Shit White People Do, part umptybillion: "Les Indes galantes—Les Sauvages" (video)

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143 Responses to “Shit White People Do, part umptybillion: "Les Indes galantes—Les Sauvages" (video)”

  1. Tony Howat says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwCoSxi9TJU - let’s not forget this for even greater levels of WTF in the name of the arts… NSFW

  2. jaypee says:

    This just completely erased my morning-after glow from last night’s internet cat video fest.
    Seriously, white people are fucking weird.

  3. technogeekagain says:

    I’m sorry, but I have a hard time getting particularly bent out of shape about this one.

    When producing something like this there is always a difficult trade-off between presenting it as the period piece it is — which means accepting that it’s going to be based on a minimally-informed fantasy about “the savages” — and trying to be respectful to the people it was ill-informed about.

    The alternative is to completely modernize the production, but in many cases that would require serious rewriting of the book. And it actually can be counterproductive; by sweeping the issue under the rug you’d be trying to pretend that the stereotypes never existed, which I consider less useful than saying “here’s what it was when it was” and trusting the audience (perhaps with a bit of help from the program notes) to recognize that what they’re seeing bears little relationship to reality.

    And let’s be serious here — opera NEVER bears much relationship to reality.

    Re the turkey cloaca: That’s what happens when city types design the production. Those of us whose contact with turkeys is mostly in butchered/cooked form don’t tend to look at this and think in terms of the rear end of an actual animal.

    • asterios9 says:

      Indeed, you can go further and say that this production takes these limitations and turns them into an intentional joke.  Whether the joke is funny is up to you, but that’s obviously what they were trying to do.

      • John Young says:

        This is a defensible argument.  I mean, I can see how you could say that the whole construct of the “noble savage” is and always has been ridiculous, so we make it ridiculous in order to POSTMODERNISM HERMENEUTICS DECONSTRUCTION OWL OF MINERVA ET CETERA

        …but is it? I mean, they do the King Tut at seven minutes. The king tut? It has to be a joke, right? Right?  My American eyeballs are not used to this level of uncertainty! Please add a laugh track, or make somebody wink, or something!

        • SamSam says:

          I think the red periwiged-woman dancing the Pulp Fiction “twist” move was the laugh track/knowing wink you were looking for.

          Although I really hated that red periwiged-woman. Seemed like such an obvious move to say “look! We’re being kinda postmodern here! See! She’s dancing the twist! And humping the turkey! Aren’t we witty?”

      • John Young says:

        My opera friends confirm: this is tongue-in-cheek.  Or “corncob pipe in smirky drummer’s cheek”, I guess.

        I have a new favorite opera director:”As a student, he directed Julius Caesar, which he now calls his “most daring production ever”. Set in the Japanese Kabuki style, with a flower bridge built over the audience, and with Caesar’s death performed in slow motion created an enormous scandal. After that, it became very hard for him to find a job in Romania.”
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrei_%C5%9Eerban

        • Antinous / Moderator says:

          Yeah, satire.  Because blackface is still totally cool, and anyone who doesn’t appreciate it is just butthurt.

          • John Young says:

            Are we on opposite sides of this argument?  I’m not sure. 

            I _think_ where the director is going with this is “the concept of the noble savage is, and always has been, ridiculous, and says more about the beholder than the beheld.”

            Kind of like the “Camptown Races” scene in Blazing Saddles.

            In any case, thanks for posting this, it’s possibly the best/worst thing I’ve ever seen.

          • Antinous / Moderator says:

            Are we on opposite sides of this argument?

            No. But do you let your friends get away with calling a minstrel show ‘tongue in cheek’?

    • Quiche de Resistance says:

      Or, they could just not be racist as fuck.  This is an option.

    •  I dunno. It’s probably been thirty years since I saw a period-authentic production of Orfeo et Euridice, complete with cornettos, sackbuts, violas de gamba and theorbos in the orchestra, and costumed technicians in the wings swinging painted flats and deux ex machinas across the proscenium on ropes, and the memory has never left me.

      (That was around the same time I saw a production of Berg’s Wozzeck where the entire stage was transformed into an Ames room. That was pretty cool, too.)

    • Steve Taylor says:

      Couldn’t have said it better myself, so I won’t. This production of _Les Indes Galantes_ is a big favourite of mine and I’ve watched the pixels right off it.

      The fact that it doesn’t display modern attitudes is pretty obvious (equally so in other segments of the same opera, The Incas of Peru and The Generous Turk) and anyone who’d be surprised by that would probably be startled by their own shadow.

  4. capl says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IKCkDMVo8E

    What about the pan-pipe playing peruvian pretenders all over Europe who dress like “Indians”?

    • dragonfrog says:

      We’re ignorant racist imperialists because we put money in their tip jars and don’t do a facepalm when we see them.

      But if we do a facepalm and fail to tip, we’re also racist imperialists because we’re failing to support their legitimate cottage industry.

      But if we both facepalm and tip, we’re condescending racist imperialists, simultaneously looking down on them, and paying them to abase themselves further.

