Notes — Colonization

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Dr. Kerstin Knopf, University of Greifswald
Notes — Colonization


—occupy another country's territory

—rule over that territory and submission of its people

—economic, social, political, cultural hegemony of the colonizing country





mother country









consumer goods; technical know-how $

(nuclear) waste


of capital

raw resources, tropical fruits, vegetables, spices etc. $



cultural colonization:

—creation of stereotypes/misconceptions of the colonized culture

—replacement of Indigenous languages

—destruction of Indigenous collective identities

—idea of Western cultural hegemony is invoked (Western cultures are superior to other cultures)

—Western culture creates ideas/knowledge about Indigenous culture; this Western construct becomes the normative/general knowledge about the Indigenous culture

—Western morals, values and ideologies become normative for Indigenous cultures

—cultural, political, ethnic, aesthetic, academic, and sociological discourses/texts are infiltrated with/dominated by Western ideas

—appropriation of Indigenous images, stories, culture

mental colonization:

—production of texts about the colonial subject/education

—members of the colonized group inherit and internalize stereotypes/clichés about their own culture as well as cultural hegemonies

—Indigenous people "learn"/ internalize a Western construct about their culture

—manipulation of minds; ideological control

—colonized minds have adapted their thought structures, their ideas about their own culture, and their understanding of power relations to colonialist ideas and principles

—destruction of Indigenous collective identities

Notes — Decolonization of the Media
—cultural colonization meant destruction of culture and silencing of Indigenous voicesraising their voices through writing and filmmaking
—Indigenous people need to control images; creation of self-controlled images (Indigenous directors and producers)
—Indigenous media is devalued because there isn't a set of experiences as in Western culturetraining of Indigenous filmmakers
—less than 2% of media funding in Canada and less in the USA are spent for Indigenous people
—working against assimilation through Western media
—understanding history of colonization and oppression
—breaking stereotypes; working against preconceived notions about marginalized people
—assertion of Indigenous identity, history, traditions, present and change of Indigenous cultures in films
—control over film-production; control over distribution and broadcast
—creation of films that are often different from mainstream films (other techniques, different narrative structures—however not always)

Dr. Kerstin Knopf

Notes on Colonization and Decolonization of the Lens/Screen/Electronic Media
The colonization of the North American continent went hand in hand with the development of a colonial discourse as a transmitter of colonial ideology. The contemporary North American media are dominated by this discourse that legitimizes colonial politics, upholds cultural and political hegemonies, transmits the colonial view on the colonized 'others,' and silences Indigenous voices and those of other marginalized groups. If concerned with Indigenous issues, stereotypes, appropriation, prejudice, and ethnocentrism show through in colonial media discourse. Ethnographic filmmaking, Hollywood, and North American television have constructed and sustained the imaginary and ideological Indian, an array of dehumanizing, humiliating, and romanticizing stereotypes of the people who are indigenous to colonized North America. They have been defined by this Western media discourse, the colonial gaze, that has shaped perceptions of Indigenous cultures in mainstream society and furthered the idea that Indigenous cultures are inferior to the 'advanced' and 'civilized' eurocentric cultures. This idea gave way to rejection, disrespect, racism, patronage, injustice, marginalization, and economic, political, and cultural oppression that characterize the societal contact between the mainstream and the Indigenous societies. The effects of these contact phenomena are visible in the contemporary state of Indigenous North America. Likewise, the self-perception of the colonial subjects is channeled through this colonial gaze; Indigenous people have often appropriated the image of the imaginary and ideological Indian, which has resulted in confusion, self-denial, cultural alienation, and identity crises.1

Indigenous people are continually struggling for recognition, participation, and control over their own affairs as the many successful land claim settlements and self-government agreements show. Likewise in the media, they are striving for participation and productive control over their images that are fed into the mediascape. Their voices are emerging in all kinds of media outlets, be it television, radio, news media, and film. An array of Indigenous radio stations, for example NCI FM in Winnipeg, the Aboriginal Voices Radio network with its first station in Toronto, KNBA in Anchorage, and KINI in St Francis on the Rosebud reservation as well as the first Indigenous television channel with a nationwide broadcast license in the world, APTN, bear witness to this self-empowering development. The 1970s, a period of intense Indigenous political activism (eg, the takeovers of Wounded Knee and Alcatraz Island) also gave rise to the development of Indigenous documentary2 that dealt with cultural and social issues and political conflicts.3 The development of Indigenous dramatized filmmaking started in the late 1990s, with the 1998 Smoke Signals by Chris Eyre as the first Indigenous feature film to receive national and international acclaim.

