Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Ethnic Mannequins of the Desert (Thesis Statements I)

As I've been doing the deeds for my graduate seminar on ethnic american theory and gender studies in film and literature, I've been thinking about the way "types" or "stereotypes" or "tropes" or "characters" emerge from the burning sands of the deserts of the american southwest, and I have some ideas. One is that over the past century or so, at least from the point of view of the dominant white culture, that abstract machine, the constitutive mechanism, the stuff that makes the desert story go, has changed a bit. One of the changes may be a kind of diffusion or infusion brought on by the processes of globalization, that thing that has both McDonald-ized world culture and brought interesting connections to the foreground.

Out of Japan, which Jean Baudrillard claims is "already a [cultural] satellite of Earth," comes an anime set in a desert that has many of the same processes in operation as any late 20-21st-century Sonoran desert story. Water is scarce, ruins are ancient, rocks are hot, sand is hot, outlaws roam freely, and most tellingly, the silence breaks in with wind and bright sun, forcing the wanderers to stop and wonder--if only to reload.

Desert Punk is otherworldly not because the characters are from another planet, but because the tropospherics are pasted onto animated ethnic mannequins that are stereotypes from an otherworldly cultural space: a Baja 500 on Mt Fuji, a Hiroshimic Sierra Madre with borderland bandidos sporting Dune-type stillsuits and conical sun hats.

The Sonoran/Coloradan Desert has gone global, generating the silences, stillnesses, and liminal spaces from which sprout the stuff that usually sprouts in the wilderness.
Baudrillard quoted from "Utopia Achieved", which I make my poor RWS 200 students read in Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers, 6th ed. (ed. by Bartholomae and Petrovsky), pg. 110. You may download Desert Punk on iTunes or get some dvds, or watch it on the SciFi channel, I hear.