January 2011

Layers upon layers here today, as my random readings of blog archives brings up a post from EoTAW brought up a 2007 article by Chuck Klosterman, “Things We Think We Know,” which basically argues that Europeans vastly overestimate how much the average American actually cares about cowboy culture:

And it slowly dawned on me that the creators of “I Like America” had made one critical error: While they had not necessarily misunderstood the historical relationship between Americans and cowboy iconography, they totally misinterpreted its magnitude. With the possible exception of Jon Bon Jovi, I can’t think of any modern American who gives a shit about cowboys, even metaphorically. Dramatic op-ed writers are wont to criticize warhawk politicians by comparing them to John Wayne, but no one really believes thatHondoaffects policy; it’s just a shorthand way to describe something we already understand. But European intellectuals use cowboy culture to understand American sociology, and that’s a specious relationship (even during moments when it almost makes sense). As it turns out, Germans care about cowboys way more than we do.

EoTAW was highly critical of this argument, and the post reminded me that I, too, had taken issue with this article back in the day. I made some stupid comment on the blog, but then at home I managed to find where I had actually written down my thoughts on the piece, which are much smarter. I present them here for your enjoyment (updated, of course, because it is no longer 2007 and a lot has changed):



Let’s talk about recognition.

Do you know what recognition is? In terms of federal policies and laws concerning Native Americans, recognition means the government has decided that a particular group is a “real” tribe and is entitled to the rights, privileges, and limited sovereignty the government grants such groups.

Now, recognition is established various ways. Either the government recognized you as a tribe back in the day – on the Dawes Rolls, or under IRA, etc. – or recognition was established at a later date. If the latter, the tribe had to apply for recognition. The recognition process is complicated and lengthy – it can take decades for a recognition case to be settled. The government requires proof that a tribe has been a united entity since the time of contact. This type of proof is not always easy to come by.

In California, recognition is made more complicated by the fact that most tribes never had an “official” relationship with the federal government. The treaties negotiated in 1851-1852 that should have established that relationship, and which most California tribes signed, were never ratified by the Senate. Anthropologists and government officials later deemed many tribes to be “extinct.”*


warnings: this is long, and part of it is disturbing.

I like war movies. War memoirs, too. I’m not entirely sure why, but I suspect that it’s largely due to the fact that I like to think about the way that people behave in extreme situations, particularly situations I have never encountered. I like to think about the way that I would behave in such situations (usually, my conclusions on this point are not that flattering; a post for another day).

High school is like war. I don’t mean that in some overwrought, My So-Called Life, teen angsty sort of way. What I mean is that during your childhood, your situation is something you have no power to change, and this becomes increasingly intolerable as you develop towards adulthood. You might as well be stuck in the trenches. And all the people around you are stuck there just the same. And if you live in a small town—especially if you live in a small town—there is a 90% chance you loathe everything about your situation. You look on adults as enemies and your hometown as a place you can’t wait to leave. All you have are your compatriots, your comrades-in-arms, your friends. And you are all counting the days until you get your discharge papers.


Before I really get into this, I should clarify that I respond to fiction and non-fiction in very distinct ways. I’ve always hated literary criticism because fiction tends to be very emotional for me, and when I love something and really connect with it, I don’t want to talk about syntax and symbolism and shit. With non-fiction, I respond in a more analytical way that allows me to be both passionately in love and capable of critique. So since this is about a novel, it’s not so much critique as it is personal response.

On that note, a quick recap: the book is set in the 1930s, in Montana, and is a coming-of-age story told through the perspective of Jick, the 14-year-old son of a forest ranger (Mac), who is trying to sort out his family’s past. English Creek is a fantastic book, but it meant more to me than just great fiction.


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Just some quick hits: I have tons of road songs, but this is my spur-of-the-moment playlist for y’all. Enjoy!

  1. Dan Mangan – Road Regrets
  2. Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run
  3. Ani DiFranco – Gravel
  4. Dolly Parton – Travelin’ Thru
  5. Ray LaMontagne – Jolene
  6. Gram Parsons with Emmylou Harris – Return of the Grievous Angel
  7. Tom Waits – Home I’ll Never Be
  8. Cake Like – My Guy