Colonial discourse was created in the institutions of knowledge and education (presses, publishers, universities, schools etc) and was/is furthered in the institutions of media (presses, publishers, television broadcasters, film companies etc) of colonial England and the later settler nations.4 The basic constructed opposition in North American colonial discourse, on which discursive exclusion, marginalization, and objectifications rests, is that of self/other and center/margin from which other binaries derive. This discourse defines the colonial group through the difference and opposition to the colonized group in terms of 'race,' cultural traditions, morals, beliefs, social systems, and other factors. In the Foucauldian sense, the dominant group controls, selects, organizes, and channels this discourse. Shohat and Stam explain tendencies and operations of eurocentric discourse, which is colonial discourse in the case of North America, through five aspects:

1. it projects a linear historical trajectory leading from classical Greece to the metropolitan capitals of Europe and the US, and it renders history as a sequence of empires from Pax Romana to Pax Americana;

2. it attributes to the West an inherent progress toward democracy;

3. it elides non-European democratic traditions, while obscuring manipulations within Western democracies and masking their part in manipulating/subverting non-Western democracies;

4. it minimizes the West's oppressive practices by viewing them as contingent, accidental, exceptional;

5. it appropriates the cultural and material production of non-Europeans while negating both their achievements and its own appropriation, in that way consolidating its own sense of self.5

The two major operational instruments of the visual colonial discourse in North America are ethnographic documentaries6 and Hollywood narrative films, the latter being the dominant mode of dramatic filmmaking. Because documentary form is most often understood as a reflection of 'reality,' truth is applied to its images, and thus the 'truthfulness' of the documentary narrative is often not questioned. Clifford holds that ethnographic texts are systems of truth through which power and history work, and warns that ethnographic texts are inherently only partially true.7 Bhabha observes that the 'entertaining' Hollywood discourse of the 1950s operated with the agencies of voyeurism and fetishism, an idea that is applicable to Hollywood narrative cinema in general.8 He applies Foucault's concept of 'surveillance'9 of those in control to colonial power and links it with the "regime of the scopic drive," that is "the drive that represents the pleasure in 'seeing,' which has the look as its object of desire."10 Bhabha thus defines the stereotype as the major strategy of colonial discourse and as an ambivalent mode of knowledge and power.11

Foucault makes clear that the humanities and social sciences degrade their subjects of analysis to mere objects and reveal 'truths' about them which are independent from their own self-image. This discursive 'truth' is not the individual's 'truth' of him/herself but an 'individual truth' about her/him.12 In that sense, the analyzing and scrutinizing gaze is objectifying. Thus, with the rise of human sciences (wo)man becomes both the object of scientific and academic discourse and the subject that sees and knows.13 In the colonial visual discourse, however, the positions of knowing subject and object of knowledge were clearly defined: the first was filled by members of the dominant group and the latter relegated to members of the oppressed group. According to Foucault, vision can help to constitute an episteme without the implied presence of an observer, "of an absent sovereign or his humanist surrogate, whose gaze totalized the discursive field."14 This episteme abstracts the gaze to an invisible and unspecifiable presence of control. In ethnographic filmmaking and Western feature filmmaking, the director, camera operator, director of photography, and crew are the direct observers, and the viewers of these films are abstracted into a seeming absence and thus become indirect observers. Both groups 'gaze' at the object of knowledge and comprise the unspecifiable presence of control and the gaze of surveillance and power. The camera lens operating on behalf of this gaze is the Foucauldian lens of power.

Bannerji applies Foucault's concept of 'the gaze of power' to "racist-sexist-imperialist constructions of otherness and difference" in prevalent societies.15 According to her, such constructions are the gaze of the dominant group which contains unfiltered objectifying and stereotyping images of marginalized groups. She identifies the theoretical writings of marginalized scholars who analyze social and cultural agency of ruling coded as gender, race, and class as "returning the gaze."16 This concept applied to the works of Indigenous filmmakers permits seeing the process of filming as metaphorically returning the objectifying and surveilling gaze, because the filmmakers avail themselves of colonialist means of production (film technology) and employ them for creating self-controlled images that critically look at colonialist images. They decolonize the Foucauldian lens of power by quoting, discussing, and subverting such colonialist images of Indigenousness and by projecting through this lens self-determined images free of stereotypization and objectification (be it the filmic treatment of history, political incidents, cultural events, tradition, or contemporary Indigenous experience). In this sense, the decolonized lens of power is a second, self-controlled gaze, an anticolonialist gaze. Through their production of media, Indigenous filmmakers cease to belong to the objectified group as objects of knowledge and presentation and become subjects that know and present. They create a discourse that responds to colonial media discourse. Thus, it is appropriate to analyze their works within the framework of postcolonial theory that attempts to expose binary oppositions and the mechanisms of colonial discourse. According to Said, such counter-discursive attempts can disclose the misrepresentations of discursive power, contextualize the violence done to psychically and politically repressed 'inferior' individuals in the name of advanced culture, and commence the difficult project of formulating the discourse of liberation.17 This media discourse of liberation decolonizes the Foucauldian lens of power.