      But if we neither facepalm nor tip, we’re stingy racist imperialists.

      Assuming you are white, those are your options.  Got it?

      EDIT – interesting, a sub-thread of comments vanished as I tried to post in reply.

      In short though, SedanChair pointed out the “white privilege tactic” of both joking and meaning it, an accusation I will at least partially cop to here. Took me a while to compose my reply, because it took some introspection to figure out why I feel the accusation was both partly fair and partly not; how that relates to why the joke seemed funny to me when I posted it (and yes, it’s a feeble joke); and then to express that.

      I guess it comes down to
      - I kind of internally accuse myself of being horrible no matter my reaction in this sort of case
      - I feel like there is a vast range of perception of what constitutes racism, cultural imperialism, etc., and my own internal self-accusations tend toward the ridiculous end of the spectrum, what I feel is ridiculous when I hear other people utter them.

      Put another way – I don’t know which is more ridiculous – white anglophones who go all spiritual-looking and say ‘Namaste’ when ‘good morning’ would do fine, or white anglophones who get agitated when their fellow white anglophones say ‘Namaste’. And I feel like I’m sometimes both of those things.

  5. Anyone else thinking of Ricky Wong in We Can Be Heroes?

  6. Xeni Jardin says:

    [Johnny Depp photo here]

  7. Deidzoeb says:

    Native American men are renowned for copious, luxurious chest hair.

  8. Because we white Americans, even the educated liberal ones, have never insulted anyone’s racial heritage, we are just so perfect in that regards…

    No amount of racial pandering will excuse the fact almost all Indigenous peoples were slaughtered here in the good old US…I find the post hypocritcal and hyper-reactionary.

    The music is beautiful. And a lot of Opera is incredibly hokey. But couch your cultural derision in irony, like say The Book of Mormon, and hey, that’s ok…

    • millie fink says:

      When it comes to racism, I don’t mind white people pointing out the racist acts of other white people. White people are still trained in a society that’s still racist to think and feel in racist ways. So of course most of them will sometimes do something racist (often without even realizing it). That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t point out racism when they see it.

  9. Conspirator says:

    Wow, that was just bizarre.  Now I’m not a fan of opera, I should state that up front, and I’ve seen very few, but I don’t recall seeing choreographed dance numbers like this in other operas.  Is that common?  This one’s choreography and dancing was really reminiscent of a cheesy high school musical rather than a professional production.  Although the set design and singing seemed excellent to me.

    At around 5 minutes things got pretty weird, I was envisioning a Tim Burton piece, imagine a Danny Elfman score and Johnny Depp as the pointless drummer dude.  At 6 minutes the chicken dance just seemed so damn silly.  Then at 7 minutes I was like, wait a second, are they doing the “Walk Like an Egyptian” dance?  What’s in those pipes they are smoking?

    Really the only point I can see to putting on this production is to demonstrate to people how messed up European views of the Native Americans were a for a good long time. 

    • No more messed up than playing cowboys and Indians as a kid, or naming a football team the redskins:

      http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/nov/10/racist-redskins/?pagination=false

      But sure, let’s not perform Merchant of Venice becuase it makes us uncomfortable. We shouldn’t ever be uncomfortable. And Merchant of Venice is so *clearly* anti-semitic…

      I think Europeans are more frank than Americans, but we are no less racist then they are and vice versa. The set is a bit silly as are the costumes but whatever…

      • millie fink says:

        Really the only point I can see to putting on this production is to demonstrate to people how messed up European views of the Native Americans were a for a good long time.

        Were?

      • Navin_Johnson says:

        Not sure what your point is, the bulk of Native Americans think those mascots are insulting and have been trying to get rid of them forever, and playing “dress up” is generally frowned upon as well.

        http://www.ncai.org/search?query=mascots

        • glaborous_immolate says:

          So you say the bulk of Native Americans think that, and to offer proof, you link to a congress of American Indians. 

          • Navin_Johnson says:

             Yes, plenty other organizations as well. *In general* the mascots aren’t seen as ‘honoring’, particular ones like “The Redskins”.  You’ll notice that I didn’t say “all”.  Not sure what your beef is…

        • I think people selectively pointing out racially insenstivie things are sometimes all too happy to point it out in the interest of moral superiority. Is Sandra Lee’s kwanzaa cake racist? Not reading Huckleberry Finn? How about Avatar or John Carter? Are the reimagined conqueror narratives as dangerous as the originals? We are all predisposed to favoring people who look and act like us…I think that much is true. But pointing out racism is a tired game that just further obscures issues or race…

          The wrong people try too hard at political correctness or use it as a way to feel moral confidence, while the ones who are hopelessly ignorant just keep on doing things they’re way.

          • Navin_Johnson says:

            I think people selectively pointing out racially insenstivie things are sometimes all too happy to point it out in the interest of moral superiority.

            How do you mean “selectively” ?  We’re commenting on the video in this post.

