike Deloria, who focuses on cultural play, Kaplan anchors her argument in the very real world of foreign relations, economics, and cultures of subjugating and subjugated peoples. In other words, taking over other countries and colonizing them is part and parcel of what it means to be America, and it has been that way since the colonial era.
John D'Emilio and Estelle Freedman's Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America has the modest goals of surveying the history of American sexuality from the colonial era to the present AND rewriting both American history and sexuality in the process. The authors draw on mostly secondary sources to make three main arguments: that political movements to change sexuality usually occur in the context of larger economic, social, and political upheavals; that gender inequality and sexual politics are inseparable, and that sexual politics develop out of both real and symbolic (or representational) issues. They are also keep to connect individual sexuality with larger cultural constructions of it, and to show that struggles over empowerment and oppression outside the bedroom are often connected to those same struggles within it.
The authors divide their history of US sexuality into four periods, and trace continuities and ruptures within and among them. (No, don't worry, they don't tell a story of slow but steady progress.) These are:
To make this rather complex argument, Deloria traces the American game of playing Indian from the Boston Tea Party and other Revolutionary War incidents through 19th century societies, early 20th century Boy Scouts and Campfire Girls, post-WWII Indian hobbyists, and "new-age pseudo-Indian spirituality." In each of these instances, he shows how Americans played Indian to define themselves: Tea Partiers (the first ones) wanted to imagine themselves as part of the continent's ancient history and to separate themselves from England; 19th century secret societies wanted to show that they possessed secret, authentic, uber-patriotic knowledge; Boy Scouts and Campfire Girls embraced Indian play as an escape from modern consumer society and a return to the primitive and the authentic; Cold War hobbyists sought out real Indian objects and people in the hopes of becoming Indian; new-age multiculturalism turns Indians into fashion statements and distracts cultural attention from the poverty of the Rez.
Because this is a history of American images of Indians and not of Indians themselves, the book focuses on the development of these American institutions and identities more than on the plight of the tribes as they were relocated and forced into reservations, though the real-world history of Native Americans underpins his argument that Indian play does serious cultural and political work. In doing so, he places himself not just within the literature on relationships between Indians and American culture, but also in a growing body of literature on whiteness and othering. Like Roedgier and other whiteness scholars, he draws on a wide variety of cultural sources to show how the other is key to the construction of the self; by viewing Indians through the lens of American Indian play, he also shows how incorporation by a dominant culture always constructs and shapes an oppressed one, politically as well as culturally.