Johnny Depp’s Reinvention of Tonto (and the Lone Ranger) Comes at the Right Time After Misuse of Geronimo’s Name

Last modified on 2011-06-11 18:31:50 GMT. 0 comments. Top.

Johnny Depp to play Tonto in new "Lone Ranger" movie

The Lone Ranger is going to follow not lead in actor Johnny Depp’s version. As reported in Entertainment Weekly (EW), Depp, who will play Tonto, sees this as a revisionist version of the classic TV show.

As he told EW, “I remember watching it as a kid, with Jay Silverheels and Clayton Moore, and going: ‘Why is the fucking Lone Ranger telling Tonto what to do?’” Depp tells EW, recalling the 1949-1957 TV show, which was seen decades longer in reruns. “I liked Tonto, even at that tender age, and knew Tonto was getting the unpleasant end of the stick here. That’s stuck with me. And when the idea came up [for the movie], I started thinking about Tonto and what could be done in my own small way try to — ‘eliminate’ isn’t possible — but reinvent the relationship, to attempt to take some of the ugliness thrown on the Native Americans, not only in The Lone Ranger, but the way Indians were treated throughout history of cinema, and turn it on its head.”

Depp’s idea to create a new version of “The Lone Ranger” comes soon after the insensitivity of the U.S. military in using the name of Indian leader and warrior Geronimo to refer to either the recent Bin Laden kill operation or to Osama bin Laden himself.

It’s not only Hollywood that needs a new take on Native Americans but also the military’s tendency to use Native American terms such as Tomahawk and Apache to refer to war machines and weapons.

ABC News recently reported that the use of Geronimo has already been the subject of a U.S. Senate hearing: “A New Mexico senator wasted little time today in blasting the military’s use of ‘Geronimo’ as a code word in reference to the Osama bin Laden mission.”

“I find the association with bin Laden to be highly inappropriate and culturally insensitive,” Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat, said before an Indian Affairs committee hearing on racist Native-American stereotypes. “It highlights a serious issue and the very issue we have come here to discuss today; a socially ingrained acceptance of derogatory portrayals of indigenous peoples.”

ABC reports that, “The hearing had been scheduled long before Navy SEALs killed bin Laden on May 1st, but their reference to Geronimo after killing the most-wanted terrorist served as kindling for today’s heated meeting.”

Geronimo’s great-grandson, Harlyn Geronimo, released the following statement: “Whether it was intended only to name the military operation to kill or capture Osama bin Laden or to give Osama bin Laden himself the code name Geronimo, either was an outrageous insult and mistake,” Geronimo said.

“And it is clear from the military records released that the name Geronimo was used at times by military personnel involved for both the military operation and for Osama bin Laden himself. Obviously, to equate Geronimo with Osama bin Laden is an unpardonable slander of Native America and its most famous leader in history.”

Geronimo (Getty Images)

As ABC concludes, “Indeed, amid the celebration of the successful mission to kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, its use of the name of the famous 19th century Chiricahua Apache leader has reignited the controversy about racist Native-American stereotypes.”

Perhaps Depp’s new take on Tonto will help set a course that brings an honest portrayal of Native Americans in Hollywood at a moment when the continued disregard of Native Americans is still with us.

As Anthony Breznican writes in EW: “Tonto’s treatment especially bugged him because Depp had always been told his family was part Indian. ‘I guess I have some Native American somewhere down the line,” he says. “My great grandmother was quite a bit of Native American, she grew up Cherokee or maybe Creek Indian. Makes sense in terms of coming from Kentucky, which is rife with Cherokee and Creek.’”

EW reports that, “Depp is proud of that heritage, though it haunts him a little too. He imagines that at some point, his ancestors were subjected to horrifying violence, and the family offspring who came from those early couplings may not have occurred through consent. ‘The interesting thing,’ he notes, ‘if you find out you’ve got Native American blood, which a lot of people do, is you think about where it comes from and go back and read the great books, Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee or [John Ehle’s] Trail of Tears, you have to think, somewhere along the line, I’m the product of some horrific rape. You just have that little sliver in your chemical makeup.’”