            I think you show your hand by using “Political Correctness”, I mean if this is actually clever satire then that’s one thing, otherwise it comes across as bufoonish, at least in the context of this short clip, which I admit could be very out of context of the larger work. Having said that I was originally responding to your comment (which I still can’t make sense of) about The Redskins.

            But pointing out racism is a tired game that just further obscures issues or race…

            Absolutely, failing to acknowledge racism makes things much more pleasant………for racists.

          • millie fink says:

            But pointing out racism is a tired game that just further obscures issues or race…

            And I suppose when non-white people do it, you tell them that they’re just playing the tired old “race card”? Instead of pointing out injustices that continue to plague their lives?

          • SedanChair says:

            You’re the most accomplished racist for complaining and acting like we should ignore it.

    • asterios9 says:


      but I don’t recall seeing choreographed dance numbers like this in other operas.  Is that common?

      Some operas have at least one long sequence for choreography.  These french opera-ballets in particular were really just a long excuse for pretty singing and dancing.

      “…just seemed so damn silly.”

      It is silly on purpose!  The Rameau work is ridiculous and wrong from a contemporary standpoint (but it happens to contain nice music) so the director is trying to have some fun with it.  It’s a big fat joke.

      One of the problems of this post that simply plucks a scene out of context and presents it to a generalized audience for derision is that there’s no context for what the thing is, what the intents of its creators are, and how it’s received.  People have this naive assumption that opera and dance are considered some kind of unimpeachable “high art” and always presented with the utmost earnestness and seriousness, and that’s just not the case here.

      • Conspirator says:

        OK, thanks for clarifying that.  If the director’s intention was to be silly he definitely achieved that.  

    • Boundegar says:

      A lot of opera involves some dance, but you can tell the singers aren’t dancers.  You can also tell when the real dancers come onstage – they don’t sing.

      There was once a man who united both worlds, but Michael Jackson is no longer among us, or so they say.

    • robcat2075 says:

       “Is that common?”

      Yes, most operas have dance numbers in them and were expected to have them.

       Wagner supposedly caused a ruckus in Paris when he put the dance part in first act, before the society people got to their seats.

    • Steve Taylor says:

       Dancing in opera pretty much means you’re watching French Baroque opera. It’s always had a strong ballet component, which is way less common in other places and times.

  10. countervail says:

    Don’t blame Rameau. Just listen to the music away from the video which is quiet nice actually. Blame this idiot director. Just another piece of Eurotrash regie opera.  I mean really… in the first scene there is a drag queen dancer representing war. Yes I’m sure she was fierce but I doubt that’s what Rameau had in mind. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrei_%C5%9Eerban 

    • Steve Taylor says:

       I’m as down as you can be on “Eurotrash regie” stuff – my hatred for it knows no bounds. I enjoy this production though – it’s mercifully free of people throwing chunks of liver around the stage or building the entire set in the shape of a giant noodle.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      Rameau is great! I saw a wonderful production of Platée, which is basically about Jupiter going to the swamp and marrying a nymph to piss off Juno. In the production that I saw, Olympus was a leather bar and the swamp was the terrarium behind the bar. And the nymph was a man dressed like Margaret Dumont with long froggy fingers.

  11. that video looks just like a Eurovison Song Contest entry

    along the lines of these German Mongol Hordes from the 1970s: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7i9ozy739c8

  12. byu says:

    No,no,no,nonono. Whatever you’re doing it’s not working. I read reports about fiascos, and ‘This American Life’ has a famous episode devoted to ‘Fiasco’ and songs have been written, (see “Coco,” a total fiasco) but they never get recorded. So rare. I still haven’t made it all the way thru, but I will watch this forever. I thought you were taking license with words like ‘chicken dance’ and ‘corncob”, but you are not. What.Were.They.Think.Ing.

  13. This opera actually presents a series of love stories riddled with Orientalism and exoticism (one Turkish, one Incan, one Persian, and one Native American).  1. As the author states, this was written in the 18th century; 2. Do you REALLY think the director wasn’t aware of the incongruities between modern sensibilities and 18th century exoticism and attitudes toward non-western cultures?  I seriously doubt this production was meant to be taken at face value.  He frames the production as being firmly rooted in Baroque aesthetic and attitudes.  It is meant to be blatant pageantry and exoticism, and you’re /supposed/ to be uncomfortable.  You can argue that Andre Serban’s concept is ineffective or unclear, but I think it’s totally unfair to take this out of context.  

    Most modern European opera productions (and, on occasion, American opera productions) are very self-aware.  Their goal is to question the opera in the broader context of culture and history (whether modern or contemporary to the work).  

    Come on, guys.  

    • This comment is me, btw…

    • John Young says:

      Almost all of it can be a clever, self-referential statement about how the 21st century is an intentionally distorted lens to view how the distorted lens of the 18th century viewed the Other.  Okay, sure.

      But the King Tut dance at 7:00? …that is REAL.

      • True facts!  But it is also supposed to fucking ridiculous.  You should be laughing and feeling like a horrible person.  

