[click image to play video in Windows Media Player; 26 meg, 0:03:48]
The goal of my piece is a political argument about the damage to individuals that stems from what I call identity trauma—the process of systematic denial of or access to information regarding one’s identity. Two places where identity trauma is most prevalent in American society is the consistent colonization of Native Americans through cultural erasure and the policies of shame and secrecy surrounding adoption in the U.S. To raise public awareness of identity trauma, I remixed images, statistics, and music to create a powerful visual argument showing parallels between the effects of these processes.
I begin with the statement that this is a story about two nations and colonization, referring to what is sometimes called the “Indian nation” and also to an adoptee’s rights organization to which I belong, the “Bastard nation.” To illustrate colonization in these “nations,” one layer of this argument draws upon concepts of “othering” from David Spurr’s The Rhetoric of Empire, juxtaposed with statistical data illustrating the devastating effects of othering. For example, I claim that Native women are othered as sex objects, which I illustrate with images from comics books, Barbie dolls, Disney movies, and works of art. Interspersed among these images are statistics of rape in the U.S. Behind this sequence of images and statistics is a song from the Natural Born Killers soundtrack titled “History Repeats Itself.” Through this remix, it is my hope that viewers will draw the conclusion that by othering women as sex objects, we devalue them as evidenced by the high incidence of rape and the somber reminder through the musical selection.
To draw further parallels about the harmful effects of identity trauma, the next set of statistics shows how often Native Americans are victims of crime as compared with other groups in the U.S. This is mixed with psychology reports on the violence and maladjustment—regardless of experience—among adoptees. The violence experienced by both groups leads to an excessively high rate of suicide and fosters more violence, as shown by the high rate of incarceration compared with other groups. The music at this point shifts to Ani DiFanco’s hauntingly beautiful and aptly named melody, “Don’t Nobody Know.” Mixed with these statistics and music, I intersperse images of distraught children, pulled from websites that use these images to promote adoption as “saving” children.
This piece complicates the process of remix because it draws together a number of resources to create the context of my argument. The images of distraught children would not be as powerful if they had not originated on pro-adoption web sites, which hide the possible negative effects of adoption and instead tout adoption as “saving” sad little children. Furthermore, to illustrate how wide-spread and thus invisible these practices have become, I pull some of the images from pervasive popular culture sources.
My argument partly draws its political strength through the re-appropriation of images. To re-appropriate these images, I consciously chose not to acknowledge the sources. This media piece thus sits in the “gray areas” of current interpretations of intellectual property and underscores the need for more nuanced understandings and applications of copyright.
The downfall of remixing media to create a powerful argument such as this is in what fails to be said. In this media piece, it is not evident that I am pro-adoption. Adoption in itself is not the issue; the policies of secrecy, denial and colonization are what I address. But to create a powerful remix, I end up blurring the lines between adoption as an institution and adoption policies and practices, which I believe to be one source of identity trauma.