Saturday, July 25, 2009

My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult

Camp. Camp is summer, summer is camp. Drama camp, sleepover camp, orienteering. Art camp, nature camp, G&T camp (for those of us who were truly stymied by the outdoors as children). My kids are in the middle of the two weeks of day camp they get this summer, and they've been coming home every day tired, and filthy, and happy. Makes me smile.

first day of camp

Makes them smile.

We picked this particular camp because of its idyllic wooded location, its all-outdoors all-day programming, and, erm, because it's only insanely expensive, and not mind-explodingly expensive. Seriously, some of this shit is like Montessori on the pocketbook.

So when I found out last year that this camp, which has a (nominal) Native American theme, teaches the kids archery and "riflery" (BB guns), I took a deep breath. The kids were thrilled. The safety precautions are thorough. I figured that they'd be taught that Native Americans hunted for food, and I'm good with activities that encourage thought about food and where it comes from.

Yes. I am aware that I overthink. Leave me alone. In my world, I call it 'rationalizing.'

Wednesday afternoon, Zhou was complaining that he didn't do so well at BB guns this week. He said, "The safety glasses got in the way so I couldn't look through the rear sight and through the front sight and see the lady."

"That's weird," I thought.
"What lady, [Zhou]?" I said.
"The Native lady on the paper," he explained.

Huh. I figured I wasn't understanding this right, or that he misinterpreted the picture on the target. So I asked Mao.

"What were they using for a target in BB guns this week?" God I love talking to a seven year old. You can just say what you mean, you don't have to think of coming up with words that he'll understand, or subterfuge - ok sometimes subterfuge.

"It was a picture of a Native woman."

Great. These idiots at this camp, whose "Indian lore" is as accurate as a tipi standing next to a totem pole, have finally figured out that the best way to refer to the indigenous peoples of North America is "Native," and they do so when they are encouraging children to SHOOT at them. You can't go around calling them "Indians" and at the same time pretend that you're all about respecting the red man. Sherman Alexie's gonna show up and beat your ass.

That afternoon, when I came to pick them up, I asked the hairless teen who was signing them out what they were using for targets during BB guns. Guilelessly, he replied, "Oh, it was a cartoon of an Indian."

Sort of nodding, my jaw locked and my eyes bulging, I growled, "I'd like to speak to the person whose decision that was." Kid took one look at my, I am sure, completely deranged face, and hustled off.

Only to return with another extremely youthful person, a British girl, as it happens. I think I managed to say, "Hi," before I waded in.

"The targets in BB guns this week: how did you decide to use a picture of a person as a target?"

"Oh!" Flail, taken off guard, backpedal. "We used a cartoon of an Indian..."

"Yes I heard that. In what context is it ok to aim a gun at a human being?"

"Well, it was Cowboy Week, so we figured, since the cowboys fought the Indians..."

"Cowboys did not, by and large, 'fight Indians.' COWBOYS, by and large, herded CATTLE. It was the U.S. government that fought Indians, and for the most part, we now consider that to have been a CRIME. Much like every other time that a person aims a gun at another human being."

"Oh, er, um," more flail.

"What do you teach these guys that guns are for?"

"Oh, well, hunting mostly..."

"And what do you teach them that hunting is for?"

"Well, for food..."

"So were you all planning to CONSUME the Native Americans you shot?"

"Well, no, of course not."

"Listen, will you not use those targets again?"

"No, we won't. We weren't thinking..."

"Do you promise? Because it's a long ride up here and I've had a lot of time to think about this. I could go all night."

And I have to hand it to that kid, it was only at this point that she looked at me with true alarm. I think it finally crossed her mind that she had an extremely verbal, old, tattooed punk hippie liberal standing before her, epically pissed off, and, she was beginning to suspect, enjoying herself just a little.

"No, yeh, I mean obviously, you know more about this than I do..." she babbled.

"Yes. I imagine any number of people know more about this than you do. You might consider consulting one of them next time." I smiled. "As long as you promise not to use those targets, we're done here." I looked at her expectantly.

So she promised, and I thanked her, and she wandered back into the lodge building looking a little like a frog that has just endured a session with a tenth-grade biology class, I'm sure to seek out the bottle of bourbon that every camp director I've ever known has had stashed in his/her office, despite strenuous camp policy prohibiting alcohol on camp grounds. They need it, people - don't begrudge.

The other counselor kids, who had been vociferous in their attempts to ignore the entire confrontation, scattered. It was rather wonderful - I felt like the drop of soap in the metal filings experiment.

I snagged the kids, including Prosper, our neighbor, and drove home. On the way I called Bob and related the conversation to him. I love cell phones - the kids thought I was talking to them, despite the fact that I'd already turned on their audiobook (Sea Monsters and other Delicacies, read by the GRREAT Gerard Doyle). They responded to what I was saying to Bob, and I took the opportunity to ask them what they had learned guns were for.

"For killing people!" was the zesty response from Zhou.
"What are they really for?" I asked.
"Shooting targets!" "Hunting!" said the other two boys.
"And what is shooting targets for?" I asked.
"Getting better at shooting!"
"And what is hunting for?" I asked.
"For food!"
"What kinds of animals do we eat?" I asked.
"Chickens!" "Deer!" "Ducks!" "Fish!" "Bears!" "If you're a velociraptor, iguanadons!"
"Humans?" I asked.
"If you're an ogre you eat humans," answered Zhou.
"Yeah but ogres don't use guns, right?" I replied. "Ogres just RRIIIP you LIIMB from LLLIIMB and gobble you up."
"Hobgoblins... hobgoblins use weapons..." "Criminals shoot guns at people..." "Murderers!"
"Yeah well it would be one thing if we were sending you to criminal camp. I'm sure at criminal camp they teach you how to shoot at people. At your camp, there's no reason for a human being to be the target."

When we got home, I walked Prosper up to his house. I thought his parents would get a kick out of the classic Liberal Arts Major Gets Her Shout On scenario. We all shook our heads and giggled about it, and then I remembered that the counselor told me they'd ridden horses today, and there should be a photo in each kid's backpack. So Chris and Peter rummaged through the backpack, and found the picture of Prosper sitting proudly on a very patient horse (it was the same horse in all the pictures).

They also found this:

It's the target.

I had been picturing a cartoon Injun like out of a Yosemite Sam cartoon - angular, mean-looking, brandishing a bow and arrow. I assumed that my kids had identified the target picture as female because the figure had long hair.

But this.
  1. Clearly unarmed
  2. Possibly female
  3. Quite a bit childlike, in fact
The three of us sat quietly for a moment, trying to comprehend the train of thought that would, at the end of its journey, pull into Let's Have Kids Shoot at This Picture Station. Peter recovered first. "Well," he said. "At least he shot the bitch in the face."

If you look closely, Prosper in fact shot her three times in the face. Well done, son!