In creating this discourse of liberation, Indigenous filmmakers are always in some state of reaction to and dialogue with ethnographic filmmaking and to classical/conventional narrative filmmaking and its epitome, the Hollywood cinema. Hollywood narrative cinema has come to dominate cinematic discourses and has substantially reinforced cultural hegemonies around the globe.18 There are deviations from this filmmaking convention, mainly in other national cinemas, such as the French, the Brazilian, and the (Asian) Indian, but also within Hollywood cinema. Nevertheless, these deviations are often based on reactions to Hollywood film, and thus Hollywood cinema is a latent constant factor in the global cinema. Indigenous filmmakers see themselves as responding to this colonial cinematic discourse which developed a tradition of stereotyped, objectified, romanticized, and homogenized representation of Indigenous people and which has created notorious clichés of them in the Western media.19 The most prevalent ideological element of dominant media discourse that Indigenous filmmakers react to is their stereotypical visualization. Early Hollywood usually presented Indigenous people in two groups that reflected this stereotypical dichotomy: one docile and submissive, ready to cooperate with the army and/or settlers, and the other fierce, ready to attack, take hostages, and kill (and of course take scalps). Very often Indians were an indefinite mass attacking settlers, coaches, camps, and the likes. Most often their linguistic abilities were restricted to a monosyllabic and/or "pseudo-poetic" babble, as Friar and Friar call it.20 If Indian characters were singled out, they were stoic and taciturn and sometimes mystic kidnappers. Still today, mainstream films make use of Indigenous cultures/figures as composing exotic and enthralling backgrounds and elements for plots with non-Indigenous protagonists, for example Dances with Wolves (1990), The Last of the Mohicans (1992), and Natural Born Killers (1994).

The genesis of the stereotypical Indian begins with the colonization of the Americas. Berkhofer elucidates that present Indian clichés are grounded in early colonial discourse, ie, in the writings of Spanish and English colonizers and explorers such as Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, Richard Hakluyt, Thomas Hariot, John Smith, and the minister Alexander Whitaker.21 Berkhofer points out that these accounts of the inhabitants of the New World tended to be opposing descriptions. They either featured them as being insolent, cruel, treacherous, loose/libidinous, and living in anarchy-like communities without government and laws, or as handsome, friendly, hospitable, brave, dignified, loving, and modest people. Indigenous cultures were measured against non-Indigenous cultures, and 'characteristic' Indian features were derived from aspects of European cultures that Indigenous cultures were lacking and vice versa from aspects of Indigenous people that Europeans were lacking and abhorred. These opposing images served to sustain the observers' image of their own societies and whatever image of the Indian was needed as to the observers' judgment.22 Lutz also clarifies that eurocentric clichés about the Indigenous people of North America oscillate between the two extremes of the 'bloodthirsty red devil' and the 'noble savage.'23 This polarity results from the fact that stereotypes are constructed in a way that they can apply to possibly all individuals of a certain group.24 Early Puritan chronicles reflect this polarity of perception of Indigenous people: there is the "physically hard-working, honest, and proud Indian" beside the "superstitious devil-worshipper."25 Present Indian clichés were mainly born out of Puritan thought, early Puritan writings, and the descriptions of early explorers, who measured Indigenous culture against European morals and values. Indigenous culture was judged against the twin criteria of christianity and civilization.26 Mackenthun holds that early colonizers in the Caribbean similarly constructed a dichotomous myth of the "peaceful Arawaks" and the "ferocious Caribs" (also "Cannibals") as two different ethnic groups. She writes that "the Caribs -- protectors of the desired gold -- proved a legitimate impulse for colonial aggression (now 'defense') as well as a justification for the failure of obtaining the desired object (due to the danger of being eaten)."27 The dichotomy legitimized colonial intervention in favour of the Arawaks which had to be "defended" against the Caribs in "knightly fashion." In that sense, the myth of the "man eaters" and "gold keepers" supported official colonial policy insofar as Queen Isabel decreed that "Cannibals" could rightfully be enslaved, because the "'good' Indians were dying so fast."28 This decree then began to be understood as right to enslave any "potentially-cannibalistic" inhabitant of the "discovered" islands.

