Cher as Indian

20180106_150355So this story (finally) broke last year at Christmas, controversy about Bob Mackie and Cher's use of the Half Breed headdress and Cher's presentation as an Indigenous American or American Indian. And I knew I would need to address this story next but I've been putting it off, not because I didn’t want to talk about it, (because I do), but because there is so much to say, so much complexity in this social situation. Could I even sort through it? It involves liberals attacking liberals, it involves conservatives stirring the pot, cultural appropriation, contested appropriation and hundreds of years of history.

20180106_145347I took this image above of the Cher doll as I was taking down my Cher Christmas tree. Amazingly, one of the headdress feathers became caught in the hand of "out-of-the-box" Cher doll, and the image uncannily expresses my ambivalence and sadness around this issue. I'm calling the picture "VAMP with Cultural Feather." That lead me to take this "Sad Stack of Cultures" photo to the right.

I also thought about starting a poll on the controversy but got stumped imagining what question I could ask. Are you Indigenous American or American Indian and offended? Sounds kind of offensive and who would take a poll like that? I’m just hoping for some essay from Indian Country Today to surface on the issue.

So let’s begin with full disclosure, I’ve been a Cher fan for a long, long time and when I was a kid in the 1970s, I thought Cher was and American Indian until I was about 8 years old. I finally found her biography in the local library in St. Louis. And so since then I’ve considered Cher to be half Armenian and half 1950s blond bombshell (although her mom was not a natural blonde). Do most people even know Cher’s heritage? How many have read her biographies? Probably very few. And many may still assume she's Indigenous American (I'm going to stick with that term).

SNegraince the 1960s Cher has been interested in and wearing Indigenous-American-inspired clothing, sometimes on stage, sometimes to major events, sometimes at home. When Sonny & Cher started appearing on variety shows in the last 60s, they started theming their jokes around Sonny’s Italian-ness and Cher’s Indian-ness, to use their word. This was ramped up in their own television shows of the 70s. Cher also moved in and out of other culture areas in her TV performances, including French, Hispanic, American Indian, Japanese, Chinese and African American. Diane Negra talks about Cher’s fluid ethnicity in her book Off-White Hollywood, American Culture and Ethnic Female Stardom. She essentially labels Cher as ethnically indeterminate and therefore map-able to many ethnicities. The cover of the book boldly advertises Cher in the Half Breed headdress.

This flexibility is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending upon if you want Cher representing your community or not. And the gravitas around the issue has evolved over the years. Before the 1970s, ethnicity was avoided on TV or un-apologetically appropriated. In the 1970s, consciousness was being “raised” about the value or “coolness” of ethic differences and this was often explored on hipper TV shows. Looking back now, from where an authentic identity has much more bitcoin, exploration and celebration look very similar to the earlier appropriations.

For years I’ve been wondering how Cher’s identification as Indigenous American and her choices to wear Indigenous-American-inspired clothing has landed from decade to decade. Older Native Americans seemed hesitant to weigh in. But younger activists seem to be taking more offense, but still below the level of what Paris Hilton (Halloween costume) and Wayne Coyne (stage costume) received a few years ago.

The issue is complicated for many reasons:

  1. There’s the song “Half Breed” from 1973 that no one seems to be taking issue with because a) it’s a song about harassment of minorities and b) it’s a bad song living nine lives due to its camp factor. On the one hand it has cheesy drum beats that might indeed be too ridiculous to offend. On the other hand, it showcases details like the offensiveness of calling an Indigenous woman a “squaw.”

