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Thomas King. SHERM AN ALEXIE. Photograph. This portrait of Sherman Alexie is part of King’s “Shooting the Lone Ranger” series, which will ultimately become a section of his projected book of blackand 'white photographs of Native artists in North America, the Medicine River Photographic Expedition. Describing this series, King says, “I did the same thing Edward Curtis did. I took around a box of Indian parapherna­ lia and part of it was the Lone Ranger mask, but I had arrows-throughthe -head and phony baloney Indian wigs that some of the people put on. It became very clear that the most successful piece of paraphernalia was the Lone Ranger mask. And the artists that I showed my box of goodies to inevitably went to that. Just put on that mask. That they could be the Lone Ranger” (from Jennifer Andrews, “Border Trickery and Dog Bones: A Conversation with Thomas King,” Studies in Canadian Literature 24.2 [1999]: 176). A m e r i c a is a D i e t P e p s i: S h e r m a n A l e x i e ’s R e s e r v a t io n B l u e s B l y t h e T e l l e f s e n “You ain’t really Indian unless there was some point in your life that you didn’t want to be.” — Sherman Alexie, Reservation Blues Simulations are the absence of the tribal real; the postindian con­ versions are in the new stories of survivance over dominance. —Gerald Vizenor, Manifest Manners Soon after 9/11, I walked out of my health club in downtown Seattle, and a white man in a BIG truck with a BIG American flag, stopped at the crosswalk, leaned out his window, and yelled, “Why don’t you go back to your own country?” Doubled over with laughter, it took me several seconds before I could stand up and yell back, “You first!” Later, my white friend who grew up on the rez, said to me, “ Sherman, maybe he said, ‘Go back to your own county??” ’ — Sherman Alexie, Lecture at Riverside Community College, May 9, 2002 When Sherman Alexie “crawled beneath / the HUD house // with a blowtorch // [he] discovered / America” (First Indian 40). When the char­ acters in his 1995 novel, Reservation Blues, return to their Seattle hotel lobby, they too “discovered America. No. They actually discovered Victor and Junior sleeping on couches in the lobby. No. They actually discovered Victor passed out on a couch while Junior read USA Today” (Reservation 242). Thus is “America” redefined in 1995 by a Spokane Indian. Alexie’s description of himself as a “Brady Bunch Indian” pinpoints the fractured, dissonant nature of the culture through which his char­ acters fight for self-definition (Gillan 92). Although Alexie’s novels ask what it means to be a twentieth-century American Indian, they invariably highlight the complexity of the question rather than offering an answer to it. His characters struggle to create themselves on reserva­ tions in an America permeated by consumer products, television, popular music, and movies— all of which define them at least as much as they 1 2 6 W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L it e r a t u r e S u m m e r 2 0 0 5 define themselves. Consequently, one of the most tragically funny scenes in Reservation Blues stems from Victor Joseph’s self-identification with an image from Saturday Night Fever: He had won a few thousand dollars in Reno way back in 1979, just after he graduated from high school. He bought a closet full of silk shirts and polyester pants and had never had any money since then to buy anything new. He hadn’t gained any weight in thirteen years, but the clothes were tattered and barely held to his body. His wardrobe made him an angry man. (12) Victor’s anger blossoms from a complex combination of cultural values that permeates Reservation Blues. Victor is a “reservation John Travolta” not only because he once tried to become...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 125-147
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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