Thursday, January 05, 2006

Manhattan for a string of beads?

OK. Let's review. The story was that the Europeans "snookered" an obliging group of Indians into selling Manhattan for a handful of beads and bronze trinkets. Not very long ago, some scholars postulated that the Indians who made that swap were just passing through, and not native to the area, so who laughed last?

Clousseau: Does your dog bite?
Young lady: No.
[dog bites Clousseau]
Clousseau: Ow! I thought you said your dog does not bite!
Young lady: That's not my dog.

Mired at the core of the entire Jack Abramoff scandal is the lingering doubt and guilt many white people feel over the miserable way the native American has been treated throughout US history. Predictably, white people have overreacted in classic ways waxing orgasmic with the patronizing view that NAs are "noble savages" and incapable of functioning without rubber bumpers on everything. The problem with this mythos is that no credit is given to NAs for any degree of sophistication or refinement of thought in a way that is respected in a healthy western culture - as if first nations must rely on the benevolence of modern corporate society for everything. Hence the US government passes laws like McCain/Feingold Campaign Finance Reform which makes Native American groups immune to the very legislation contained therein, and we are surprised they took advantage? No, wait - it hasn't been parsed that way, has it? We are told by our humble news readers that the Indians have been taken advantage of- the big dummies- and the cavalry needs to swoop in and save them from some bad old white men. Thus we perpetuate the eternal victim status of these world-weary folks.

All politics aside, I think at issue is not a question of Indians & Cowboys, villains and heroes, but more a question of what the fabric of our society means in the larger sense. Let's be frank about this subject - we are not talking about the town bully kicking the shit out of a little Girl Scout lemonade stand. What is a casino, other than a place where a small group of people with vast amounts of money take advantage of the baser nature of a larger group with less capital to spare and no common sense? Yes, most casino-goers would have squandered their monthly check on beer, cigarettes and bad coffee anyway, but does that give moral high ground to people who provide the opportunity to become an even bigger loser? Of course, it's entertainment--the mere spectacle of the other tourists makes a trip to Vegas worthwhile, and while I'd fain deny anyone the opportunity to see a 5'3" 300 lb lady from Des Moines in gold lame hotpants and matching haltertop (to paraphrase the Bard, "Fatty Friday must be peopled!"), I'm not sure that this is an aspect of our culture we should really be promoting and celebrating. That's why God gave us Nascar™.

Casinos are shitty, destructive things. While I celebrate everyone's right to go down the tubes in the manner of their choice--naming their own poisons along the way--I can't get past the idea of these palaces of excess and self-indulgence built on the grief and hardships of so many people just hoping desperately that their luck will change and this time it's gonna be different and everything's coming up roses. Why is Las Vegas the sucide capital of the USA? If people are going to gamble, they need to bet on themselves, on their own hard work, determination and perserverance, and not on a roll of the dice. If people put sweat equity into all their aspirations, luck will not be a factor. [I could go off on a tangent about reality TV and unrealistic expectations and instant gratification as personified in miraculous and ridiculously expensive home- and personal- make-over shows, but I'll save that for a slow news day, k?]

I could hear the gloat in the voices on The Diane Rehm Show this morning on PBS radio. I can imagine the microphones clogged with the lusty spittle conjured by the thought of every Republican in office falling like a set of dominos. Too soon they crow, methinks. Just in case you were about to make the mistake of believing the Abramoff Indian Casino Lobby Scandal was a canker solely on the butt of Republicans, here's a lovely list of Democrats who accepted MILLION$ from Abramoff & his Indian buddies. John Kerry alone took in a whopping $98,550 from the same groups. Time to get rid of parties altogether, I say. Or let's have a fair showing of Independents and Libertarians in debates for future races, at the very least. Just like the casinos, in politics we should be fighting to overcome rather than to indulge our absolute worst instincts.

An acquaintance in Dallas - Dori Warner - told me when she lived in Phoenix there was some controversy over the first intrepid Indian Casinos to open, and the state sent big trucks to confiscate the slot machines from them. She said she was bowled over by the irony when she was watching the news and these 18-wheelers backed up to the casino doors, with the name "MAYFLOWER" emblazoned on the sides.

An excellent article on this subject in Time magazine was called "Wheel of Misfortune" by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele. To quote:
Casinos were supposed to make Indian tribes self-sufficient. So why are
the white backers of Indian gambling raking in millions while many tribes
continue to struggle in poverty?

Finally, I will say that for a great many on reservations throughout the USA, the casinos HAVE provided sustenance in the form of jobs and purposeful routine. Although I have described the worst, most libertine aspects of casinos, I concede there have been some tiny positive results from their existence. Nonetheless, I feel casinos are bad in general. Be it a tent in the New Mexico desert, or an ultra-cool super-suave Monte Carlo black-tie affair crawling with James Bond types. Bad to the bone. Not good-bad. Bad-bad.


Knight Of The Storms said...

Clousseau - lol :)

Dick said...

Best post yet, no question.

phlegmfatale said...

aw, garsh!