Tuesday, June 03, 2014

"War whoop" in Gayle Forman's IF I STAY

One of the big names right now is Gayle Forman. Her book, If I Stay, is big and gonna be a movie, too. So--I figured I ought to take a look at the book. I opened the preview at Amazon and read the first page. I stopped reading...

The book opens on the morning of a snowfall. Not a lot of snow, but enough that school is cancelled (p. 3):
"My little brother, Teddy, lets out a war whoop when Mom's AM radio announces the closures."
Really? Did Teddy run around the house going woo-woo-woo by patting his hand over his mouth as he said "woooo"?!

"War whoop" is one of those phrases that yank me out of the story an author is telling.

If you look up "war whoop" you'll see that it is defined as being specific to Native people, but you probably already knew that, right? That is, if you even noticed that phrase as you read it (assuming you read Forman's book).

It isn't an innocuous expression. Subtly it affirms stereotypes people carry around. You know what I'm talking about.. The idea that Native people were warlike, barbaric, and savage. Another phrase like that? "On the warpath."

The truth? Native people were fighting to defend our homelands and to protect our women and children. You know damn well that you'd fight, too, and you'd definitely be yelling.

Gayle Forman did not have to use "war whoop" to describe the exuberance her character felt. Nothing is lost if she'd just said "My little brother, Teddy, shouts with glee when Mom's AM radio announces the closures."

Given that her book is going to be on the big screen---what will we see when that scene is turned into a script? Goodness! I hope Teddy doesn't emerge from his bedroom in a headdress. If you're reading this, Gayle, maybe you can make sure THAT doesn't happen.

For now, I'm not getting her book, and this post will be added to AICL's "All you do is complain" page on common phrases.


Anonymous said...

I have to disagree that "shouts with glee" gives the same feeling as "war whoop". Having two children and working in a school, "shouts with glee" doesn't really capture the mood that students have when a snow day is called, whereas "war whoop" does capture that feeling.

Anonymous said...

I think "whoop" might have been adequate. The problem is not so much that Forman's characters whoop with glee but that the idea of whooping has been associated with Native people. As though the Celts never whooped, or the Vikings. Or the Crusaders for that matter, or Columbus and his buddies. I'm almost certain they didn't carry out their heinous crimes in total silence. It's infuriating how the savage aspects of ALL human history have somehow been retrofitted exclusively onto native people.