Thursday, May 2, 2013

The annoying falseness of reality

Reading about English actor Ben Kingsley playing a part Maori character and the associated complications (Maori Cliff Curtis as Colombians and characters from the Middle East etc) reminded me of when I toured ten years ago with Cherokee writer/broadcaster Thomas King. He spoke of a woman he met in Europe (on a train, I think) who refused to believe he was Cherokee, and said 'You're not the Indian I had in mind.' By that she meant that he didn't fit the stereotypical 'Indian' of so many film narratives. It was an interesting case of the fictional narrative replacing the real narrative, and the audience then taking umbrage at the 'falseness' of reality. Reminds me of both Umberto Eco and his riffing on the 'hyper-real' and Baudrillard and his 'Simulacrums.'

The fictional portrayal is often more convenient, for the dominant power and its audience, than the real one. It allows both engagement and disengagement, simultaneously. Engagement with the piece of the narrative which keeps the 'other' in their place, providing comforting views of their differences, and often putting them safely in a separate timeframe. At the same time it drops the curtain over the grit and sharpness of the reality - of its 'nowness.'

It is interesting though that the other displaying their otherness is only welcomed when bid by the dominant force, not when confronted in its own context. An example would be the anger of the Australian government at the Aboriginal activists at the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games. The games contained convenient references and illustrations that highlighted the Aboriginal experience deemed fit for international viewing. The reality was very different.

It makes me think also of the reaction of the Danish politician in NZ recently, against a Maori welcome. It seemed to me much  of her anger was that no-one sought her permission to confront her, especially in a surrounding that seemed so 'European.'

Complicated territory to negotiate, and having to go through so much BS narrative doesn't help us confront the reality. Narrative is used in many ways, and for many very different reasons. 

Thomas King wrote a poem about his experience, and it underpins this multi-person reading in this excellent short film.

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