Then we watch a series of clips tracing these identified caricatures and plot features from the past into the present time. After viewing each clip, we revisit our list, checking off repeated elements and adding any new elements. I try to select clips that are other-generated, and that are widely known shows and/or events. While I have used many different clips and often change my choices, these are examples of clips I often use:
--Seinfeld's "Cigar Store Indian" episode in Season 5 (1993), in which Jerry gives Elaine a Cigar Store Indian figure, and begins a running joke about racial over-sensitivity.4
--OutKast's "Hey Ya" performance from the 2004 Grammy awards. The performance begins with the lowering of a tipi to the stage accompanied by chanting and drumming. The performance begins with André 3000 stating, "The natives are definitely restless..."5
--A clip from The Proposal (2009) featuring Sandra Bullock and Betty White. Betty White's character, Grandma Annie, is giving thanks to Mother Earth in a fire ceremony in the woods. Sandra Bullock's character, Margaret, comes upon the scene and is invited to participate, which she does, breaking out into a hip hop club track "Get Low" by Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz with lyrics "To the window, to the wall, to the sweat drip down my balls..."6
--The So You Think You Can Dance reality show's "Warrior" dance number from the 2009 season. In this performance, the finalists are brought together as warriors through various nonspecific artifacts of indigenous cultures from across North, Central, and South America. Their face paint, war posturing, and stoicism are central aspects of the performance. 7
The goal here is to move students from past to present incrementally and at each stage to identify the way in which discursive vocabulary from past representations informs and shapes present-day ones. In moving students incrementally from the past "problematic" representations to the current ones, I find I have more success pre-empting--if not altogether unsettling--the idea that current representations are separate and distinct from past representations, just entertainment, and not problematic. It sets me up to engage with the scholarship that argues for a historical consciousness about indigenous representations. When students are able to see how elements they agreed were racist from past representations are still there in contemporary ones, it gives me an opportunity to disrupt the idea that racist (sexist, classist) representations of the past are left in the dustbins of history.
When using the genealogy of the image approach, students will, at times, raise questions about the social context in which the text occurs, offering disclaimers like, we know more now and so what was racist back then isn't the same today. While this complaint is common, we discuss how it serves as an inadequate explanation for outright inaccuracies, such as the erroneous usage of cultural artifacts from various First Nations, or the jibberish standing in for indigenous languages. Furthermore, this complaint, when it does surface, allows for a discussion to occur about how audiences can and do read texts differently. The now well-known Geronimo antiterrorism culture jam poster is a great example of this.
The genealogy of representation activity can be modified to trace representations of other social groups. For example, I have conducted and written about the harem seductress stereotype of Middle Eastern women that appears in texts from orientalist-era paintings (such as Odalisque with Red Cullottes by Matisse, 1921) to I Dream of Jeannie (1965-1970), to Christina Aguilera's Genie in a Bottle (1999), and Bratz's Genie Magic line of dolls (Sensoy 2010).
History is powerful. It has the power of tradition and the familiarity of certain discourses and relations over others. I share the goal of many of my critically minded colleagues to have students trace how discourses of the past are connected to those in the present. I believe this activity has worked to unsettle and problematize the notion that representations in media are mere entertainment, and that oppression is a problem left in the past.