        And this is a perfect excuse for posting this: http://www.hulu.com/watch/55342

        • Navin_Johnson says:

          So it’s satire? I have to say, that’s the only way it works for me. If it is, then that’s different, but still…

          • Yeah, but it’s sort of achieved by employing outdated performance/aesthetic fashion.  It’s like the Daily Show – it’s satire that success by presenting things as they really are (or were).  I mean, this isn’t literally how a Baroque production would look, but employs the kind of cliches and stereotypes they would have included.

          • dragonfrog says:

            Yes.  Opera audiences are expected to be able to recognize satire in the absence of a laugh track.

          • Navin_Johnson says:

            @dragonfrog:disqus ,
            Well I mean it’s so subtle and sophisticated…..
            It’s basically the Native American equivalent of having a bunch of people up there in blackface cakewalking and tossing watermelons around for a crowd of mostly affluent white opera goers.  It may be intended as satire but it’s very cringe inducing to see a bunch of white people dressed up in comic Native American getups disco-ducking all over the stage, the stereotypes are very, uh…modern too.  I’m not sure how well it works, but then I’m not really a fan of this kind of Broadway musical style camp and silliness, furthermore I bet if you asked those smart opera audiences as they exit to comment on the satire you may get some really embarrassing responses.

          • dragonfrog says:

            @Navin_Johnson:disqus 
            I bet if you asked those smart opera audiences as they exit to comment on the satire you may get some really embarrassing responses. 

            I’m sure you’re entirely right.  I do think directors should aim their productions at the less embarassing portion of  their audiences though.

    • Quiche de Resistance says:

      Come on guys.  White people recreating racism as a comment on racism for other white people can’t be racist.  Especially if they are artistic white people who don’t see themselves as racist.

      If an action is not intended to be racist, it really can’t be racist, right?  Just ask the RNC attendees.

      It is totally unfair to take this out of the context of white people who are confident they aren’t racist just because they are doing olde-tyme racism.

      Come on guys.

      • asterios9 says:

        Oh sure, you can take that approach if you want.  Pretty much all opera before Mozart is inescapably douchey, and so fuck all of it if it pleases you.  Fuck Marie Antoinette and fuck 18th-Century France.

        What’s stupid is that Antinous, who claims to “love Rameau’s music,” somehow fails to register that this is supposed to be funny, and passes it on to another author who seems to understand even less, who then broadcasts it to the BB masses who will then think that they are seeing some sincere but horribly misguided homage to the noble peoples of the past.  

        You can still hate it, but at least you should understand what you are looking at.

        This post is like taking a quote from the RNC blatantly out of context and then fulminating against it, when you could have formulated an intelligent critique of their platform language or voting records or whatever. (But perhaps you wouldn’t, because in this case you are “a fan.”)

        • Antinous / Moderator says:

          You can still hate it, but at least you should understand what you are looking at.

          I don’t want to overthrow your whole world view, but this isn’t vintage film footage from the 18th century. The “context” is that it was produced in 2005.

          • What kind of reply is that? I think that art has always met criticism and opera is nothing else than art, performance art. Recreating the ridiculous baroque operas, as they would have been played at their time, would seriously rock your whole world view. This  representation here is for educated people that do recognize the acid satire that the director tries to bring forth. It’s Disney meets 17th century stereotypes. You don’t throw operas at the general public and then wait for some well thought through arguments, do you!? Have you ever been to an opera?

            Sure you could dessicate this piece, easily as it is a daring one. What I see here again in most of the comments is the narrow-minded “political correct” hypocrisy that is so typical for some Americans. You know, we Europeans know what it means to be racist. Really racist, not the colour racism, the deep, dangerous and xenophobe racism. And we do try to therapeutically act against it through art, and we do this openly, without hypocrisy. We talk about it. We don’t shut it down with: “OMG, racist!!!!” We discuss, we act and we criticize. We argue, we get angry and we feel guilty.

          • Antinous / Moderator says:

            You know, we Europeans know what it means to be racist. Really racist, not the colour racism, the deep, dangerous and xenophobe racism. And we do try to therapeutically act against it through art, and we do this openly, without hypocrisy.

            So you replay racist stereotypes as an excuse to beat your breasts and make yourselves the center of attention? What a quaintly narcissistic approach to the real problem of racism.

  14. IronEdithKidd says:

    This is what I immediately think of when “chicken dance” is mentioned:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQzqFBenQ-g

    I post for the sake of clarity for the non-north-North American readers.

  15. Daneel says:

    So, when are the Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Braves,  Florida State Seminoles, Cleveland Indians, Chicago Blackhawks et al changing their names?

  16. isabelleparis says:

    It’s definitely meant as satirizing colonialism and the way Europeans look at First Nations – Petitbon is wearing high heel boots and a man’s headdress! The opera was written when France had an empire in North America and was enslaving natives and converting them to Catholicism.

    • retepslluerb says:

      And France doesn’t have any North American colonies anymore. Since centuries.  It’s just another  foreign culture to them, with no special feelings attached.  

