19 April, 2010

But, all I know of Indian burial grounds I learned from a Stephen King novel

Today my inbox contained an email which I had received via OZTL_NET (cross posted on six other lists) entitled "What does Neil Gaiman know about American Indians?".

This email was from a Professor of American Indian Studies and pointed to a blog post she had written concerning some remarks the Author Neil Gaiman had made in an interview about The Graveyard Book. It seems the professor had concerns that these comments were ill-advised in relation to the true nature of American history.

I shot back a reply to the list (but not to the cross posted lists) saying that I thought the comments made sense in the context of the book (and perhaps made a joke in there about reading comprehension of the original poster).
I considered sending @neilhimself a tweet to let him know there was a blog post out there in the world which seemed to be suggesting he was... ? Racially insensitive, culturally ignorant?
but I decided that I am not such a fanboy that I needed to do that.

A short time later I noticed via the Tweet Tubes that Neil was aware not only of that post, but also of another post which seemed to take things further and suggest that his quote (if not he himself) was racist.

Neil lashed out, using foul language like 'twit' but then recanted and apologised for it. But the damage had been done and internet white knights rode into battle, some defending their hero Neil while others rode in to defend the two bloggers who had called out this racist Brit.

All in all it was a wonderfully amusing internet sideline for me today, but it left me wondering a few things.

Why do people get so offended so easily, why do we all feel we know the authors whose books we read, is this all a storm in a teacup...

oh, and did the original blogger invoke the name of a literary celebrity beloved of many online folk just in order to ramp up some blog traffic? If not, why would she be emailing a list for Australian teacher librarians to mention her blog post?

Apparently there are follow up blog post on the issue, but I don't believe I care to read them. I think I'll read a book instead but if it has Indians in it I will make sure I consider the cultural implications. Ohh, seems spaming newsgroups and bagging authors may be a good method to get your point across?
I wonder if anyone out there in academia is looking at the representations of Indigenous Australians in children's books? I know that Biggles in Australia is appallingly racist but I don't know many kids these days who read about Biggles and his chums. And if I were to come across a kid with a love of the hero of the Camel Squadron, I think I would be able to have a nice conversation about outdated British imperialism and ideas of racial superiority.

1 comment:

Katie said...

Hi John,

Juliet O'Conor, the librarian who looks after the Children's Literature Collection at the State Library of Victoria, has been researching the history of the publication of Australian Indigenous stories for children. She has touched on 'representations of Indigenous Australians in children's books' as part of that research, e.g. http://nishi.slv.vic.gov.au/latrobejournal/issue/latrobe-79/t1-g-t7.html

More detailed research on the topic can be found in Clare Bradford's book 'Reading Race: Aboriginality in Australian Children's Lit':

/librarian mode :-)