Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Perplex Complex

The Perplex Complex

Article by Prins, Harald E. L., In: Ginsburg, Faye ( Ed.): Media Worlds: anthropology on a new terrain, Review by Amber, Sybille, 2005: Vienna

A pilot project called “Our Lives in Our Hands” (D: Harald E. L. Prins, P: Karen Carter) shows how visual media, embedded in broadcasting, can succeed as political advocacy film for the tribal status of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs. Harald E. L. Prins contrasts the former with the Plains Apache film project about what he calls “an indigenous dilemma of self ­– representation”.

He discusses the destructive potential of media “myths” about North American tribal communities in stating, that “some scholars have started to focus on the currency of such ideologically charged ideas in counterhegemonic strategies of indigenous self – representation”. Prins is a trained anthropologist and filmmaker, whose essay and thesis deal with indigenous peoples´ recognition concerning the “primitivist formula” and some of their active comprehension and imperatives of action. Rhetorics of self – fashioning show up “visual performatives” in a dialectical complex as “the paradox of primitivism”. The construction of primitivism as mythopoeia throughout history – from the “Indian” as a noble savage, to national icons, to the “Vanishing Indian”, to the “doomed Indian hero” – describes an ongoing encapsulation. Within hegemonic configuration “internal colonialism in a double sense”, namely politically and psychologically, the “primitivist perplex” was detected by Prins.

Referring to the “shadow catchers” of the 19th century, Prins writes about the thousands of romanticized visual data, that shifted to ethnographic films and documentaries of the 1920s. Protests “about the way their people were portrayed” and “Indian” actors playing “Indian” movies, led to a more critical perception of this genre: concentration on traditional lifeways became instrumental in the ethnographic agenda. This genre politically persuative developed throughout the 1960s to negotiations of full emancipation and decolonialization. Cultural survival and claims of their rights did not include the “means of distribution”, but this notion changed in the 1990s, when cybertechnologies spread via the Worl Wide Web. The questions of self - determination and self – representation according to own aesthetic preferences resulted in webrings, Internet server installations and Fourth World governments, having marked their sites with “a tribal seal, flag or some other official insignia”.

In confronting the dominating polities and promotion of self – fashioning, indigenous visual media nowadays “play an important role in the propagation of this political formation”.


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posted by Sybil Amber at 4/26/2005 03:55:00 PM


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