Hedges has it right again. In his article, “The War on Language,”
September 28, 2009, Hedges writes: “those who seek to dominate
our behavior first seek to dominate our speech.”
emptiness of language is a gift to demagogues and the corporations
that saturate the landscape with manipulated images and the idiom
of mass culture. Manufactured phrases inflame passions and distort
collective chants, jargon and epithets permit people to surrender
their moral autonomy to the heady excitement of the crowd. ‘The
crowd doesn't have to know,’ Mussolini often said. ‘It must believe.
... If only we can give them faith that mountains can be moved,
they will accept the illusion that mountains are moveable, and
thus an illusion may become reality.’ Always, he said, be ‘electric
and explosive.’ Belief can triumph over knowledge. Emotion can
vanquish thought…The more illiterate a society becomes, the more
power those who speak in this corrupted form of speech amass,
the more music and images replace words and thought. We are cursed
not by a cultural divide but by mutual cultural self-destruction.
slogans” and “clichés” are hallow to the literate, writes Hedges,
but invested with power, they are heard everywhere around the
planet until they seem to become the driving force of human existence.
read Hedges’ article after viewing the first episode of Ken Burn’s
12-hour PBS presentation, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. “The
Scripture of Nature: Part One 1851-1890” aired Sunday, September
27, 2009. It will be the only episode I can stand to watch and
to the PR surrounding Burn’s film, the production team is preparing
several events across the country in hope of drawing more visitors
to the national parks. David Rockefeller, Jr., Vice Chairman Emeritus
of the National Park Foundation, the National Parks Conservation
Association, and Friends of Acadia sponsored events in August.
As an honored guest, Burns attended the event in formal attire.
His usually blue jeans were left hanging in the closet! He is
a man of the people, out of place among the big corporate boys!
years in the making, the PR gang for America’s Best Idea
informs us that, for Burns, this film is an “unabashed love letter.”
“America’s Best Idea” is more
than a love letter - unabashed or not. It is another example of
what neoliberals do best for the Empire: they manipulate images
and idioms to glorify the hunters.
parks are for the people! “Our national parks belong to all of
us.” The parks, the waterfalls, trees, animals - need protection!
In the background is the faint sound of Indian American music.
first few minutes of the opening, I guess, seems intended to make
U.S. citizens feel good! Go
to your windows and yell as loud as you can: I just love this
great country! Don’t worry. That little business with the indigenous
people in the Yosemite Valley has been resolved!
The 8,000 years the Ahwahneechee lived there and protected the
lands before the white man came and burned their homes, before
the white man came and killed many and forced thousands onto reservations
- it is a footnote! The driving theme of this documentary is the
great treasure that belongs to the people thanks to the great
American minds and bodies who fought to preserve and protect
passing, we hear of Chief Joseph and the Nez Pez Indians
hunted down by the cavalry while - the main point - Americans
were touring the area! The American visitors, in particular
a couple, were trying to enjoy the scene when these Indians appeared!
Imagine that! The man was shot in the head by a stray bullet,
but he survived. His wife had the right to record this story,
to put into the history of Yellowstone Park, the day their tour
was interrupted by Indians - who, what - should have been
removed to reservations already? And, too, in passing,
the voice tells us that 90 Nez Pez Perce, mainly women and children
were killed while they slept in the Battle
of the Big Hole! That is, the people were asleep! Fred Hampton
and Mark Clarke were sleeping too when a supposed gun battle
took place between them and the Chicago Police! (I knew then,
at this point in Episode One, that it would be impossible for
me to watch two seconds of another episode). Also, in passing,
trash (cans and bottles) showed up behind the American visitors
to Yosemite! Strange! The Ahwahneechee lived
in the region for some 8,000 years, and the first “visitors” to
the area described a beautiful and a well-kept region! Trash,
however, meant more protection. “Nationalize” the parks! A good
thing! American’s best idea, right?
did the Ahwahneechee have to say about this? They were not asked.
