China, Hong Kong, and Basketball: How One Tweet Started a Firestorm in the NBA

by Nicholas Kishaba

Staff Writer

In March, demonstrations began in the streets of Hong Kong, largely in protest against a bill which would essentially allow the Chinese government to extradite fugitives from regions they do not currently control, such as Taiwan, Macau, and Hong Kong. Since then, Hong Kong City Leader Carrie Lam has agreed to withdraw the bill, however, as protests have increased in both frequency and violence, protesters’ demands have consolidated into a call for democracy. Among other demands such as amnesty for arrested protesters, and an inquiry into police brutality, there are also demands for the resignation for Lam, who is believed by the protesters to be a pawn for Beijing.

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European Indians: Germany’s Fetishization of Native American Culture

European Indians: Germany’s Fetishization of Native American Culture

By Nick Vacchio
Staff Writer

When Berlin was liberated at the end of World War II, American soldiers were surprised to find German children familiar with concepts of the Old West. Just like American boys and girls back home, German children could be seen playing imaginative games dressed as Native Americans in deer skin and feathers (“Ich Bin”). Today, the practice continues on an even grander scale with Wild West clubs, festivals, plays and museums dedicated to indigenous American Indian culture captivating the interest of Germans and other Europeans of all ages. It seems strange to think of Europeans being so engulfed and captivated by a particular period of history in which they played no part. The Old West’s past is filled with unique tales and folklore specific to its country of origin: The United States. How Germany became obsessed over a culture they have no connection with whatsoever is a compelling tale with modern ties.

European interest for Indigenous American culture stems from the works of German author, Karl May. Influenced by James Fenimore Cooper’s famous novel The Last of the Mohicans, which depicted the events of the French and Indian War in 1757, May occasionally spent time in prison reading about the Wild West and soon began to pen his own stories. When he was released from prison, May desired to move to America but instead became an editor and eventually the most popular author in German history (Haircrow). His most famous works revolved around an inexperienced German explorer named Old Shatterhand who moved to America and befriended a fictional Apache warrior named Winnetou. May wrote several well-read novels about the duo’s heroic adventures across the Wild West. This helped to support Germanic conceptions of their national identity as well as carve a specific place in their hearts for Native American peoples and their customs (“Ich Bin”).

May’s western stories were all purely fictional. The most ‘western’ place he ever physically set foot in was Buffalo, New York. This is in no way close to his imagined setting of the Great Plains (“Ich Bin”). Despite the lack of historical accuracy, May’s works found their way into the lives of a German people desperate for a role model. Up until his first Winnetou novel was published in the late 1880’s, Germany lacked home-grown literary characters it could identify with and be proud of. During this time, Europe was developing into an industrial capitalist machine. May’s books provided a form of escape from this lifestyle and had significant influence on both Albert Einstein as well as Adolf Hitler (“Ich Bin”). In 1987, Author Frederic Morton summed up the famous writer’s impact stating, “The legendary in Karl May’s books saturated (and still saturates) just about every Central European boyhood,” (Morton).

Today, May’s works continue to leave their impact on central European culture. Ever since the 1950s, the Karl May Festival has taken place in the town of Bad Segeberg. The festival lasts for the course of the summer and includes a fantasized Indian village set in the era when May’s stories take place. The real draw to the festival though is the yearly play which is derived from one of May’s many stories about Old Shatterhand and Winnetou. Last years festival season brought in a total of 346,677 people which set a record for the third consecutive year (“Treasure of Silver Lake”). But May’s posthumously successful festival is not the only place where Germany celebrates the Native American way of life.

Many Germans are participants in this imagined and fetishized Native American lifestyle. There are Wild West theme parks such as El Dorado which are popular vacation spots complete with saloon, Indian village, wooden fort, and everything else that comes to mind when thinking about the traditional imagery associated with cowboys and Indians. For those who are more serious about getting in touch with their “inner Native American,” there are over 400 clubs where members pay dues so they can pretend to be American Indians. Pow-wows are hosted throughout the year by Caucasians in native dress and some people even take up the art of making leather gifts and additional knick knacks. Others learn to shoot a bow and arrow, ride horses, play drums, and dance in the way they imagine Natives did hundreds of years ago. Participants in these activities sometimes refer to themselves as rote Indianer or red Indians and give one another traditional fantasized names like White Wolf or Old Bull. Some even go one step further and head out into the countryside for the weekend to set up a tipi campground. There, they adorn themselves in the furs of various animals, cook meals on an open flame, and discuss what it truly means to be Native American (Haircrow). They are, of course, not actually Native Americans, which has left more than a few members of indigenous tribes in the United States and Canada offended.