Max Benavidez for The American Show

Real Street Art and L.A. Legacies

Last modified on 2011-05-09 03:10:22 GMT. 0 comments. Top.

When Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Director Jeffrey Deitch whitewashed
Blu’s image of coffins wrapped in dollar bills he joined a long legacy of mural and
graffiti censors in Los Angeles that probably started in 1932 when the city covered
David Alfaro Siqueiros’ famous America Tropical at Olvera Street. Blu’s piece and
the Siqueiros mural were both censored for their political content. Their imagery made
people uncomfortable so the walls were sterilized. I have to wonder if Deitch even
knows that “ America Tropical” was censored and why. Does he even care? But that’s
another story for another time.

For now, a few words on the “ Art in the Streets” show at MOCA. No, Mr. Deitch, street
art is no longer street art once it’s inside a museum or gallery. In 1981 the Craft and
Folk Art Museum put on a show called “ The Murals of Aztlan.” And the same could
be said for that show. The powerful muralism that stood for so much for the Latino
community during the rise of the Chicano movement became individual artworks ripped
out of context once they were “ captured” inside an institution. Same deal for the MOCA
show. You can’t bring the raw energy and sheer free expression that is global street art
into an institution and still label it street art. Maybe that’s why it’s called “ Art in the
Streets.” Yes, this is the hottest thing going in the art world. Almost everything else is
so boring. Well, now this can be boring, too. Sure there is some good art in the show but
where in the world, for example, is the whole street art history of Asco, etc. Banksy’s a
great showman but as his film Exit Through the Gift Shop showed us, the art world can
be conned. A lot of money is involved (Banksy is a millionaire or more) but there’s a
lot of money involved on Wall Street and in oil, too. So what? This show is basically a show about validation by the self-appointed arbiters of high culture.

In response, here’s a slide show of real street art from Barcelona. These photos (like the one above) were taken a few years ago but they still have their own power and rough charm. See the image that shows an artist in broad daylight painting his street art. The police in Barcelona just walked by. They didn’t see the artist as a vandal. He was part of life in the city. (The photos are courtesy of Katherine de Aragon.)

Max Benavidez

[slideshow caption=”off” exclude=”162″]

It’s Time to Leave Afghanistan

Last modified on 2011-05-09 02:42:05 GMT. 0 comments. Top.

Commentary by Max Benavidez for The American Show

U.S. Marines in Afghanistan (Reuters)

The death of Osama bin Laden is a symbolic turning point in what’s been called the “war on terror.” After the horrific events of 9/11, Americans wanted to bring the chief perpetrator to justice. That’s been done. It was also the main reason that we invaded Afghanistan.

If anything the bold and successful operation that took Bin Laden’s life shows us the type of approach that we need to take in the battle against terrorism.: strategic, laser-focused special ops not massive operations with 100,000 soldiers on the ground who are smack in harm’s way.

This week Florida Rep. Cliff Stearns (R) said that Bin Laden’s death should be the beginning of the end of the ten-year Afghanistan campaign, the longest war in American history. As the Florida Times-Union reported, Stearns said, “Most people I talk to say that we need to address our nation’s budget deficit, and we are spending a lot of money in Afghanistan,” he said. “Now that bin Laden has been executed we must go home.”

I agree. We need to declare victory and bring our troops home.

The Pentagon says we spend over $300 million a day on that war. That’s more than $100 billion per year. This is in a poor country that has an annual GDP of $16 billion. There’s a serious imbalance here. The definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over again. It’s simply crazy for the U.S. to stay in Afghanistan.

According to a recent CNN/Opinion Research poll, 63% of Americans are opposed to the war. It’s draining our treasury and even worse we have had 12,000 American troops killed or injured while on duty there.

If something as critical to the American people as Medicare can be on the table so should the Afghanistan war.

This is the debate that we need to have now as we look hard at our budget priorities. Earlier this year Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, who chaired the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations for years, told The Huffington Post, “This is a debate we’re going to have in the next five months or so.”