      Doesn’t look that different  from mainstream perception of French (or, for that matter, Germans) in US culture. 

  17. glaborous_immolate says:

    I always wonder about the claims that the Iroquois confederation influenced the US congress. That gets portrayed as a great thing. But if the USA was Othering and Exoticizing and Noble Savaging the American Indians while deciding their form of government was awesome, maybe the way they decided to adapt it is really horrible actually. What are the odds that we *understood* what we were adapting to our own form of government? And if we weren’t, why does that count in the ‘awesome’ column for native influence?

  18. Nell Anvoid says:

    Unintentionally…ironically… satirically….I don’t care. I’m still clutching my sides.  Now THAT’s entertainment!

  19. Mister44 says:

    What show is this from? Is there a plot? Just….. just what the hell?

    ETA – what country is it from. I can see foreigners not being very considerate of Native American Feelings.

  20. stuck411 says:

    Did anyone see the image of ‘Beast Jesus’ on the savages tunics when they came out on stage? Congrats to the girl doing the bat dance on top of the giant turkey. Plus the costumer who gave them all leather outfits to wear under the hot lights must have thought they needed to sweat off a few pounds.

    Yea. I get that this was written in the 1700s. But really? Did they have to keep the same staging and choreography? The performers even seemed bored.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      Did anyone see the image of ‘Beast Jesus’ on the savages tunics when they came out on stage?

      I’m pretty sure that was the Mycenaean Agamemnon mask.

    • Steve Taylor says:

       > Yea. I get that this was written in the 1700s. But really? Did they have to keep the same staging and choreography?

      Nope. That’s why they changed it.

  21. Xeni,
    Normally I’m very supportive of everything that you post to boingboing, but speaking as a professional opera singer, what we as performers have control over artistically when on stage is very small.  Most of us have little to no say in what we wear or do if we want to continue to be employed.  And this production (while silly and outlandish) does not even come close to the depths of idiocy that I have been involved in on stage.  More than anything this makes me shake my head.  The people that need to be chastised are the director, the designer, and the artistic administrator of the company for putting this on stage.

    The fundamental problem with opera is that for the past 20 years there has been a backlash against traditional productions and a move towards trying to find something new.  That leads to grand statements of art with a capital F.  There needs to be a backlash against this crap that is on stage now.  Every time I walk into a theatre for the first meeting with the director and he starts talking about his “concept” I cry a little bit inside.  Very often, what happens is that what ends up making it onto stage is crap like this where the audience is not taken into account.  You don’t need to beat people over the head to communicate with them, but don’t force them to read a treatise on why there is a random masturbating nude man standing in the corner or people doing the chicken dance.

    There are tremendous directors that are doing new and innovative things with this incredible art form that push the boundaries of the original work.  I am thinking specifically of San Francisco Opera’s new Ring Cycle where they fuse projections and art deco with Wagner’s Ring cycle.  The effect is new and stunning AND adds to the story without clouding the source material.  Every steam punk fan on boing boing would have been cheering to see Brünnhilde parachuting on to the stage in a WWI flying suit.

    Most of us smile, nod, and do the best job that we can with the crap spewed at us.  Why am I painted blue, why do I have a silk hoodie on, why am I wearing a see-thru kimono with lights on my junk are all questions that, if we want to continue to be employed, we can’t ask.  I commend the singers in this production for doing a great job with what they had control over; beautiful singing, and committed acting.

    In closing I would ask that you all give opera a chance to capture your imaginations.  There are great productions that I could tell you about and there are great performers that are making magic on the stage.  No matter how long ago some of these operas were written they still have the power and magic to capture the soul.

    Jeremy Milner

    • Andrei Serban was the director.  Blame that dude.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      I’m not criticizing opera.  I love opera.  Nor am I criticizing the singers.  Particularly the bass, who should feel free to e-mail me.  This production is just gormless.

      • Totally agree.  I feel so awful every time I’m involved in crap productions.  As I said earlier… I once had lights on my junk.  Not kidding.  Not even remotely kidding.  Wish I was.  Email me.  I will send you pictures and tell you all about awful productions that I have been in.

        Honestly, I hope that there is a major backlash to crap on stage.  I hope that it happens soon.  There are theaters that are standing up for quality art/entertainment and commitment to excellent theatre.  Vienna is one.  Philadelphia is another.

        • Antinous / Moderator says:

          I once had lights on my junk.

          I’m electrifying,
          And I ain’t even trying.
          I never have to sweat to get paid.

          I saw Nabucco once where they made Abigaille look exactly like Sam Kinnison.  Everybody else looked like a classical production.  Very weird.

    • Steve Taylor says:

      Cool post and I agree with what you’re saying – even though I love this particular production. Bad ‘concept’ opera productions make me want to go and hide behind the couch, and I hadn’t even thought of how much worse it must be for people onstage who find themselves wearing what appear to be Starfleet uniforms (as in the production I have of Rameau’s _Castor and Pollux_).