Some German Indian hobbyists believe that they are keeping the true spirit of Native American culture alive. They look down on the actual Natives who struggle with poverty or alcoholism and do not seem to appreciate their own unique customs (Haircrow). However, as part Apache and Cherokee, Red Haircrow notes that this harmless fantasization is anything but:

They have not lived with the centuries of oppression, racism and genocide, part of which is still on-going for Native Americans, and the others we are still trying to recover from. Fantasize about being raped, murdered or having your family, your children raped and murdered in front of you. Losing your homes, your land. Being taken away from your family. (“Pretendians”)

Essentially, it is unfair for a group to embrace the positive aspects of a particular culture without experiencing the pain and misery that also come through being a member of that particular culture. You cannot have the good without the bad. It is also hurtful in a further sense because the genocide of Native Americans came at the hands of the white man.

Despite these negative opinions, not everyone thinks that this cultural appropriation is harmful. Some Natives living in Germany as well as North America find the deep interest in themselves and their culture flattering. This profound intrigue into Native American culture has led tribes to get in touch with some of their fans overseas. Groups like the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association promote and educate receptive audiences in their customs including history, art, food, and dance (Haircrow). Central Europeans are desperate to hear authentic stories from real Natives instead of the books, plays, and movies cemented in a time no longer relevant to modernity.

Whether one sees Indian hobbyists in Europe as offensive and distorting the image of what it means to truly be Native American or as a benign practice and surprising blend of two distinct cultures is a debate that is not going away anytime soon. However, there should be a consensus that it is healthy and beneficial to get away from industrial, commercialized and capitalistic society every now and again to get back to our roots as a global population. Attempting to connect deeper spiritually, taking care of the environment, forming close bonds within a community and appreciating what it truly means to be a human being on this planet are things that seem to be easily forgotten in our fast-paced and disconnected modern society. These core pillars are still prevalent in Native American culture and it might be wise that we explore them more deeply.

Works Cited

Haircrow, Red. “Germany’s Obsession with American Indians is Touching – And Occasionally Surreal.” Indian Country. Todaymedianetwork.com, 23 Mar. 2013. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.

“Ich Bin Ein Cowboy.” The Economist. People.uwec.edu, 24 May 2001. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.

Morton, Frederic. “Tales of the Grand Teutons: Karl May Among the Indians.” The New York Times. Nytimes.com, 4 Jan. 1987. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.

“Pretendians: Why Offensive to Indigenous as a Whole.” Songs of the Universal Vagabond. Redhaircrow.com, 7 Nov. 2015. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.

“Treasure of Silver Lake.” Karl May Spiele. Karl-may-speile.de, 2015. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.

Image by Julius Beckmann

BUILDING BRIDGES: EUROVISION AND THE LGBT COMMUNITY

By Carla Diot
Staff Writer

On May 23rd, 2015, millions of people tuned in to watch the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest. The song competition, celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, brings countries from both inside and outside of Europe to present performances hand-selected by each competing country. The final brought 27 countries together to compete for a trophy and the opportunity to host the competition the next year. Receiving 365 points total, Sweden emerged victorious, with its energetic and uplifting performance of “Heroes,” by Måns Zelmerlöw.

The song contest was initially conceived as a light-hearted means of bringing countries together after the divisive and destructive World War II. Countries who joined the European Broadcasting Union were eligible to participate, including countries outside of Europe’s geographic borders, leading to entries from Morocco, Turkey, and newcomer Australia. However, with its 60th anniversary, it seems appropriate for the European based song contest to return to its roots by honoring the theme “Building Bridges.” The theme is timely, given the state of Europe in 2015. The theme comes at a time where Greece and Great Britain’s possible exits from the European Union have become common points of speculation among the European press, and the European Union is fighting to keep those bridges from burning. Furthermore, instability in Ukraine has inflamed tensions between Russia and the European Union, causing Ukraine to withdraw from the 2015 edition.

While Eurovision is seen as a campy celebration that has brought viewers dancing babushkas, monsters singing metal, and an Ukrainian disco ball, it has also been considered a significant indicator of the political conflicts rocking Europe. Songs with political messages are explicitly banned from Eurovision, but countries often use song titles or other symbols to evoke political messages. The most recent example of this comes from Armenia, which has launched a campaign for political recognition of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. The discourse on the recognition of the genocide seeped into the Eurovision contest after the Armenian entry for this year was forced to change the name of its song from “Don’t Deny” to “Face the Shadow.” This was due to accusations from Turkey and Azerbaijan that the song title was a direct reference to their denial of the Armenian genocide. The official music video also garnered controversy for featuring images of individuals in World War I attire disappearing. The group performing the song, Genealogy, includes artists who are reportedly descendants of survivors of the genocide. The group, as well as the head of the Armenian Eurovision delegation, have denied the song’s political involvement, stating instead that its themes of genealogy and family instead focus on love and unity. Regardless, the performance was controversial, and Armenia was awarded only 22 points (compared to Sweden’s victory, consisting of 365 points total).