  2. HeadlresslesscherThen there are Cher’s stage "costumes" which are the most visible element, the Half Breed headdress Cher has been wearing since 1974 is actually modeled after a male war bonnet and some in the Indigenous American community have equated it with wearing an unearned purple heart. And from their point of view, the bonnet is no more part of a “costume” than a Catholic clergy cassock is part of a “costume.” People don’t like to hear their religious objects demeaned by words with trivial connotations. Regardless, over the years this headdress became an “iconic outfit” for Cher, right up there with the Turn Back Time leather strap-on and the fur (possibly bobcat) vests of the mid 1960s. The controversy over the headdress exploded in December and Cher has since stopped wearing it in her Vegas shows (see a fan's picture to the right). Cher is still wearing the Bob Mackie design that goes with it. It’s interesting to me that the December scandal raised the issue again now when Cher has been wearing the headdress in her concerts since 1999. There may be a reason for that.

  3. Then there's the issue of Cher presenting herself as Indigenous American on her TV shows. And although Cher presented herself as many international and national archetypes on the shows, she was most notably "Indian." A clear story has never emerged with documented proof about Cher’s alleged Cherokee identity. And documented proof is itself a controversy (see below).

  4. And then there was the Twitter fight with the activists, starting from a statement coming out of Donald Trump’s camp. Conservative and liberal politics added another layer of frustrations and communication misfires between Cher and activists and you'd think there would have been a statement ready from Cher’s public relations team, like crafted 30 years ago.

The Trump connection further complicates the issue for sure. (from Jezebel.com)

“In 2017, nobody in their right mind would take this seriously as an emblem of Native American cultures......except Trump’s new Canadian/American pop star appointee for Native American Ambassador on the National Diversity Coalition! Former Pussycat Dolls member Kaya Jones!”

Some American Indian activists took issue with Jones’ claimed heritage:

“Since the December 8th announcement that she will represent Native Americans on the national stage, Jones has been tagging herself as a #Halfbreed along with claims that her father is Apache Native American. When asked, she can’t name the reservation her father lived on or his tribal origins...but what she can do to represent Native American peoples is channel Cher. So now people previously unfamiliar with “Half-Breed” are taking Cher to task.”

Those being millennial Indigenous Americans. I don’t feel there’s anything wrong with their feeling what they feel. Why should they remember cultural work that may or may not have happened in their lifetimes? All they see is Cher appropriating.

When Cher was on prime time American television she was a cool, hip superstar and giving airtime to images of minority women rarely seen elsewhere on prime-time, glamour television. Young girls and boys were seeing that and influenced by it. But that was cultural work done then, a perishable credential.  Some day we may look back on the cultural work of Will and Grace and see it as stereotypical, too. 

I’ve always had this gnawing feeling that Cher was somehow “getting a pass” on her “Indian look.” Why, over the last 50 years, was nobody was calling her out on it? That's not to say I didn't like it. But it’s impossible to believe that there have been no American Indian ticket-holders to the last two decades of live shows that have included the song and the headdress.

This was a bizarre related incident. I went to a show in 2013 with a white, Gen Y girl who became greatly offended by Cher’s Eastern Indian sari worn for the song “All or Nothing.” But she had no strong feelings whatsoever about the ceremonial Indigenous American headdress. (I've included a few existing articles below.)

I’m guessing here that Cher’s Indigenous American fans are older and this makes me think younger fans are feeling more offended because they have zero context to Cher’s persona in the 1970s. I could be wrong about this but there does seem to be a response difference in age groups. And newer kids have no context to “the way things were,” which has always been a thin-ice defense as it is.

Quite possibly the idea of Half Breed has outlived its previous pass. Which is making older fans feel very sad because they believe Cher as Indian was doing cultural work. (But maybe it’s also doing cultural damage now.) Older fans also feel the headdress is beautiful and they nostalgically love it and feel bad hearing that their love of something has been construed as bad or wrong. Do they then not have agency to love or appreciate? I feel for the fans here, too.

And that the whole issue beginning as a continuation of anger over Trumps position vis-a-vis Indigenous Americans just makes it all the more tragic, because the headdress issue has been lumped in with frustration over the status of the Keystone Pipeline struggle, Trumps dismissive Pocahontas comments, and his choice of an ambassador a woman with dubious claims to Indigenous American heritage.

