Thursday, November 25, 2004

November 25, 2004
The news from Lake Knife-Be-Gone (More WHA sniping and whining): Being an outsider and reading about the travails of the Western History Conference is a bit like driving by a bad pileup on the freeway: you feel so bad about the death and damage, but you can't stop rubbernecking. So, if like me, spectacular and petty carnage is your cup of tea, strap on your seat-belt and get ready for some smashmouth history.

We start off with a smug, condescending bromide from the heartland. The bracket comments [like this] are mine:

"Let's just say it loud and clear: the banquet was a disaster. That the person who gave the address [Bill Kurtis] thought he was at an Elks Lodge meeting and could make sexist and crude jokes [I counted one weak joke, and one reference to a female as a "Honey"] and then show all-male gun historical reenactment films [Kurtis showed snippets from his Investigating History TV series, one on the O.K. Corral and the other on the Dalton's Coffeyville raid, both written by WHA member and emcee Paul Hutton] is his fault, not anyone elses [sorry, didn't mean to entertain you]. The problem is that the banquet has been the scene of continuous speaker malfeasances, most in the recent past. This years is over and done with. We move on, but resolved not to do this again [Yes, if this keeps up we may actually have some fun].

"I knew we were in trouble when we started the long list of awards and our President announced she sure was glad this was her last duty as president. Now how would you feel if you had traveled a very long distance, had footed the bill for an overpriced and very average meal [Hey, my meal was actually pretty good, but I'm a Colonialist CARNIVORE!], and your leader says that your award is just one big 'pain'? [Excuse me Mr. Historian, but I never heard her say it was a "pain." Do you have a footnote on that?] I'm sure she did not mean to convey this message, but it felt that way at our table [or as it was known at the banquet: the table where "fun goes to die"]. Remember, words are very important [Thanks, I was about to throw them all away. Whew!] And so off we began with a trip through insult after insult. Names mispronounced [three, max]. Native American names stumbled over [one: “Tohono O’odham” try it, it ain't easy]. The shameful mispronunciation [this hyperbolic usage of the word shameful is shameful] of a young Finnish scholar who then was disgendered [Iris mistook the Finnish winner for a person without testicles, sort of like the writer of this posting]. Finns in the audience were publicly amused and privately astounded [that's funny, I'm half Norwegian and I was publicly empathetic and privately ambivalent. Why don't you try getting up in front of a crowd of 800 and attempt to correctly pronounce the names Philbert Watahomogie, Squibe Nish, Alex Suthogomie, Bennie Whatanome and Alan Tapija. I can. These are all Hualapai Indians, excuse me, indigenous peoples, I grew up with. But I don't expect others to flawlessly pronounce their names and more importantly, neither do they]. As the scholar was one of my former students, I can tell you I wasn't amused [hard to imagine]. He was much more graceful about it when told in Helsinki [of course, he didn't have to sit at your damn table]. He was less impressed to be called a Swede in subsequent factless electronic commentary [this appears to be a veiled reference to this blog, and I guess with the publication of this posting the trend continues]. One university press editor had her name mispronounced both times and in two different ways for the two awards her press received [Oh, the horror! The horror!]. So I was grateful when the person who took the mike at the end of the event to call everyone's attention to all of these slights after the unfortunate 'joke.'"

—John "The Big Red Joker" Wunder
University of Nebraska

Now by way of contrast, read this posting:

"What's in a name? Lots, apparently. John Wunder and others have made much of the outgoing president's mispronunciation of the name of a prizewinner, saying that she thereby compromised his identity. The first to protest that mispronunciation was the person who spoke out at the end of the banquet, but she in turn misidentified him as Native American (in fact he's a Finn). She later compounded the error by apologizing on another listserv for calling him 'indigenous,' thereby inadvertently denying him any identity whatsoever. After all, we are all indigenous to somewhere. The point is that well meaning persons can stumble, as did both of these individuals. Is each of us comfortable with being criticized to this degree for every one of our own slip-ups? More generally, can we take more deep breaths, cultivate our senses of humor and loosen up?"
—Elliott West, Co-moderator, H-West

Wow! Is that the voice of reason, or what? Too bad he'll probably be strung up by the Joker Brigade.

"We need to be a party that stands for more than the sum of our resentments.  In the heartland, where I am from, there are doubts.  Too often, we're caricatured as a bicoastal cultural elite that is condescending at best and contemptuous at worst to the values that Americans hold in their daily lives."
—Evan Bayh, Democratic Senatorr

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