One of the characteristics of Eurovision has been its inclusion of LGBT audiences and performers. A first milestone for Eurovision was transgender singer Dana International’s performance in 1998. Her performance of the song “Diva” dominated the contest, as she secured a victory of 172 points. Last year’s contest saw the victory of drag queen Conchita Wurst. Overnight, Conchita Wurst, Thomas Neuwirth, became a sensation, being invited to return to Eurovision to perform. Wurst was also able to use her fame to launch a political platform, addressing the European Parliament on the subject of discrimination across Europe. She was also invited to perform at the United Nations Office in Vienna. The timing of Wurst’s victory was poignant, considering that it came in the midst of debate over Russia’s law banning the promotion of non-traditional sexual relationships, a law that was interpreted as clearly targeting the LGBT population. Even after Wurst’s rise to stardom, she faced opposition from the Russian government. A parade honoring Wurst organized by Russian fans was banned by the Russian government, who argued that the parade would result in clashes between activists and their opponents. Subsequently, speaking in Saint Petersburg, President Putin claimed that while Wurst had the right to live as she pleased, her manner of portraying herself was aggressive and against traditional values.

The controversy over Russia’s anti-LGBT law and further debate over inclusive rights for LGBT populations across Europe continued to make its presence known in Eurovision’s 2015 contest. In Vienna, the city celebrated its tolerance by installing traffic lights that displayed images of gay and lesbian couples ahead of the contest. Wurst returned to Eurovision as a co-host, inciting another round of criticism from Russian politicians. When Polina Gagarina, the Russian entry, posted an Instagram photo posing with Wurst during the semifinals, she faced backlash from Vitaly Milonov, a member of the Legislative Assembly of Saint Petersburg and anti-gay activist who argued that Gagarina had no right to speak for Russia.

The contest itself attempted to discard the anti-gay controversy, installing sound reduction technology in order to prevent booing of Gagarina’s performance. This came after Russia’s entry, the Tolmachevy Sisters, were booed during their performance in 2014. This year, Gagarina’s performance was immensely popular, securing 303 points. Despite the stunning results, hosts reminded the audience not to boo Russia, by stating that the results were about the music, as opposed to the politics. The contest continued to include symbols of acceptance, with Lithuania’s act including same-sex kisses during their performance. Although same-sex acts have been legal since 1993, the move was seen as progress towards acceptance of LGBT populations in Lithuania.

This year’s Eurovision was incredibly competitive, with Sweden, Russia, and Italy going head to head against one another. In the end, Sweden secured a victory with Måns Zelmerlöw’s performance of “Heroes.” The victory was seen as controversial among LGBT circles, however, as they had noted that Zelmerlöw was responsible for homophobic comments in the past, including an infamous appearance on a cooking show, where he deemed homosexuality abnormal. Zelmerlöw has since apologized for the comments, and demonstrated his support for the gay community through acts such as hosting events specifically for the LGBT community. In his acceptance of the Eurovision trophy, Zelmerlöw thanked his fans in an inclusive speech, stating in reference to his song that “we are all heroes, no matter who we love, who we are, or what we believe in”. Regardless, his victory stirred debate among LGBT circles.

Since its inception, Eurovision has developed into a safe-space for the European LGBT community. Europe has since seen a positive movement towards the protection of rights for sexual and gender minorities. In April, a groundbreaking law came into effect in Malta that recognized gender identity as an inherent part of a person. This provided transgender and genderqueer people with procedures that would allow them to change their gender identity on government documents. In the same month, the Council of Europe passed a resolution on transgender rights, encouraging members of the council to pass laws that would protect transgender individuals from hate crimes, provide them with adequate health care services, and allow them the opportunity to have their gender recognized by the state. Most recently, Ireland became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage via a public referendum, with sixty-two per cent of voters supporting the initiative. Although these can all be seen as victories for the provision of rights for sexual minorities, there are steps remaining. However, it is clear that despite Eurovision’s attempts to remain apolitical, its tolerance has allowed it to become a safe and accepting space for the LGBT community.

Photo by European Parliament