      But it’s bad at the other end of the spectrum too – the New York Met productions tend to be so dull and predictable that my eyes roll back into my head. I can stand the risk of horrible ‘concept’ production when a few of them do hit the mark.

  22. dolo54 says:

    I like how they are called Indians because Columbus thought he landed in India at first. Even after realizing their mistake, Europeans were like “too bad, you’re Indians now”.

  23. David Yoon says:

    Don’t the French have some strange fascination with American Indians or something? I half-remember having a drunken conversation about this after seeing the long, slow train wreck of a movie that was Le Pac de Loup.

  24. Xeni Jardin says:

    I like how the butthurt defenders in this thread are taking this blog post seriously. #lulz.

    • My issue is that this is people’s image of opera and what it is today.  I would like to offer to you a different look at this art.  If you are anywhere near Philadelphia at the end of this month till the 7th of October, I would like to offer you two tickets to come and see La Boheme.  I would be happy to take you backstage and out on stage to meet the 90+ people that build the sets and design the props and build the costumes and design the lights that make what we do possible.  It is a truly unique art form that gets a bad rap when goofy productions like this get done… or when astoundingly boring productions get done.  I only wanted to defend my colleagues because they are pouring their all into making this music come alive.
      If you cannot make it to Boheme  then I would be happy to invite you to any production that I am in.

    • Steve Taylor says:

      Surely taking the production seriously is the biggest piece of butthurtedness? This thread is like a live reenactment of “Stuff white people like”.

      • Antinous / Moderator says:

        Surely taking the production seriously is the biggest piece of butthurtedness?

        Once again, would you like to share with us your favorite minstrel shows?

        • anansi133 says:

          Looking at the video I have to ask myself why they think they can do this, when a modern blackface minstrel show would (hopefully) be shut down before it made it to stage.

          Black people in general get more respect in the media than they did in the 60′s. Native Americans, not so much. In 50 years, AIM hasn’t become obsolete the way the black panthers have.

  25. robcat2075 says:

    This looks fabulous!   It’s a time capsule of early European fascination with distant peoples it knew only through distorted traveler tales.

    And that’s the second biggest giant golden turkey I’ve ever seen.

  26. katkins says:

    Someone needs to Trololo this… 

  27. Sofia Ortiz says:

    My understanding of this is, if it was supposed to be satire, the choreographer failed massively. The original plot of this (Act 4) was actually somewhat sweet; supposedly the weirdly-dressed men in the background are a Spaniard and a Frenchman, both in love with the chief’s daughter, who prefers someone from her own tribe. None of the singers are very good at conveying comedy, and so the whole thing falls into weird “we’re trying really hard to make fun of ourselves but are failing!” territory.
    The pipes, the giant turkey, and the chicken dance just pull the production into further disaster. It’s not romantic, it’s certainly not funny, and it’s not very entertaining. I hope the director lost his job for this one. I can very easily imagine a production of this that was more sensitive, still had some satire, and involved more dancing skill.

  28. garyg2 says:

    Think we all need to chill, how about some nice G&S that can’t possibly offend:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xiV3jprrQo0

  29. Sofia Ortiz says:

    P.S. The French are not stereotypically known for their racial sensitivity, and certainly French media does not worry about political correctness as much as U.S. media does. Also, it is quite probable that most of the audience for this was white and European. For more racism in “high culture” closer to home, see: the Nutcracker ballet. The Chinese dance is… something else. The Boston ballet cuts it short, it’s so ashamed.

  30. Sagodjur says:

    This is a serious question that I’ve been curious about for years:

    I have colonial “white” ancestors, post-colonial “white” immigrant ancestors (who likely didn’t have any part in killing Native Americans and taking their land nor did they own slaves), and I have Native American ancestors. Is there a website that will calculate how much white guilt I’m supposed to experience and how much apologizing I’m supposed to do for other people who are arbitrarily categorized in the same group as me?

    • millie fink says:

      Serious question, huh? It’s obviously, snidely rhetorical, since you already know there is no such thing, but I’ll take a stab at addressing your concerns.

      How about instead of white guilt, you feel indignation and at times even rage when people of color yet again have to endure stereotypical depictions of people like them, as well as white people’s defensiveness almost every time racism gets pointed out?

      • Sagodjur says:

        It is a serious question. I’m sorry you’re interpreting it other than how I meant it.

        I do feel indignation when anyone is subject to racism, not just people of color.

        The problem is that “people of color” is as arbitrary a grouping as “white people” and “black people.” They’re all just people and any unjust discrimination against anyone for any reason is awful.

        • millie fink says:

          So now the problem you see has changed? Before it was you complaining about (supposedly) being told that you have to apologize and feel guilty. Now the problem is that racial designations are fictional? What are you really asking about here?

          And by the way, race is indeed a fiction. Nevertheless, it still has real and painful effects.