And then there’s the very real issue of proving your Indigenous Americaness, which has controversy even within Indigenous American communities and leads to issues like blood quantum and time spent growing up on the reservation, how you get excluded and included even in your own communities.

“If you're Native American, there's a good chance that you've thought a lot about blood quantum — a highly controversial measurement of the amount of "Indian blood" you have. It can affect your identity, your relationships and whether or not you — or your children — may become a citizen of your tribe.” (NPR) 

So what a mess it all is. How can we even separate out all these issues for a second. Again, I keep waiting for a good essay on the Cher problem to appear somewhere. I want a method to proceed, guidelines, context, a way forward. But unfortunately life doesn’t always work that way.

As a word nerd, I’m inherently interested in the evolution of offensive words, including a word like “costume.” We learn in etymology class, that culture is impossible to promote, protect or contain. That’s why it’s so hard to get everyone to use a certain word or not use a certain word, like “costume” or "Native American" or even more offensive words like whore and retard. It’s also why we keep wanting to “dress up” like nuns and ceremonial chiefs for celebratory events. Sometimes when you’re trying to learn or appreciate another culture, you try to wear another man’s hat.

You can say tone means a lot, but quite often even the tone is all wrong. And policing tone is full of problems. It’s unfortunate but culture has a massive mind of its own. Not that we should just let that stand and endure. But we should recognize that not everyone gets the memo, literally. But even emotionally and intellectually. Teaching empathetic understanding takes work, much of it teaching concepts that are abstract and painful to deliver and receive.

The fact that many conservatives dismiss word politics has to be addressed here as well. I have no doubt that if Cher was a member of their circle, they would be defending the Half Breed headdress to the ends of the earth, as part of their ongoing fight against the “scourge of political correctness.” In this atmosphere, other liberals become easier targets because they care at all. Which makes the headdress another casualty of the recent heightened awareness of Trumpian offenses.

So yeah, it’s 2018 and we’re focusing on micro-aggressions, which should be a good thing. We’re finally getting to the micro stuff, unintentional but still hurtful stuff. Problem is we’re losing focus on the macro-aggressions, which in no way have been wrapped up: discrimination in marriage, jobs, housing, physical violence, bullying at an all time high. Our energy seems frayed and raw right now. Do we keep finishing work on the macro but not stop work on the micros?  Will the macro ever resolve itself? Will racism ever stop happening?

Another issue with liberal call-outs is when critics offer no way through. What is acceptable behavior between cultures? What are we working toward? We need examples of that and we need it on TV. What was so great about 1970s television as it began to integrate, (projects of which Cher was a part), was the fictionalization of race issues and examples of how to behave correctly. We’ve completely lost that with network and market-designed segregation of television programming and the self-segregation that occurs with too many segmented channel (and online) choices.

But if there’s no way through for offenders or victims, what could possibly change? Confusion and paralysis sets in. “I’m drowning here and you’re describing the water,” misogynistic Melvin Udall says in As Good as it Gets. At some point, calling out all the drownings becomes absurd. 

But I can hear the response: “it’s not my job to find a solution to the world’s problems.” I wonder whose job it is. And if it’s nobody’s job officially then it’s everybody’s job. So it is your job, long story short. And adding one more voice to the chorus of complaints will do nothing but ensure all our future suffering, and the suffering of all our friends.

 

Some discussion of the issue to date:

  • Native or Not (how controversial was “Half Breed” and were there protests?) (2008) From Mental Floss
  • "Is Cher Indian" (2013) from Waiting to Get There
  • "Cher in a Headdress Again" (2013) from Newspaper Rock
  • "The Controversy of Cher's Heritage" from Native Arts
  • Recap of the December 2017 drama on Jezebel.
  • "My Strange, Strange Holidays Arguing with Cher, yes, THAT Cher" (2017) from TiyospayeNow
  • "Why is Cher Arguing with Native Twitter" (2017) from Storify

Movies, Musicals and Music, Oh My!