Work on making Yellowstone available to all
Americans was in full progress. That is what matters in this episode!
is all about good old American thought and ingenuity! Burns and
his team of writers offer the words of the founders of
the national parks without question. Since the founders
of the parks described their activity as examples of the Lord’s
work, the footage in the first episode presents beautiful
images of the Sequoia trees and the voice over equates these images
to natures “cathedral.” In turn, these founders, good and
thoughtful people, believed the national parks would come to symbolize
a “refuge for human beings seeking to replenish their spirit.”
(This must be some kind of “peace” time activity!). And the voiceover
offers this summation: the national parks will be “geographies
of memories and hope” for countless American families who will
come to “forge an intimate connection to their land” and pass
these memories and hopes “along to their children.”
the Ahwahneechee and the Nez Pez Perce? What of their memories
and hopes? What will they pass along to their children? Are the
Ahwahneechee and the Nez Pez Perce even American for Burns
and his writing team? You would never know that millions of indigenous
people inhabited not only the regions of these national parks
- but all of the Americas - long before the European discovered
“story of the national parks is the story of people,” the film’s
narrative tells us. People, like you the viewer - the American
viewer - willing to save “some portion of the land they love.”
is a capitalist venture - from the removal of the indigenous populations
to the establishment of riverboat cruises, giant-screen movies,
tram rides, and concession stands. When the first “tourists” came
to the inhabited land, they asked the typical American
question: How to make money from this land. Thus, the great
idea was born - again! In other words, it is not cheap to
take the family to a national park that “belongs to you.” The
national parks are a capitalist gold mine! But the narrative speaks
of a great American idea! You cannot see or hear the cash registers,
but they are there - thousands of them ringing up the profits!
what would one great American idea be without its evil twin? Burns
and his writing team, like any good U.S.
cultural production, provide a few images of the happy indigenous
and Black American. The team recruit the historically removed
indigenous and the Black American to speak on behalf of the greatness
of the best American idea! I watched two preview clips,
one featuring a Native American and the other a Black American,
both working as national park rangers. In the first, the Native
American is greeting a group of predominately white tourists in
front of Mount Rushmore. He speaks of “we”
- meaning Americans. He is proud to be a park ranger and educate
the American visitor about American history. Worse
is the Black park ranger. He is made to recall the day he came
across an old black and white photo of several Black soldiers
on horses. These, he informs the PBS viewers, were the Buffalo
Soldiers. In his research, he discovers that Buffalo Soldiers
were assigned to kill Indians! Black people were there!
Black people were part of the history of clearing the west
for civilization! The park ranger is proud to know that he, as
a Black American, is in possession of this history! He
is a proud Black national park ranger!
cowardly and ignorant lions! The hunters not only know how to
hunt, but also how to use the remains of the carcass to fuel the
U.S. body politics.
is enough to make you sick if you know American history - the
reality of the U.S.’s violent foundation.
But it is worse to know you are witnessing a form of enslavement
and genocide of the mind! But for the average American viewer
of America’s Best Idea, the message is clear: You can rest
assure, American viewers. The indigenous and Black Americans
are with us, the conservation movement and not with the “conservation
refugees,” as Rebecca Adamson calls those displaced by the capitalist
take over of the land now called national parks.
is all for you - the national parks and the whole narrative of
American greatness for the small price of your mind!
Adamson (Cherokee) is a braver woman; she managed to watch two
additional episodes of Burns’ documentary. I, on the other hand,
had not planned to watch America’s Best Idea until I spoke
with Adamson for the first time last month. For this article,
Adamson and I talked, as she noted, about the “stark difference
of worldviews” between the indigenous people’s silent story of
genocide and Ken Burns’ American story of ingenuity. It
was all about establishing the Northern Pacific Railroad, said
founder of First Peoples Worldwide.org.
President Teddy Roosevelt (a great hunter) thought of the Yosemite Valley as a good place to come and shoot buffalo, Adamson said.
be fair to Ken Burns, he does mention the evictions of the indigenous
people,” Adamson said. But “the history of the parks is a war
story, a war of world views.”