          • Sagodjur says:

            The problem hasn’t changed. I’m saying that I get the impression that I’m supposed to feel guilty for being classified as “white” by other people even if I don’t consider myself “white” and racial classifications have always been arbitrary or based on flawed, pseudo-scientific bases.  But if that’s the case, then calling out “white people” while grouping members of disparate, sometimes light-skinned ethnic groups together is just as stupid, though perhaps not as offensive.

            I agree that racism has real and painful effects and members of the arbitrary and ultimately meaningless designation of “white people” probably don’t experience discrimination based on their perceived “race” to the same degree as members of the so-called “people of color” designation, but there are other bases for discrimination that aren’t based on perceived race that we can also be outraged about.

            My question, still serious, is about why and how much I’m supposed to feel guilty when I’m not responsible for which arbitrary classification is used to classify me. Apologizing for that seems to me to be patronizing to people who experience any of the forms of discrimination that we’re mutually offended by.

          • millie fink says:

            I don’t think you should feel guilty for who you are, nor for who people take you to be in terms of race. OF COURSE you can’t help those things.

            I think you should feel guilty if you DO anything that’s racist. Including attempting to derail a discussion about racism that affects people of color with complaints about the precious feelings of white people.

            Why do so many people take complaints about racism personally, as complaints about white people, when that’s not what the complaint is? 

          • Sagodjur says:

            How is it racist to ask honest questions related to the topic of the article? You’re really watering down the meaning of “racist” if you’re labeling people who are asking sincere questions and who argue that there should be no discrimination and even no racial classifications as racist.

          • Antinous / Moderator says:

            And by the way, race is indeed a fiction. Nevertheless, it still has real and painful effects.

            Have you ever noticed that the people who talk about race being fictional never seem to have the same enthusiasm for talking about how nationality (as in passport) is really, really, really fictional?

      • themac says:

        So how do you feel about the non-”white” performers in the video? 

        • millie fink says:

          I don’t “feel” anything about any of the performers (see Jeremy’s comments above). I feel anger and disgust over the racist spectacle itself, because of its reinforcing effects. I also feel that way because while so many people would quickly condemn such a display were it performed in blackface by primarily white performers performing stereotypically black hijinks, so few people see a problem with basically the same kind of thing being done in redface.

          • themac says:

            I don’t know which is sadder, that most of these posts read like newly enlightened freshman papers on Ethnic Studies or the fact that so many people fail to see the staging for what is is; the Blazing Saddles or Bamboozled of opera.

          • millie fink says:

            themac’s false parallels are false. Bamboozled and Blazing Saddles had black actors playing black characters (i.e., they’re not minstrelsy). Anyway, with Blazing Saddles especially, that was made what, 45 years ago? And Bamboozled was satire on white racism by a black writer/director.

    • Navin_Johnson says:

      What does any of this have to do with “White Guilt”? Don’t play dress up and goof on Native Americans.  Be remotely respectful.  Not very complicated.  By the way, poor you for having to spend so much time calculating your “white guilt”…….

      • Sagodjur says:

        I wasn’t posting directly in relation to the content of the video, but rather to the topic and phenomenon of “shit white people do” and the discussions in this thread. I don’t play dress up or make fun of Native Americans.

        I’m not complaining about having to calculate my “white guilt” because I don’t feel any and I don’t feel like I should because I am not my ancestors, neither the “white” ones or the “native” ones. I’m just questioning why there is this movement to make “white people” feel guilty because some “white people” are or have been racist, imperialist, colonialist, hegemonist, etc. It seems like a vicious cycle if you stereotype one arbitrarily classified group in vengeance for members of that perceived group stereotyping members of another arbitrarily classified group.

        Or to put it more succinctly, whatever happened to “not…by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character?”

        • millie fink says:

          When people say “Basketball players are tall,” do you leap in to say that not ALL of them are tall?

          Why do white people do that when someone points out common shit that white people do? OF COURSE not all white people do them. 

          Look, white folks do have common tendencies. If you don’t have the one being discussed at a given moment, then hooray for you — the discussion’s not about you.

          I suggest Googling Racism 101. Seriously, and sincerely. 

          Trying to explain to you here all the ways that someone like you needs to catch up is impossible (and tiresome).

          • Sagodjur says:

            “When people say “Basketball players are tall,” do you leap in to say that not ALL of them are tall?”

            Yes, I do. It’s simply an inaccurate statement. You could say that some basketball players, in your experience, tend to be tall, certainly.

            My point is, “white folks” don’t have common tendencies because it’s an artificial and inherently racist approach to making blanket statements about people you don’t know. Individuals do things that may be similar to other individuals regardless of whether they fit into the same convenient categories for the purposes of making ignorant statements. Classifying people by arbitrary groups is pointless, or worse, counterproductive.

            You seem to be saying that it’s okay to stereotype “white people” but it’s not okay to stereotype people of other arbitrarily classified groups.

            If you want everyone to work towards being less discriminatory as a society, you can start by not classifying people arbitrarily and then stereotyping them according to that classification.

            That you’re patronizing me like I’m ignorant and you need to educate me is only slightly less offensive than your apparent inclination to think that stereotyping people is okay.

