Right on the heels of our great discussion on Al Jazeera’s The Stream, the Today Show decided to feature “tribal jewelry” as one of its go-to summer “outfit makers.” I’ll embed the video clip below, but I don’t know how long it’ll be up on the site, so I took some screen shots and made a quick transcript as well:
Text of their conversation (more or less…they should learn to listen while someone else is speaking!) is below:
“Our next trend is that all that tribal look has morphed into more of an American Indian vibe. And this is a look that is in summer, we see it a lot in summer…” (Kathy interrupts)
“well you always see this out there in Arizona and those western states…”
“true,true, but this is actually something that is carrying into Fall. We saw it on the runway. This necklace is from Lauren Wells, it’s inspiration, it’s 96 dollars, but I promise you this with a white t shirt and jeans is a great go to summer look. it’s a really strong look, and these are from express, these earrings here are good if you just want to try the trend.”
“So is the feather thing still going to last?”
“Well yes, I think so, it’s that Hollywood-Coachella festival kind of vibe…”
Here’s the Lauren Wells Necklace:
and the Express earrings:
So, basically this one minute clip is demonstrating a lot of the points I try to get across with this trend. The use of generic “tribal” to represent some random stereotype of “Indigenous”–or even the term “American Indian vibe”–Honestly, what does that even mean? And which American Indians are you talking about?
Then, the fact that all of the pieces are shoddy knock offs of Indian artisan work–Lauren Wells seems to be a designer that takes a LOT of “inspiration” from Native designs, and those express earrings look just like ones you could buy at any powwow from, you know, a real Native artist. What a novel concept.
Finally, the “feather trend” which Kathy (or Hoda, I can’t tell, they’re all talking at once) says she’s “sick of” and that people should “go to Las Vegas” where they’ll see “plenty of feathers.” The “feather trends” are based off of Native practices of wearing feathers as part of regalia or traditional clothing, and their comments are reducing a sacred practice (feathers in many communities are given as part of special ceremonies, or in honor of large accomplishments) into a trend that you can be “sick of” or akin to a showgirl’s headdress in Vegas. Exactly the same thing, right?
The last point about the feathers is part of a larger issue I’ve been grappling with–while I look forward to the day that I no longer see Native cultures mis-represented in store windows, the whole process of “discarding” the trend as “over” or “so last year” by default makes Native peoples and cultures disposable as well. The dominant culture can take what they want, use it as they see fit, and then ultimately throw it away.
So in one minute, the Today Show manages to condense millions of Native people into a single, incorrect, otherizing stereotype, encourage viewers to buy Native style jewelery from non-Natives, and minimize an important and sacred cultural marker of many tribes. Bet the producers didn’t think about all that.
Today Show: Summer Outfit Makers