Monday, June 20, 2005

Terminator vs. Whalerider

Yet another paper that I'm hoping by ranting about on my blog I'll gain some extra special insight into.

Most of us from the Pacific are familiar with the films Whalerider and Terminator. For those of you who aren't, Whalerider is a charming tale of cultural change, perserverence, survival and hope. It takes place in a Maori village where the people aren't doing so well and look for someone to come and lead them out of darkness. In the story, a little girl, Pai is the main character who is the one who will "ride the whales" and lead her people, but no one knows this at the film's beginning and she is constantly misrecognized in this role because of the androcentricity of her culture which prevents her from learning the old ways. By the film's end her grandfather, who was the biggest obstacle in the proper recognition of her role, sees her for what she is and accepts her. But the story ends not with her accepting the role as the savior of her people, but instead accepting a newly defined role which her presence, ascension and acceptance have created. The film Terminator doesn't require as much description. In the future, machines are wiping out humans, they send back a terminator to kill the mother of the human resistance leader before he is born. The human's send back their own protector. Lots of fighting, action, etc. Ultimately the mother survives and we learn in fact that the protector who was sent back is the father of the human resistance leader in the future.

What could be the impetus for putting these films together? For me it has to do with indigenous expectations, which is something which works both ways. Non-indigenous people, which are those who have the power to name themselves as either indigenous or non-indigenous as well as name those who are indigenous have expectations of indigenous people. I encounter them all the time. While giving a talk which was largely political and historical on Guam's colonial relationship to the United States at UC Riverside, I was asked by a white student, "what is you culture?" I was unsure how to respond to this question, so I asked her, what did she mean and that if she means what I think she means then I can't answer her question. She rearticulated it in that other people who had come to talk from different indigenous groups had each shared songs or dances from their culture, and that did I have any songs or dances to share with them?

I could feel the indigenous expectations slamming against me, conforming and forcing upon me choices. Everything I said up to that point hinged on my response to this question. Everything would basically mean something depending upon how I responded to this question and how I dealt with these "indigenous expectations." If I did not perform something which met the requisites of her fantasies then I could be dismissed as meaningless, as yelling without knowledge, as talking without speaking.

For those interested in what this is like, watch the film Naked Lunch. When Ian Holm's character speaks in Tangiers, but his lips and his words don't match up, it is something akin to that. The indigenous person moves their lips, yet the words spoken, the voice is almost always that of the colonizer themselves. A difficult and sucky place to escape. When I was asked what my culture was, I attempted to occupy the position of impossibility with regards to the questioner, in a vain attempt to force some form of recognition on her. It did not work, and no doubt what she perceived, was me moving my lips and her voice filling in the dubbing saying, "nothing to see here."

But when I said indigenous expectations works both ways I meant it. Part of being a colonized people is being forced to hold before us the gaze of the colonizer, and to both have it look upon us and mark us, but also look through it and imagine and expect through it as well. This is where the two films come in, as we as indigenous people must reckon and confront of we are trapped within our own expectations of culture and artifact. For me that's why reading Terminator and Whalerider together might yield something important, because it might be something which would allow us to shatter enough just for a moment, the expectations which are imposed on us about ourselves, yet we often shoulder enthusiastically and reaffirm in nonetheless exciting and poetic ways.

I'll speak more on this later.

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