As far as our foreign policy is concerned, we have other pressing issues before us. Obviously, Pakistan needs our attention. We’re already involved in the hot mess in Libya and we’ll need to provide a steady hand to help the transition to democracy in Egypt, Tunisia and perhaps even Syria.

The time has come. We need to leave Afghanistan and concentrate on the big problems and challenges here at home.

We can no longer afford our involvement in Afghanistan in terms of blood and treasury and, let’s face it, we’re not going to make a huge difference by staying. We need a rapid draw down of U.S. forces.

Osama bin Laden is dead and we need to move on sooner rather than later. It’s as simple as that.

A version of this post is also available on The Huffington Post:

Design Thinking for Education: What If?

Last modified on 2011-06-11 15:41:26 GMT. 0 comments. Top.

Education is at a crossroads. It is the prime social space where our cultural and economic capital are created. People are credentialed and stamped with “approval” in the educational realm. Yet, this all-important arena where a process of “social alchemy” (in Pierre Bourdieu’s words) is supposed to transform people, is actually stagnating and our students and society are suffering. We need inspiration and a new direction.

Early Concept Image for Video Game (Singapore-MIT Gambit Game Lab)

One place to look is to the design thinking movement that is influencing educators. It comes down to having students realize that they can create their own future and take frameworks from other areas including video games that allow them to design their own participation and experiences. It’s an optimistic, proactive approach.

Design thinking is also a collaborative process. It encourages students to design the classroom and design their learning experience. Design Thinking for Educators brings design thinking into the educational realm. It takes educators through the phases of the design process. As they proclaim on their site: “Design thinking is the confidence that everyone can be part of creating a more desirable future, and a process to take action when faced with a difficult challenge. That kind of optimism is well needed in education.”

Stop for moment and consider that. Hope for a desirable future. Confidence. Optimism. These are all missing not only from education in general but also from our society. Like society, education often takes a problem-oriented approach as opposed to a solution-oriented approach.

At a recent TEDxSFED Conference, an offshoot of the TED conferences, educators, teachers, artists and inventors gathered around the idea of “mashEDup: re-imagine education.”

They asked what would happen if education and students were trusted enough to be leaders of change in teaching and learning? One speaker simply posed the notion of encouraging young students to ask, “What if?”

According to TEDxSFED, IDEO’s Sandy Speicher talked about how kids need to adopt notions such as, “I am aware of the world around me, I believe I have a role in shaping that world, and I choose to take action toward a more desirable future.”

TEDxSFED also linked to a Q & A with game designer Katie Salen. Salen talked about her students experiencing video game design and importing those principles into the classroom. She said that games have a framework that could be transferred to the classroom. It would be about students interacting in the classroom within a framework that allows them to take on social challenges as designers.

Salen says that a good game designer thinks about the same things that a good teacher thinks about. When you begin to see how games work, you can begin to see how a classroom might work as a better learning experience. The framework of how video games work can also be used to design class participation.

Most people know that the educational system needs reform. There are many thinkers working on this from many different perspectives. Mindworkers. Quest 2 Learn. Digital Youth Network. The Latino Family Literacy Project. Design thinking is another a way to see and embrace the world. It’s a mindset.

As Design Thinking for Educators says, “You can transform the world when you approach it with the goal of imagining and creating solutions.” They recommend design thinking because it’s a human-centered, collaborative, experiential, and optimistic approach. We need to hit the educational reset button and refresh the experience and the outcome.

Max Benavidez, Ph.D., for The American Show

This post is cross-posted on The Huffington Post’s Education vertical.

The Beginning

Last modified on 2011-05-09 03:15:36 GMT. 0 comments. Top.

Welcome to The American Show, a new multimedia blog about life in the USA, the greatest reality show on earth. Ours is a mediated society where nothing seems real until it’s in the media. Watch is what we do. We like “to watch” as Chance the gardener said in Being There. But we’re also being watched as we are more and more under surveillance, whether through webcams, at traffic intersections, by ubiquitous security cameras, or just the ones on our phones. Watch and be watched.