BroadwayCher, The Musical...Still in Progress

Recently Cher met with Tony Nominee Rick Elice to pen the book for her biographical musical. Read more about it at Broadway.com, Contact Music, Out.com, Yahoo!

 

Witches of Eastwick

WitchesLogo TV just did a series of shorts on Witches of Eastwick for Halloween. (Thank you Cher scholar Tyler!)

Cher Scholarship

Dolls2If you loved volume 1, Tamara Lorenz Hampton’s book The Fabulous World of Cher Dolls Volume 2 is out just in time for Christmas.

Here's a great discography of Cher discovered by Cher scholar Dishy: http://www.45cat.com/artist/cher

Bob Mackie, Johnson Hartig Discuss Cher, Kim Kardashian at LACMA (Woman’s Wear Daily)

Here's some bad scholarship for you. Two weeks ago, I reported Cher had never been on X Factor. The scholarship gods had a laugh when I was walking on my treadmill and Cher's X Factor appearance from 2013 came up on YouTube. Who could forget that light show? Me apparently.

Lasershow

Cher-cnmBecause I work at a very cool place, the social media gurus at Central New Mexico Community College posted an alert about the time change this past Sunday with Cher's meme. Pulled through to our website, it looked something like this (see right).

Because I have Cher-radar, I can't help but notice it on there!

Turn Back Time: Don't forget to Cher with your friends. It's a daylight savings time tradition now.

Thanks CNM!

 


New Additions to the Cher Doll Christmas Tree

7It's Christmas time again and so that means it was also the time to put up the Cher doll Christmas tree last week and take blurry pictures of it with my iPhone.

This first picture shows my favorite Cher outfit and doll outfit (Foxy Lady) from the Cher show. And since full episodes of that show have not been re-aired in totally, I'm really enjoying reading about them episode by episode in thew new Josiah Howard book.

 

 

 

  

 

6The Mother Goose outfit from The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour was this year's addition to the tree. Love it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I located a Santa hat for the Sonny angel, procured from the head of a little stuffed bear. When I removed the hat from the bear, there was a smaller Santa hat underneath glued to the bear's head. This was a superfluous hat!

3 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

Was also able to fulfill a life-long dream...which was to live in a house with a fireplace mantle so I could put my Mego Cher makeup head on it for Christmas. I ordered a child's size Santa hat which ended up being too big (but which is working in a sultry kind of way). Because the Mego makeup head is bare-shouldered, she looked a bit too naked for my Aunts who will be visiting next weekend. So I added the jester neck piece (which I bought for my dog Franz two years ago).

Merry Christmas to all the festive Cher Zombies around the world!

   


New Book on Cher Dolls

DollsCher scholar Tamara Lorenz Hampton has produced a book about one-of-a-kind outfit creation and over 10 years of doll art and collecting in her book The Fabulous World of Cher Dolls.

The book is intended to help serious collectors "determine what they have" and "how to display, decorate, and create" for your dolls.

The book is on sale for $125 on Lulu, a price that probably reflects the full-color production of an indie book.

 


Cher History on Video: CNN, Doll Commercial, Mama

ChercnnSo while we're cooling our heels waiting for the new Cher single to be released this month, I came across some good video of Cher on the UTubes.

 

 

 

Cher on CNN

I caught up with a whole array of Cherness on CNN:

- Cher on Larry King (1999) circa "Believe," Tea with Mussolini and discussing Sonny's funeral (part 1 and part 2)

- Footage I hadn't seen about Cher's single with Eros Ramazzotti (2001); how they came to make the record together

- Cher calls CNN to talk about Hurricaine Katrina, feeling the same helplessness we all did but with some extra money to help out (2005).

- Cher calls CNN to talk about the death of Michael Jackson (summer 2009) and her experiences working with him; how hard it was to learn the Jackson Five dance for her Cher TV show, how Michael loved her beaded socks.