          • Antinous / Moderator says:

            That you’re patronizing me like I’m ignorant and you need to educate me is only slightly less offensive than your apparent inclination to think that stereotyping people is okay.

            Your comments all seem to reflect an ignorant belief that we live in a post-racial society.

          • millie fink says:

            There’s a big difference between stereotyping people and pointing out commonalities among them. The latter are true, the former egregious. The latter are not something all members of the group have, while the former is a false assumption about something that all members of the group supposedly have.
            Americans are constantly told to treat others as individuals and to ignore the significance of race. But that’s just the problem — race IS significant. And so, people within racial groupings tend to have some similar experiences, and they thus develop some common tendencies.

            One commonality among white people, for instance, is the staunch individualism that you’re professing; thanks to racism, people of color in the U.S. are FAR more likely to see the significance of their having been placed by society into an arbitrary grouping, and often treated accordingly (and therein we have, by the way, a commonality among people of color — a common tendency to self-identify more readily as a member of a racial grouping).

            A commonality among black people is that they’re far less likely than most white people to trust the police, and with good reason. A contrasting commonality among white people who hear that a friend or relative got arrested is to say, “Oh no, what did he/she do?” Thanks to widespread abuse by the police of blacks and Latinos, their reactions to such news are often different. 

            So this is a Racism 101 understanding: the difference between true and useful “commonalities” and false and harmful “stereotypes.”

            I don’t doubt your sincerity. But I can see that you don’t know all that much about a topic that I’ve clearly spent a lot more time trying to understand then you have. If the topic were something else that I could see you knew more about than I, I’d be asking questions and trying to learn from you. Many white people are the same as me that way, about other topics. But for some reason, not when it comes to the topic of racism.

          • Sagodjur says:

            I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I’m guessing (especially based on your comment history) that this is a personal issue for you and you’re probably entrenched in your position based on your personal experiences. And I have my own biases and experiences that help me to be entrenched in my position.

            I don’t disagree with your overall perception that discrimination is a problem and I don’t perceive myself as being an enemy to your cause.

  31. BombBlastLightingWaltz says:

    North American Natives have more meat on them then these skinny ones have. The one larger female singer had me thinking she was Nishnawbe, but close up proved wrong. Still, awesome production and nicely done. Imagine this is your job everyday, making it real takes talent. 

    Since there is speaking of sterotypes, I have a story. My parents where lost in Philadelphia trying to find a hotel. The old man was driving and stopped at a corner where 3 men where standing. He approached them and excusing himself asked them if they knew where so-and-so hotel was at yadayaydayda. The three turned to each other and broke out laughing saying to the old man, “Your a Canadian aren’t you?” “Yes” me old man replied, “How can you tell?”,which begat further chuckles. “Because, no white man would stop his car and walk up to 2 negros and 1 latino and ask them for help.” Which made my old man laugh and say “Why is that? You guys look alright.” Long story short, they told him how to get to where he need to be and they were right with the directions.

  32. robcat2075 says:

    I’ll argue that the stereotypes presented here shouldn’t be offending anyone greatly.

    I’m sure they are NOT accurate representations of native American dress, customs or behavior but this is not done with the same purpose as the inaccurate representations of black people in “Birth of a Nation”, for example.  This production was not staged to create fear and loathing of native Americans nor to teach that they are somehow a danger to white society.

    This production was staged, first, to get this fabulous music into a setting where it could live for a live audience and second, to give modern audiences some insight into what the still very isolated Europeans of the Louis XIV period might  have fantasized about foreign lands and people and how they did it via these very odd (to our eyes) baroque operas.

    They didn’t despise these characters, they were fascinated by them.

    • millie fink says:

      Yeah right. And in the U.S., sports mascots based on “Indians” merely honor them. Fans of the Braves, Chiefs and Cleveland Indians don’t despise aboriginal peoples; instead, they’re really just fascinated by Indians, and so, so impressed by how valiantly they fought for their lands. Yes, many of today’s Indians/NAs feel insulted, romanticized, fetishized, invaded or appropriated, but that’s their own fucking problem. Amiright? 

  33. orangedesperado says:

    Wow — as a white person I feel such mortification, sadness and utter shame watching that. I don’t know enough opera to understand what a production of what that typically looks like — but it felt very “Waiting for Guffman” — in the most misguided kitschy ways. It would be right at home here, I think:

    http://nonnativenativeart.blogspot.ca/

  34. edkedz says:

    I haven’t heard “racialist” (instead of “racist”) for quite a while.

  35. robcat2075 says:

    From a commentary on “Les Indes” linked to in the Wikipedia article mentioned above…

    “What I find interesting is how this piece travelled: it actually returned to the New World. Around the middle of the [18th] century, in the Carribean island of Dominica, a group of French immigrants were having a party, to which a number of natives … were present. Rameau’s dance was played, and immediately roused the enthusiasm of the natives, who started dancing in their own fashion to the tune, and danced themselved to exhaustion. Rameau was informed of his success, which he found the most flattering because it was sincere and pure.”

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