First they offered us the usual lip service about “honoring Native American culture,” then they offered us blankets and derided us as drunks and whiners.
But, in the end, it was the bigots who backed off and a band of Indian activists scored a Facebook victory, illustrating … again … that persuasive arguments, strength in coalition-building and well-placed emails to event sponsors can make all the difference.
The details are below the squiggle.
Bedlam Presents is the organizing arm for a series of hipster-fueled monthly costume parties held in Atlanta and New York. The parties are themed to reflect the cheeky nonchalance of Bedlam's core fashionista audience. Recent party themes include “RedNeckHeck,” “Animayhem” and “WreckTheHalls.”
But, the Bedlam bus took a sharply wrong turn this week when it named its November party "Pocahotass" and urged attendees to dress as "pilgrims" or to show up in what organizer Barry Brandon, a self-styled raconteur and part-time musician, termed “native-inspired fashion.” A group of gay activists and Indian people sounded the alarm, formed its own Facebook group and hit Bedlam's Facebook page to decry the thing.
In comments left on Bedlam's invitation page, we tried to explain how demeaning their idea was, how it objectifies Indian people, causing hurt and real harm and how such a theme exploits and mocks an oppressed people. Charges of racism and bigotry flew into the face of their intransigence, there meeting with some nasty invective from Brandon's supporters who told those who objected to “lighten up,” to consider themselves honored, to stay away from them and worse.
In the face of such resistance, we then went to Bedlam's sponsors, two vodka makers and an energy drink company, one whose board chairman is Indian, and asked a few questions. The response was tremendous. Not only were the sponsors unaware of the party theme and the racist poster Brandon was distributing to market it, complete with an apparently stolen fine art image, but one of them told us that he had never agreed to be a sponsor in the first place.
On Tuesday of this week, all three companies joined with the Indian objectors and pulled any support … noisily ... while pledging to permanently sever all ties with Bedlam. An inquiry is pending with the agent for the allegedly stolen art image used on the group's flier.
By Wednesday, Bedlam's Facebook invitation page had been deleted and the party essentially canceled. The group is holding a smaller, non-themed event Saturday night in Atlanta, but has backed off its original costume idea. While his supporters upped the racist invective aimed at Indian people Thursday and Friday, for his part, Brandon issued a tepid apology, saying he never intended to offend anyone, that the theme was meant to “bring people together” and that he'd be more careful in the future.
His supporters, meanwhile, suggested that the Indian activists who'd swarmed Bedlam's page with objections would likely show up just for the open bar and they would consider handing out blankets to them, a pointed reference to a particularly ugly chapter in the history of Indian and U.S. Government relations.
This isn’t the first time activists have dipped Bedlam in hot water, though. His March 2011 “Bedlam: Derelicte” party, inspired by the execrable homeless fashions from the movie “Zoolander,” also ticked off a significant number of people and prompted Brandon to issue a statement that read, in part:
“We’ve found that it brings people together and breaks down barriers. It’s black, it’s white, it’s gay, it’s lesbian, it’s straight, and it’s totally non-judgmental. We would never intentionally try to offend anyone, and in fact, that’s exactly the opposite of who we are and what Bedlam is about.”
9:49 AM PT: UPDATE 1: The agents for the artist whose work was improperly appropriated for Bedlam's flier has now responded and one can't help but think that this isn't going to end well for the graphic designer. As a point of interest, that's a male in the piece, not a woman and the color tint has been considerably altered from the original intent of the artist.