Monday, May 06, 2013

"Indian American" in Francesca Lia Block's PINK SMOG

A few days ago, I wrote about Francesca Lia Block's now-classic Weetzie Bat. Although I appreciate that the gay relationship in it was groundbreaking in 1989 when it was published, I can't--and won't--move past Block's portrayal of American Indians. Or, I should say, her MISportrayal of Native culture.

I started reading Pink Smog this evening. Ping Smog is new. Published in 2012, it is billed as a prequel to Weetzie Bat. It is about Weetzie in junior high school in L.A.  It is easier to read than Weetzie Bat, which is filled with oddly named characters right away. I stumbled each time I had to read and write out the name of Weetzie's boyfriend, My Secret Agent Lover Man.


Imagine me on my couch, reading Pink Smog.

Now, imagine me reading at the top of page 27, where Weetzie is talking about Cher:
Sometimes she'd be an Indian American with feathers, straddling a horse, and sometimes she'd be a showgirl with feathers.
Now imagine me rolling my eyes.

Indian American? Really?! Surely Block knows that "Indian American" is commonly used to refer to Indians from India who live in the United States and identify as Indian and American!

Ok, well, maybe she does NOT know that... Maybe it isn't that widely known. But what about her editor? Doesn't her editor know the difference?

Based on the excerpts of Editorial Reviews on the Amazon page, people think Pink Smog is "intoxicating" and "sparkles." Obviously it does for some people, but for me--a Native reader--the "Indian American" shatters anything I might call sparkly about the story. And I'm guessing that Indian American readers might have that same feeling of being yanked out of the story by the author's ignorance.

Ah well.

Just for kicks, here's Cher in the feathers, on the horse:

Do I want to look up Cher's identity? Is she Native? I don't think so, but I'm calling it a night. Not looking up Cher.

I read Pink Smog thinking that it might shed some light on why Weetzie is "into Indians" (in Weetzie Bat), but other than the reference to Cher, the "Indian American," there's nothing about Native people or culture.

Next up? I've got copies of Baby BeBop and Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys... What will I find in them?


TAndracki said...

I've not seen Pink Smog yet, but this is bizarre and utterly ridiculous. Thank you for drawing attention to this unchecked misportrayal.

I've only ever read Weetzie Bat and Baby Be-bop. I don't remember any Native imagery in the latter, but it has been a while, and it was a very important book for me in other ways. I've got it here with me, and flipped through it briefly, but don't have time to do an in-depth investigation. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

According to a number of sources Cher is of Armenian and Cherokee heritage while other sources indicate Irish and German. Apparently she didn't start talking about the Cherokee heritage (1/16) until she released Half-Breed. It's possible that, like many of "Heinz 57" Americans who have complex self-identication issues, she didn't always list every part of her ancestry. She is not listed on the Native American Music Awards page that lists confirmed or reported Native heritage.

Barb said...

I read and loved the Weetzie Bat books when they first came out. I didn't then and don't now think they are about anything that really exists. The books are fables, presenting a world that doesn't and can't exist. One of the strongest features of that world is the fact that in Weetzie's world, adults and children are expected to play by the same rules, basically the Golden Rule. In the real world, adults have responsibilities and children have restrictions. When my sons were in high school, I was astounded by the number of idiotic and unnecessary restrictions imposed on people who were almost adult. In that context, the mythical world of Weetzie Bat was very refreshing. With the "into Indians" comments and the talk of powwows, feathers, etc, Block was giving us a quick snapshot of a girl, shallow and superficial, not a deep thinker, who is trying to lead a moral and ethical life. I think it shows that real morality is intrinsic to the human condition and not a product of culture and religion. I think the characters Weetzie and Cherokee would be horrified to think that their basically innocent fascination with ritual, feathers, glitter, and stereotypical "Indian" things, could be insulting to someone. I grew up on a working ranch in the Southwest. Central to that culture was the concept of "drugstore cowboys" AND "drugstore Indians". My father was a real cowboy. I understood always that drugstore Indians, like drugstore cowboys, did not have anything to do with real Native Americans of any tribe. Weetze was into drugstore Indians. I concede that there might be some who might confuse Weetzie's "Indians" with an attempt to portray Native Americans. I would like to think most of Block's readers will recognize it as a fable and not confuse it with a reality.