Wednesday, November 01, 2017


A dozen books containing Blackfeet myths exist, because to many people that’s what “Indian” stuff “is.”  Oral campfire tales for children.  Most people, even enrolled and rez-located people aren’t aware of the rather strict patterning and taboos that dictate when and who can tell the stories to preserve their gravitas.  In addition to the religious (in the strictest sense) classifying and regulating stories or even accounts of historical events, the “audience” of white people also has filters on their understanding, in the way that metaphor theory explains that what we have known in the past controls what we will know now and in future.  Then there is the personal point of view.

This story has stayed with me, though when I looked this morning to see if I could find where I first read it, because it is so often apt, I didn’t find it in the pile of books.  The spine of the story is that long ago a new family moved in with one of the Blackfeet clans, but they were not socialized the same way.  Bigger and fiercer than rest of the community, they took up more and more space, were rude and aggressive to the point of fighting violently, and seized whatever food or objects they fancied.  People were hurt, even died, but were afraid to object.

The clan leaders tried to counsel the newcomers, telling them Napi tales about what happened to such reckless people, but they wouldn’t listen.  Finally the Crazy Dogs, or a small volunteer group just like them, conferred among themselves and decided to take action.  When the unwanted group was gathered, the clan enforcers descended on them and killed them all.

This is not very surprising and when it is done well, it’s a welcome story to happen, though not with death anymore.  (Mueller comes to mind.)  The story is told with emphasis on the seriousness of such an act and how unbalancing it is to the clan, first suffering the bad behavior and then knowing that it made them act on the terms of the invaders.  The story eases consciences by telling us that the new family was actually grizzly bears trying to be human.  (You remember that Russia is often styled as a bear.)

The stories we like and repeat are the useful ones and sometimes the secretly true ones, in the way that Kevin Spacey’s portrayal of President Underwood as fluid sexually in terms of gender but rigid in all aspects of rapaciousness turns out to be really Spacey.  Will Netflix remove the BBC English version of “House of Cards”, which I don’t remember having the gay twist?  I predict that both versions of “HofC” will be watched more in the coming weeks than in the past year.  But from quite a different point of view.  Looking at the vid briefly, I see that the “gay” aspect is explicit as a witty buffoon separate from their “master politician.”  This was the expected form in 1990.  Sex winding in and out.  Mixing of murder with old wars.  No blacks, filmed before the splendid actors that have since developed.

Righteous daughters (echoes of Antigone), and plenty of shadows of Shakespeare — inescapable in England the way that the American Confederacy overshadows everything in the States.  The basic line of the action was first outlined in an English book  Andrew Davies adapted the story from a novel written by Michael Dobbs, a former Chief of Staff at Conservative Party headquarters. Neville Teller also dramatised Dobbs's novel for BBC World Service in 1996, and it had two television sequels (To Play the King and The Final Cut).  And now here we are living it.

Dobb’s fourth novel, Winston's War (2004), was shortlisted for the Channel 4 Political Book of the Year Award, and his Harry Jones novels, A Sentimental Traitor and A Ghost at the Door, for the Paddy Power Political Book of the Year awards in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Someone could get good thesis material out of the sequence.  I expect Trump might have attempted watching the American version, but he would never make it through the BBC version with his 3rd grade and 3rd rate language skills.  Pity.  There's not much style in our current drama.

Here’s an intriguing interview with the original “House of Cards” author  Actually, it’s not about Trump but PR for the 5th season of “House of Cards”, which evidently has been shot and is ready to air so will not be cancelled until the season is over.  (Note:  Michael Dobbs is quite different from Fox News Lou Dobbs.)  I wish someone would press Michael Dobbs a little harder.

I wonder what this material would look like if explored by a formerly tame rent boy now gone to being feral author, living off what he knows.  I expect the thought has occurred to others so that accommodators of all sorts and genders should watch their backs.

The old Blackfeet myth is about a good and peaceful people who are invaded by those with power and no scruples. “House of Cards” is a reverse version:  a powerful amoral society entered by the innocent.  Their prospects go back to Parsifal, who is the innocent one who finally locates the Grail.  But what good did that do?  By then there were empty chairs at the Round Table and the women were running convents.  There were no Arthurian knights of African origin or Asian either.  Not a global story.  Island and swamp.

“House of Cards” is a double metaphor: a structure and a game.  Once the basic built structure is given, the game is played in that context.  Now that we have players who are willing to cheat (Trump retrieving his ball from tall grass.), the democratic structure is eroded.  Our roof leaks.  We need new gating to curb the ability of a president to fire nuclear rockets without consulting others or complying with their advice.  We’ve seen the need for more protection for special investigators who examine the top miscreants.  What do we do about checks who are paralyzed?

Maybe most of all we realize that the American voters have been so hypnotized and snakebit by television fables that privilege crooks over the earnest idealists and convince everyone that sex rules, overrules everything but money.  We no longer are educated to recognize propaganda and ulterior motives, in spite of the best efforts of Algerian French philosophers to explain how the rhetoric of empire is based on assumptions that are no longer true.  I have to admit that those philosophers are not very easy to read.  Who is putting them into fables we can understand and remember?  Grisly stories of power at any cost.  Maybe they need to be told out loud instead of enacted.

No comments: