Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Lakota People Are More than Poverty Porn

ABC produced a special entitles Children of the Plains that focused on issues such as crime, alcoholism, and unemployment occurring on a Lakota Indian reservation.

The following is a snippet from a piece published on The Indian Country Today Media Network:

The tone is set early as Diane Sawyer calls the Lakota “hidden” and “forgotten.” These terms may be accurate in some sense, but they’re strangely bland and neutral. It’s as if Americans wanted to help the Indians all along but couldn’t find them.

That isn’t the case, of course. In reality, words like “neglected,” “scorned” or “betrayed” would work just as well. But those would shift the blame from the Indians to the white man, and Sawyer doesn’t want that.

The episode’s first half is little but a grim litany of facts and images: unemployment, alcoholism, overcrowded trailers, crumbling floors and ceilings, and so on. There’s no explanation for why this is happening—merely a statement of its existence. Are the Lakota responsible for their own plight, or is someone—the government or big business—causing it? You won’t learn the answers here.

The stories are manipulative to the point of tears—literally. A boy cries because his mother is an alcoholic. A girl cries because she tried to commit suicide. The school principal, an old lady in a motorized chair, cries because her work is so difficult.

Even when the subjects don’t break down and cry, their stories are framed negatively. Another girl gets pregnant and thinks her future is ruined. A five-year-old’s father is killed in a drunk-driving accident.

It’s not that any of these stories are false or unrepresentative. But they seem chosen for the maximum heart-tugging effect. (source)
I highly recommend you read the entire piece, as it goes on to explain why such documentaries constitute poverty porn, and the way in which actual historical events are ignorend or manipulated to grant victim status, without any ownership or responsibility on behalf of the oppressors, or acknowledgement of agency shown by the subject in question.

This was article was not the only response to the 20/20 special.  Young Native American children created their own video in response to Children of the Plains. I love this video, because in their own words, they define who they are and what they stand for.