This is a place where we will watch who is watching whom and why. We will report on who’s doing what and where in every area of American life from politics to culture to music to education–wherever our interest takes us. We also want to mirror the real America, the one that already lives and thrives everyday in Los Angeles, New York, and Miami. It’s a mix, a gorgeous hybrid of bloodroots, color, race, sexuality, energy, ideas, and personal visions. That America, the New America, is something we want to present here on The American Show.

At launch our initial collaborators already include some of the most gifted people in the blogosphere: William Nericcio, author of Tex[t|-Mex and the blog of the same name that he curates with his “band of semiotic pirates”; Audrey Dolar Tejada, the journalist and gifted artist who blogs at Strange Tango: Life As Art; Wendy Carrillo, radio personality and online editor for Voto Latino; Mo’ Kelly of the sometimes outrageous The Mo’ Kelly Report; occasional posts from the folks at Racialicious; and, eclectic DJ José Galván, who will curate our music (click on Music on the Menu bar and you can hear his inaugural playlist). We’ll also be presenting interviews with some of our favorite people and adding contributors as we grow and move out of the beta phase.

Above all, The American Show is a place for stories. We’ll be showing videos and photos that tell stories about people who live in this state of mind called America. We’ll also have podcasts that you can download. More than anything, we’ll want to hear from you. Join our conversation. Register.

The American Show is the blog as collage, montage, and pastiche. As an online collage, we will bring together variant elements into one place and see how the resulting image, text, or sound becomes something new.

See the image above that accompanies this first post for our blog: Marianne Brandt’s “Our Unnerving City.” It’s a photomontage that comes from a frenetic time and place (1926, Germany) like ours where political dangers lurk in unforeseen places and nothing is as it seems. As Ben Davis wrote about Brandt’s piece, “the collection of fragmented images is anchored by a large face or dominant figure…Rather than producing easy points of identification, however, Brandt’s figures clipped from popular magazines are tangibly fake-seeming and stereotyped, again evincing a certain uneasiness about identifications. This sense is furthered by Brandt’s choices: She seizes on images of dancers, circus performers and movie stars of all kinds — all people putting on a show, on stage, acting, not themselves.”

This is “showtime” and sometimes it’s real, sometimes it’s not but the real and the unreal blend together into something different, something new and hyperreal. That’s our society in the 21st century.

Like montage—what Walter Benjamin called the “major constitutive principle of the imagination in the age of technology” —The American Show is looking for the “infinite, sudden, or subterranean connections of dissimilars.”

We live in extreme times. Our politics are a polarized bloodsport. Economically and educationally, we are fast becoming two Americas. We seem to always be at war. It makes sense that extreme sports are an obsession for many and people crave extreme makeovers. In this spirit we take Base Jumping as a metaphor. This is a blog where freedom of thought and expression can take flight. We will strive to jump from the edge and comment from there about what we see in the world. We want to put on a “show,” something you’ll want to watch. We won’t ask for permission, we’ll just do it and and hope we land in one piece after the thrill. There is so much to say and do. Let’s go!

Max Benavidez
Producer/Director, The American Show

A Delicious Revolution by Alice Waters

Last modified on 2011-06-08 03:11:41 GMT. 0 comments. Top.

Guest Blogger Alice Waters on Eating as a Political Act

Alice Waters is the owner of Chez Panisse Restaurant and founder of The Edible Schoolyard. Author of several cookbooks, Waters has served on the boards of The Land Institute, National Committee for Mothers and Others for Pesticide Limits, and as an advisor for Public Voice on Food Safety and Health. For her efforts in establishing The Edible Schoolyard, Alice Waters has been awarded a John Stanford Education Heroes Award, the Excellence in Education Award, and the James Beard Humanitarian of the Year Award.

Gardener Checking Crops

Learning to make the right choices about food is the single most important key to environmental awareness — for ourselves, and especially for our children.

Until we see how we feed ourselves as just as important as — and maybe more important than — all the other activities of mankind, there is going to be a huge hole in our consciousness. If we don’t care about food, then the environment will always be something outside of ourselves. And yet the environment can be something that actually affects you in the most intimate — and literally visceral — way. It can be something that actually gets inside you and gets digested.

