[Another entry from the American bureau of MTBE, again from lizzie b, written with some input from yours truly.]
Watching Martin Scorcese’s Bob Dylan biopic No Direction Home the other night got me all tangled up in blue wondering what happened to all the hopeful momentum of the 1960s and what do we do with Dylan’s legacy today. Bob himself, based on the interviews in the documentary, doesn’t seem to have all too clear of an idea, and I suspect that it’s not for lack of trying.
One recent piece of pop culture ephemera that wrestles with this issue is Scalped, a serialized graphic novel* by writer Jason Aaron and artist R. M. Guera, which takes the offspring of 1960s—both biological and political—as its central theme. Set on a Sioux reservation in present-day South Dakota, two of the main characters are 1970s Red Power veterans; much like the spirit that spawned their movement, they are estranged from their progeny. The gen-X descendents of radicals, like their parents before them, enter adulthood filled with unfocused rage and hurt. Yet unlike their parents, they find no answers in organizing, but instead turn to unrestrained violence, drug abuse, and anonymous sex, the depictions of which fill many pages of frames.
Protagonist Dashiell Bad Horse left the reservation as a teenager and returns as an undercover FBI agent. When he makes his ass-kicking, nunchaka-wielding skills public in local bars, he is quickly tapped for the tribal police department by Chief Lincoln Red Crow, a former radical turned corrupt authoritarian who is shepherding a luxurious reservation casino to completion. The tribal police force is something of goon squad, used to harass and assault Red Crow's political enemies, foremost among them the casino’s opponents.
The leader of these protestors is Red Crow’s ex from movement days, Gina Bad Horse, who also plays the role of Dashiell's estranged mother. Meanwhile, Red Crow's daughter, Carol, is a promiscuous cocaine-sniffer over whom Dashiell nurses a creepy voyeuristic obsession, spying on her sex bouts and then beating her partners to a pulp afterwards.
The characters and plot all seem to spin out of this moment: a disillusioned older generation, a younger generation disappointed in their parents, and an FBI agent (Dashiell’s boss) intent on exacting revenge. In a flashback to a deadly stand-off, Gina vainly tries to prevent her comrades from firing the fateful shots that would sour their idealistic project. The reader is tempted into seeing the Dog Soldiers' turn to violence in 1973 as the tragic downfall that changes the destiny of the younger generation. But according to Dashiell’s self-assessment, his psychological damage stems from his mother's preference for activism: “Then, for my 13th birthday, I got to watch her on TV, getting arrested at a Redskins game. So the old bitch wants to talk to me now? She's only 15 fucking years too late.” Sixties radicals whose embrace of naïve idealism turned to violence, followed by a failure to tend to the moral upbringing of their children—I’m glad to see that Aaron and Guera didn’t just fall back on clichés.
**You wouldn't know it from Lincoln and Gina, but AIM's founders were urban Indians, whose numbers surpass the number of reservation residents nationwide. In general, AIM was more active in cities than on reservations, with tactics and goals—and experiences with FBI suppression and infiltration—similar to the Black Panther Party. For instance, one of AIM's first projects, in the late '60s, sent patrols of observers to follow Minneapolis beat cops on the street and document police harassment of Indians.
***Among the few exceptions to this rule is Akwesasne, the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation in northern New York, where the reservation’s border location and the consequent opportunities for smuggling have attracted mobster attention.