- Cher continues to talk that night about Farah Fawcett (summer 2009). "This chick was holding on to thin air and still had a great attitude."

Dolls

Doll- Cher Scholar JefRey sent around this clip: a French commercial for the Mego Cher doll. Mr. Cher Scholar thinks the commercial is from Quebec. He said the accent sounded unusual to him and we figure the Cher shows would be more meaningful to Canadians than to the French. Mr. Cher Scholar translates the commercial jingle as follows:

"That's Cher! [John laughed at the beginning because in French 'Cher' means both 'dear and, in 'slang, expensive... so it sounds like the little girl is exclaiming "That's expensive!"] The doll with long hair; the doll with elegant clothes, that doll that you can braid, wardrobe for all occasions. Thirty-two ensembles sold sseparately. Cher is sold with everything on the screen. Cool! [John was confused by the accent over the very last word which he guessed it meant divine or wonderful or cool.]

Factory- Cher peforms (circa 1966) "Mama" with all those creepy dolls at what looks like a staged doll factory. Far from being creeped out, Cher looks pretty blaze about it all.

 

 

 

Cher Concert Openings

Caesars

Although Cher did video for her 1978-9 Take Me Home shows, the big opening video I remember is from Heart of Stone tour. It's fuzzy but you get a sense in the jump in polish from concert videos made from 1989 to 2008. This opening is just a collage of clips as opposed to a remix of music and clips. The first video opening at Caesars Colosseum.

What's great about these openings (whatever version they take) is not just how well they familiarize nonfans with Cher's 4-decade oeuvre, but how much excitement they build up before Cher makes her entrances.I love how the second one is a lovely mashup of "Believe," "I Got You Babe," "Dark Lady," Gypsies Tramps and Thieves," "Song for the Lonely" and "The Beat Goes On."

European Interviews

German- Wetten Dass (German) interview from 1995, part 1 and part 2 and part 3 (she sings a O Holy Night in German!!).

- Wetten Dass from 1999.

- Sanremo (Italian) interview with audience from 1999.

 

 


Another Zombie for the Tribe

Alison Calthorpe, 17, 4073370is seen to the left, drowning in her Cher stuff. It's all too familiar to us isn't it? Soon her Cher stuff will rise above her bedroom window and drown out the sun.

David Sanderson of The Winnipeg Free Press did a story on Alison, the newest Cher Zombie to sprout in Canada, hooked on Cher after, of all things, seeing the dread-haired diva's appearance on Dancing with the Stars.

Cher Scholar is quoted heavily in the article, talking out of her ass no doubt. I hope I didn't say anything too embarassing although I am now questioning my comments on the prices of collectibles.In my head I was thinking about what I paid for both the Dark Lady and Half Breed posters when they appeared on eBay and how cheap you could get them a few years later.

I did almost faint after getting the Sonny & Cher Theater in the Round toy for my 8th birthday, although I didn't mention that to Mr. Sanderson in the interview. He picked it right off cherscholar.com: http://www.cherscholar.com/toys.htm. No matter how scholarly you try to appear, you can't hide the crazy collector within.

Welcome, Alison, to this motley tribe of fanatics. I hope you have a sturdy inheritance through which to burn for Cher doll outfits.

 


Husband Plots Against Cher Scholar

Tree It's been a very crazy month and I've been lagging with my blogging. But Cher Scholar is exhausted. We got back from Cancun early in the month and then went right into Thanksgiving prep. My mother-in-law Donna came for the long weekend (and I love it that she was so  enthusiastic about seeing Burlesque Thanksgiving-eve with me and John. See our collective review for more about that.) Unfortunately, in between launching the big dinner with new recipes and juggling a huge work ramp-up to a Cartagena Colombia meeting, I've been wiped out, in pain and feeling a bit deflated from all the work.

One pre-Thanksgiving task I looked forward to was putting up  Christmas decorations, which (like cooking Thanksgiving dinner instead of grabbing take-out at Dinahs) I hadn't done for two years. And this means hoisting up the Cher Christmas tree!

