Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Native American Headdress...What Does It Mean To You?

The fashion company Victoria Secret have issued an apology after dressing a model in a Native American headdress. Several tribes took offence to this exhibitionism, and have called the display rude and demeaning to their culture. For many tribes, the headdress is not only sacred, but personal - each one shows the bravery and honour that individual has achieved.

Many tribal leaders are disappointed with the show, claiming that it mocks the Native American way of life. Others think it is an overreaction. Last year, Urban Outfitters was criticised for its new range of "Navajo" clothing, so this debate is nothing new.

The headdress is effectively a religious object, and if the model wore a crucifix they would be facing the same kind of criticism (I'm sure this has been done in the fashion world at some point, since much is designed to shock). From this point of view it's easy to blame the people who made this decision, but the Native American headdress has become so integral to Western culture - through Halloween costumes or the age-old story of "Cowboys vs. Indians" - that people don't think twice about using it. Of course, it depends on the context - a public display such as a fashion show is more likely to invite criticism, but I would be interested to see how Native American tribes treat Halloween costumes or the numerous students who dress up as "Indians" for parties. Native Americans believe more education is needed about their culture, how it is treated and how it is perceived, something which I would welcome. But at the same time, if some tribes are trying to eradicate the use of the headdress as a meaningless symbol they are (unfortunately) facing an uphill battle.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

WW1 and PTSD

An interesting but often overlooked episode during the First World War is the treatment of soldiers for 'shell shock', something that was not completely understood at the time. Some of these soldiers were sent to hospitals where, more often than not, 'treatment' consisted of electric shocks and what today we would call downright abuse. (Read Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy for more on this). 

Symptoms of 'shell shock' include shaking, nightmares, convulsions, fits, lack of speech and even loss of memory. Over 80,000 men were diagnosed with some form of 'shell shock', but of course these are only the recorded cases. The famous war poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen were admitted to the same hospital for a time.

Not all doctors used electric shocks however. In a hospital in Devon, Arthur Hurst used hypnotherapy, as well as encouraging soldiers to remember what happened to them, reconstructing battlefields to prevent any sense of denial. Through this, Hurst managed to help over 90% of his patients. Pathe have just released some disturbing footage of some of these patients from the hospital, follow the link below.

Britain's imperial past...

New research suggests that Britain has invaded nearly 90% of the countries on Earth.

The long list includes Vietnam, Iceland and even Cuba. Interestingly, the list (compiled by Stuart Laycock) is no means conclusive - indeed, Laycock believes there are more countries that could be added, and is encouraging others to come forward to present new research. Laycock, who has written books on Roman history, was sparked into this quest by his son who asked him how many countries Britain had invaded.

The countries that Britain haven't invaded are, to name a few - Andorra, Belarus, Guatemala, Paraguay, Sweden, Vatican City and Monaco.

And the country Britain has invaded the most? France takes first prize. Cue the old French related jokes of poor fighting ability. Ahem.

Anyway. watch out, Luxembourg, we're coming for you.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

The Lifeboat Legacy

When the Titanic set sail from Southampton on the 10th April 1912, she had 20 lifeboats. This would have saved a third of the passengers and crew on board, something that may strike us as horrifying now but was perfectly natural at the time. Architects were confident in the use of watertight compartments in the design of the ship, believing them to be the epitome of safety. Thus, less lifeboats were needed. If a ship was not built with watertight compartments, more lifeboats were needed. Remarkably, the Titanic sailed with four more lifeboats than what was required by law at the time, and Thomas Andrews, the designer of the Titanic actually requested there should be 64 lifeboats. But White Star Line, the company that owned the Titanic, shot this down as they believed too many lifeboats would clutter the deck space. It has since been calculated that 51 lifeboats would have been needed to save every person on board the ship.

Interestingly enough, the civil servant who inspected the Titanic before she sailed, Maurice Clarke, believed there should have been more lifeboats. In some handwritten notes he made on the day of inspection, Clarke clearly stated the ship was not as safe as it could be, but made no mention of this in his official report because his job was on the line - White Star Line was pressurising Clarke's employer for a squeaky clean report. Despite this, he acknowledged that it would have been impossible to increase the lifeboats because of lack of funds and manpower. Regardless, Clarke did not mention his misgivings at the inquiry into the disaster.

Poignantly, Clarke had written "a sufficiency of boats would allay a panic."

These handwritten notes are expected to reach £30,000.