It becomes clear that such dichotomies of the good and the evil Indian always existed in eurocentric discourse. They were constructed myths to legitimize colonial policies and to define European civilization, including its religion and moral values, as a role model for a developed society to be begun in the New World against the background of the 'other primitive' societies. Although present clichés still move between two extremes, their quality has shifted to either the notion of the 'dumb, drunken, lecherous, and lazy Indian' or the 'nature-loving spiritual traditionalist' and 'exotic lover.' The polarities of stereotypical notions still work in such a way that they can accommodate almost all members of present Indigenous cultures in the space between the two extremes. Berkhofer considers the image of the drunken, poor, and degraded Indian as a third major "White image" of the Indian.29 Since the notions of the 'bloodthirsty red devil' and the 'noble savage' do not as readily apply to contemporary imagery of Indigenous cultures,30 they need to be regarded as the basic stage of image making from which the present pejorative stereotype of the 'drunk and lazy Indian' and the romanticized stereotype of the 'nature-loving traditionalist and spiritualist' evolved.31 Kilpatrick crystallizes three categories of stereotypes of Indigenous people in Western film: mental, sexual, and spiritual. She explains that Indian enemies or sidekicks were presented as innately less intelligent than their Euro-American counterparts and that "this lack of mental prowess may have something to do with the image of the Native American as intensely sexual—more creature than human, more bestial than celestial."32 The "spiritual Indian" then emancipated from the "primitive heathen" to the "nature-based noble savage" to the recent "natural ecologist."33 In her report on Aboriginal Language Broadcasting in Canada of November 2004, David states:

Stereotypes of the alcoholic on welfare, the wise elder, the squaw, the princess, the noble savage, and the warrior are just a few of the images that the media perpetuates through advertising, typecasting, and exclusion of contemporary portrayals of Aboriginal people [...] there are very few programs where Aboriginal people are not cast in stereotypical roles.34
These imaginary and ideological Indians have been "as real, perhaps more real, than the Native American of actual existence and contact," says Berkhofer.35 And Cobb notes that "American popular culture has been so saturated for so long with representations of Hollywood Indians that those representations have become a litmus test by which non-Native people judge whether or not an actual Native person is 'really Indian.'"36 As Foucault suggests, vision dominates cognition and acquirement of knowledge; consequently, the implications of clichéd visual images influence and spread into all other discourses. In that respect, subaltern films almost necessarily become reflexive, dialoguing with the established body of belief and method and directly or indirectly discussing established cinema37 and the imaginary Indian developed in this discourse. Through this dialogue each new film extends and alters filmic discourse in general and Indigenous filmic discourse in particular. Bhabha argues that this dialogue must transcend the mere recognition and dismissal of stereotypical images and engage with their effectivity in the construction of fetishized colonialist identification,38 ie, the subaltern film discourse must redirect the colonial discourse's effectivity of constructing images and identity and thus deconstruct hetero- and autostereotypified images and identities.
In the face of Eurocentric historicizing, Third World and minoritarian filmmakers have rewritten their own histories, taken control over their own images, spoken in their own voices. It is not that their films substitute a pristine "truth" for European "lies," but that they propose counter-truths and counter narratives informed by an anticolonialist perspective.39
With this statement Shohat and Stam summarize one important aspect of the global process of decolonization which is the creation of anticolonialist media. Postcolonial criticism foremost deals with literature but it is justified to open up the employment of postcolonial theory to the field of film and video as well. The study of films/videos will move in a similar direction because postcolonial filmmakers are subject to the same cultural hegemonies and (post)colonial conditions as writers, ie, the socioeconomic, historiopolitical, and cultural contexts of production, in short postcolonial experiences that condition the production process, are the same. The decolonization of the media means foremost raising Indigenous voices and creating self-controlled media in the process of asserting Indigenous identity, cultural values, and historical and contemporary experiences as well as contesting the grand Western narratives of Indigenous history, ethnography, and sociology. In this way, Indigenous filmmakers strive to work against assimilation through Western media discourses and against the appropriation of Indigenous discourses. Within these works of anticolonialist media, filmmakers attempt to break down stereotypes and pre-conceived notions of Indigenous cultures that Western media discourses have established. Needless to say, the creation of anticolonialist media requires that Indigenous filmmakers have control over film production, and, if possible, over distribution and broadcast as well.

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