'Brave New World' Episode 2: Colonialism gets a refreshingly different treatment through 'Savage Lands'
Let's be honest, we were all a little worried about how 2020's 'Brave New World' was going to handle all those politically-incorrect chapters of the 'Savage Reservation' in New Mexico that thinly disguised Native American reservation lands as the territory of the 'savages'.
There is a long and painful history of western imperial powers displaying entire 'Native villages' from colonies as exhibits in 19th-century world fairs to Native Americans playing 'Red Injuns' in Wild West shows that pandered to its White audiences ideas about them as 'savages'. So this was always going to be a tricky and touchy subject. However, the comparison of the 'uncivilized' Old world's culture to the 'civilized' New World is an essential part of the story and indeed the crux of the conflict of the lead protagonist, John the Savage, caught between two worlds.
The 'Brave New World' TV adaptation cleanly sidesteps the issue by naming the 'Savage Reservation' as 'Savage Lands' and making it a theatric production of sights and sounds from current-day American Southwest. In doing so, it also makes sly digs at modern-day tourism where visitors are treated to commercialized "tourist attractions" that present mangled, inauthentic, and exoticized representations of local cultural traditions.
Without context, normal aspects of American culture are presented as spectacles of a 'savage culture' of greed, with shoppers elbowing each other, and jealousy, with a wedding ceremony ending in a shoot out after an old lover comes to town. The 'theme park' itself is divided into houses like the House of Want that has a staged Black Friday sale, the House of Monogamy, featuring the wedding, and the House of Consequence, in other words, a prison. These attractions are a way for the New Worlders to experience novelty away from their numbing, safe, routine lives back home.
This sort of performative tourism keeps the money coming in — the only way prosperity is allowed to flow from the New World into the Old World. But there is also the question of the lands of these "free people" being taken over to build the amusement park and hotel for the New Worlders. Their situation is similar to the Lakota prisoners who agreed to perform for Cody's 1891 European tour for their freedom. By the time the tour ended, Native Americans had only three ways to survive — retreat deep into reservation land, perform as Indians in Wild West shows or hang as portraits in private homes and offices or public exhibitions and museums, showcasing "primitive" lifestyles.
In the show, the fiery character of Shiela the rebel wants to kill the "outsiders". Her anger is juxtaposed with the "innocence" of the New Worlders who are baffled about why the natives hate them so much, blind to how their patronizing and insulting tourism is affecting them. "No one likes to be laughed at, do you?" Sheila asks John while recruiting him for their uprising.
As modern-day American viewers flinch at how prevalent culture and traditions are depicted, it is a timely reminder of the scars left behind by colonialism and slavery whose bitter harvest we are still reaping today.
'Brave New World' is available to stream on Peacock from July 15.