How can most people submit so unthinkingly to the dehumanizing experience of lifeless fast food that’s everywhere in our lives? How can you marvel at the world and then feed yourself in a completely un-marvelous way? I think it’s because we don’t learn the vital relationship of food to agriculture and to culture, and how food affects the quality of our everyday lives.

To me, food is the one central thing about human experience that can open up both our senses and our conscience to our place in the world. Consider this: eating is something we all have in common. It’s something we all have to do every day, and it’s something we can all share. Food and nourishment are right at the point where human rights and the environment intersect. Everyone has a right to wholesome, affordable food.

What could be a more delicious revolution than to start committing our best resources to teaching this to children — by feeding them and giving them pleasure; by teaching them how to grow food responsibly; and by teaching them how to cook it and eat it, together, around the table? When you start to open up a child’s senses — when you invite children to engage, physically, with gardening and food — there is a set of values that is instilled effortlessly, that just washes over them, as part of the process of offering good food to one another. Children become so rapt — so enraptured, even — by being engaged in learning in a sensual, kinesthetic way. And food seduces you by its very nature — the smell of baking, for example: It makes you hungry! Who could resist the aroma of fresh bread, or the smell of warm tortillas coming off the comal?

Children working on an urban garden

There is nothing else as universal. There is nothing else so powerful. When you understand where your food comes from, you look at the world in an entirely different way. I think that if you really start caring about the world in this way, you see opportunities everywhere.

Wherever I am, I’m always looking to see what’s edible in the landscape. Now I see Nature not just as a source of spiritual inspiration — beautiful sunsets and purple mountains majesties — but as the source of my physical nourishment. And I’ve come to realize that I’m totally dependent on it, in all its beauty and richness, and that my survival depends on it.

We must teach the children that taking care of the land and learning to feed yourself are just as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic. For the most part, our families and institutions are not doing this. Therefore, I believe that it’s up to the public education system to teach our kids these important values. There should be gardens in every school, and school lunch programs that serve the things the children grow themselves, supplemented by local, organically grown products. This could transform both education and agriculture. A typical school of say, one thousand students, needs two hundred and fifty pounds of potatoes for one school lunch. Imagine the impact of this kind of demand for organic food!

There’s nothing new about these lessons. In a pamphlet published in 1900, a California educator argued for a garden in every school. School gardens, he wrote, will teach students that “actions have consequences, that private citizens should take care of public property, that labor has dignity, that nature is beautiful.” They also teach economy, honesty, application, concentration, and justice. They teach what it means to be civilized.

I’ve seen all this happen at The Edible Schoolyard Garden at Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley. I’ve seen the kids sitting around the picnic tables in the schoolyard, eating salads they’ve grown themselves with the most polite manners. They want these rituals of the table. They like them. I’ve seen troubled kids who’ve been given a second chance and allowed to work in the garden be so transformed by the experience that they return to King School to act as mentors to the new students. The Edible Schoolyard creates that kind of clarity — and its potential lies in the multiplication of these epiphanies of responsibility, at school, two or three times a day.

What we’re doing now is building models and demonstration projects, such as The Edible Schoolyard, to prove that this kind of experiential education is truly a viable initiative. In Berkeley we’re about to transform the school lunch program of an entire school district, with over seventeen schools and over 10,000 students, in collaboration with the school board, Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, the Center for Ecoliteracy, and the Chez Panisse Foundation. This is a revolutionary way of thinking about food in schools — it’s what I call a Delicious Revolution.

Wendell Berry has written that eating is an agricultural act. I would also say that eating is a political act, but in the way the ancient Greeks used the word “political” — not just to mean having to do with voting in an election, but to mean “of, or pertaining to, all our interactions with other people” — from the family to the school, to the neighborhood, the nation, and the world. Every single choice we make about food matters, at every level. The right choice saves the world. Paul Cezanne said: “The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.” So let us all make our food decisions in that spirit: let us observe that carrot afresh, and make our choice.

“A Delicious Revolution” by Alice Waters was originally published by the Center for Ecoliteracy. © Copyright 2004-2011 Center for Ecoliteracy. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. For more information, visit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *