Thursday, February 01, 2018


First of all, I want to thank Mary for letting me post on her blog so I can remain anonymous.  Since I’m a professor of English at a prestigious university, I can’t afford to say some things publicly without consequences to my reputation and so on.  This is a way of veiling without actually “catfishing,” so I can discuss such a hot topic as “hoaxing,” which in a literary context has been redefined as something like a crime, as though reading a story were like buying a car and discovering that the salesman didn’t tell you the proper mileage or that the brakes were shot.  Consumerism consumes us.

Fiction requires the willing suspension of disbelief, taking a story as it is presented, but does not exclude the unreliable narrator who may even be portrayed as a diary writer or a postal correspondent or a found document.  From the beginning of literature as such, the presentation of the writer has been part of the art of the story.  But this is over the heads of many people.  They read in order to be absorbed, lost, forget themselves.  Figuring out the UNwarranted suspension of disbelief, a switch to the suspicion subtext, is a distancing they don’t want.

People don’t like to find out that L.M. Montgomery, the author of “Anne of Green Gables,” was miserable and committed suicide, partly to escape the burden of creating the illusion of Anne over and over.  They don’t want to hear that some of Zane Grey’s manly Westerns were written by his wife. 

I’ll try to make this plainer.  I’m a college professor because I don’t qualify for other male roles in our society.  I just can’t be a hard-driving businessman or a sports or military “hard” man.  I’m not gay, but maybe some kind of academic metrosexual.  I’m kind of motherly, to be honest, which scares some of my students because the only kind of intimacy they  seem to know is sex.  And reading, though many have now become more interested in movies — they assume that all parts are real, that the actors are like their parts.

The political demand that actors match their roles in terms of ethnic and racial origins is supported by this craving for “authenticity” and “reality.”  To say nothing of respect for the demographic category.  But it’s not very granular — I mean, they want Indians to play Indians but they don’t mind if a Crow plays a Cherokee.  I hope you don’t mind that I say “Indians” instead of one of the euphemisms that is politically correct.  Professors are fired for not using the proper euphemisms, but since I was a little boy I’ve loved “Indians” with that term and when I mean people from India, I say “East Indians.”  This is kind of personal, not political.

So I was kind of rocked when Lisa Mittens took on “The Indian in the Cupboard.”  If you need to be reminded, this was a story about a boy who had a little Indian toy figure — so many of us had these — which he invested with love and respect so that the Indian became “real” but still lived in the cupboard, a private guide and source of strength.  Mittens pointed out that it made real people into toys for kids, which is racist, diminishing them and making them unreal.

I have to admit that when I see Indian kids, the little ones, they are so appealing that they are almost like dolls.  My impulse is to smooth their heads, even embrace them, but Mittens would say I was making them into pets, not fully human.  So when I read this story about a Navajo boy dying of something awful — fetal alcohol syndrome or HIV-AIDS — that’s so intense and real that it takes away the doll thing.  This man, Nasdijj, is from a different culture that allows him to gently nurture this child.  He is my Indian in the Cupboard.

It made a difference to read this story in Esquire, which I've always respected as publishing fine fiction, outstanding authors.  If I had real courage, I'd try to get published, but I have the wrong kind of contacts, the wrong image.

My father was a violent man.  I didn’t think of him as alcoholic, but with a few drinks in him — which happened often — he would slap me around.  My mother didn’t oppose him — she just went to the movies.  She was an escapist.  She still escapes me.  I think if I had gotten really sick or hurt as a child, they would have abandoned me in the hospital, blamed me for being an expense.  So I loved that Nasdijj would never do such a thing.

It was a terrible shock to have this story labeled a hoax.  I don’t care much about porn — it’s such an individual and sometimes ridiculous thing, or else it gets owned by advertising, made into just another force for conformity.  I didn’t exactly feel hoaxed — I mean, that’s a sort of thing that is highly unlikely: side-show freaks or Hitler’s diary or the Piltdown man.  This had a strong political side once the story had ended and you thought about it.  It was like being “punk’d”, which has a very dark side: prison, penetration from behind.  Check out the definitions.

Here’s catfishing, by the way.  “A catfish is someone who creates a false online identity. Catfishing is common on social networking and online dating sites. Sometimes a catfish's sole purpose is to engage in a fantasy. Sometimes, however, the catfish's intent is to defraud a victim, seek revenge or commit identity theft.”  If you ask me, Ayn Rand is a catfish, giving men that fantasy of superiority, absolute objectivity and rationality.  Control.  Power.

Nasdijj is less a hoax than a fantasy.  It’s painful to admit —  puritanical to blame the storyteller for telling stories that aren’t “true” because of one’s own disappointment.  That's not in the author -- it's in the reader.  What about consciousness-raising, realizing what our unwarranted assumptions are about an individual and real group of people?  Maybe the deepest problem is thinking they are a defined group, since it’s the tribe that sets the standards for enrollment (probably based on a list made by the military in the 19th century) and the US government that defines which group of people “is” a tribe.  A person can be provably descended from real tribal people without being enrolled or even belonging to a "tribe." 

I went to a reservation once and even went to a local bar, thinking I might be accepted, but the only persons who talked to me were the bartender and a drunk who wanted money.  Anyway, it wasn’t like the “Red Pony” on “Longmire.”  It was scary, so I left.  

I always had the fantasy that I would go to a book reading by Nasdijj and he would realize how sympathetic I was.  We’d go a little apart and people would give us space so we could really talk, because they could see that he valued me.  

I guess a lot of people have that fantasy about a favorite author.  When it turns out that the book was just a book, it’s hard on a reader’s ego.  The trouble is that it keeps the reader from getting the political message.  Must be discouraging for the author.

Thanks, Mary, for giving me this safe space.

1 comment:

Whisky Prajer said...

I am grateful for this post as well, Mary. It untangles a great deal of the "knotiness" of this particular scandale.