Ken Burns, an awarded hunter, cannot tell that story, but he can
pull together “manipulated images and idioms,” to satisfy the
capitalists behind the conservationist movement. He is a master
at cultural warfare. Make it seems as if it is all about nature.
“missed the plot,” Adamson said. “People think you can take nature
and put it over there and go make a profit.”
line, it is about capitalism, Adamson reiterated. The park industry
only considered the indigenous animals after someone noted that
people were mistreating the animals. “They turned to something
called ‘wild life management’” which then turned the parks into
Best Idea, Adamson
said, is “an infomercial for the national parks.” In turn, the
parks are “a commodity” for the wealthy class. “It’s about assets.
The wealthy class knows it. They want the land and that is what’s
behind killing us.” Indigenous populations, Adamson explains,
live on 80 percent of the Earth’s natural resources, and the capitalists
have their eyes on the profits! They do not care about the land
or the people they uproot, the lives or land they destroy in the
it is not outright removal of the indigenous population, it is
encroachment that threats indigenous way of life. Slowly, people
are forcibly removed from the land so the wealthy can develop
unsustainable conditions for the whole planet. Yet
when the Cherokee in Oklahoma
asked the government to set aside the Trail of Tears, Adamson
said, as a park to remember the history of this violence against
the people, “the conservationists have refused because they claim
that Indians can’t take care of the land!”
Burns and the writing team of America’s
Best Idea! speak for the hunters!
is a film Ken Burns will not produce for PBS or any media outlet.
But it, too, is guided by the narrative of Manifest Destiny. On
the hunting grounds of Benton Harbor, Michigan where
the people, led by Rev. Edward Pinkney, are battling, the story
of the hunted has become the target of Whirlpool Inc. and of U.S.
Representative Fred Upton’s determination to convert a predominately
Black city into a paradise for the wealthy. Take jobs out of the
community, limit city services, health and educational resources,
fence the community behind a wall of angry police, instigate Black
violence, and then announce to the world that Black Americans,
too, cannot take care of their community, and the corporations
hear what is code for one more step toward the fulfillment
of Manifest Destiny for the wealthy! Condos, hotels, lakefront
beach area for Americans and a reservation area - a toxic
reservation area - for the Black survivors of America’s
best idea! (See bhbanco.blogspot.com). But the lions in Benton Harbor are not asleep!
we have so few of the hunted awake, and a Ken Burns or Fred Upton
can count on that!
is no secret that Black America’s house is divided. Too many are
trapped to their desire for gold and power. In turn, their desires
are wedded to the language of Manifest Destiny. You and me, Master,
“we” is fighting the “enemy”! That element of the Black
and Brown community in the U.S.
is but a caricature of the capitalist and serves as the Empire’s
stable of politicians, civic and religious leaders, and academics
on call for the capitalists. “Mutual cultural self-destruction”
- indeed! But let them be!
as Tiokasin Ghosthorse states, the ingenious people in the U.S. are only 3 million, they
are a 3 million more determined to fight for their traditional
beliefs, which includes an equalitarian worldview that recognizes
the significance of nature for the survival of humanity. Here,
the language is simple and universal - return the land
to the people! The young ones have had their day at playing
god, and it has resulted in bringing the Earth and its people
to hell on Earth - not paradise. If this planet is to survive,
if we are truly heeding the language of the Earth, then the hunted
and those of good conscious must forge alliances with indigenous
struggles in the U.S. and around the global.
will work to put an end to the hunter’s narrative!
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has been a writer,
for over thirty years of commentary, resistance criticism and
cultural theory, and short stories with a Marxist sensibility
to the impact of cultural narrative violence and its antithesis,
resistance narratives. With entrenched dedication to justice and
equality, she has served as a coordinator of student and community
resistance projects that encourage the Black Feminist idea of
an equalitarian community and facilitator of student-teacher communities
behind the walls of academia for the last twenty years. Dr. Daniels
holds a PhD in Modern American Literatures, with a specialty in
Cultural Theory (race, gender, class narratives) from Loyola
University, Chicago. Click here
to contact Dr. Daniels.