However, I was initially thwarted in this most pleasant task because two mice had been living in our garage. John freaked out and spent $50 on every kind of imaginable mouse trap to place on every conceivable mouse path in our garage, leaving the leftover un-opened traps sitting right on my boxes of Cher crap.

Sure I could have moved them out of the way. As if that were that easy! I was afraid of them! What if Pinkfluff one accidentally fired off or had a dead mouse decaying in its clutches. I couldn't even look at them. Before our trip to Cancun I had asked John to move the traps and he, thinking I was being a big baby (guilty as charged), was in no hurry to do it. I kept expressing how important it was for me to get to my Cher junk so I could assemble the glorious Cher tree. On a layover from our fight back from Cancun I started again to worry about the traps and having to lose a finger trying to get to my Cher dolls.

This was around the time I was overspending on Burlesque memorabilia and it sort of seemed like he had set Cher traps as an intervention! So I confronted him right there in the airport  Space (after finishing the Vanity Fair magazine article)...why you gotta be puttin out Cher traps on me?

He mocked some outrage and said it was all untrue and ridiculous that I would accuse him of such a thing. Then he said it was a moot point because he already picked up the Cher traps!

Ah HA! He admitted it! They were Cher traps!!

Can you believe it?

Anyway, the Cher traps were indeed gone when we got home and I was able to assemble the Cher tree. Indian Thank God for tender mercies! A few new things about the Cher tree:

  • There are now 10 Cher dolls and some new outfits, including my favorite Foxy Lady outfit.
  • I acquired the white tux outfit for the Sonny topper. I think this makes him look both elegant and angelic.
  • I decided to assemble all of Cher's boyfriends and lovers as the nativity scene at the bottom of the tree. This proved challenging because only Gene Simmons and Richie Sambora have dolls (or "action figures" as they like to be called). Val Kilmer as Batman didn't count because you couldn't tell it was him and besides, the doll was too expensive. My Foxylady friend Coolia suggested I make paper dolls. At first I didn't want to do this because I hated paper dolls as a child. Really found them excruciatingly boring. But the Cher tree project changed my mind. I found a tatted-up Paul Bunion paper doll for Gregg, a nerdy paper doll for David Geffen and a somewhat dapper doll for Val. Note: I am still working on the Robert Camiletti doll. I haven't found the right body yet.
  • Click to enlarge any of the pics.

   Nativity

Dragon Polkareddoll Reddoll Pinkdoll.1jpg Gold Blue

 

 

 

Sonny  

 


Cher Link Zoo

For quite some time there has been a ton of links clogging up my blog to-do list. I’m just gonna throw them all up here now just so I can move on with my life. You can link wherever strikes your fancy. My take for must see items have a star (or two) next to them.

Continue reading "Cher Link Zoo" »


Cher Odds and Ends

SandcSome clips that have come across Cher Scholar's desk this week:

A Cher Investment: songs written by Bon Jovi, Cher, Celine Dion and Justin Timberlake now form part of the investment portfolio of Dutch civil service pension fund ABP.

Dinner Date Night Idea: stay at home, watch Moonstruck and bake a pizza; here's how.

Good News: the paparazzi are starting to get arrested in LA when their volume and tactics put people in jeopardy. Uh...it's about time. Read about such an arrest.

And if you recall my gripes last week or so about Cher's modern dance routines compared to her 80s Vegas ones, here is a story on her choreographer Doriana Sanchez and how they hooked up.Donnymarie_5

And Cher may not support Obama but he supports Cher: in a joke last week Jay Leno said: "In an interview in People Magazine, Barack Obama said he was more a fan of Sonny and Cher than he was a fan of Donny and Marie. Well, that should answer the question of whether he's black enough!" That's actually very kewl. Sonny & Cher got soul...we knew it!

A party of Sonny, Chers, Donny and Maries

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A soulful Cher among honkey Osmonds

Osmond_cher_2