Monday, December 18, 2017
December 18, 2017: Longmire Lessons: Gab and Mandy
[I know I wrote a week’s series of posts on Longmire a couple months back. But having now seen the show’s last season, I can say definitively that a central wish for the AmericanStudies Elves this year is for everyone to experience this wonderful American cultural work. So this week I’ll make a relatively spoiler-free case for doing so by sharing a handful of lessons we can learn from characters on whom I mostly didn’t focus in that prior series. Add your thoughts in comments, Longmire Posse and everyone else!]
On the similar tones yet distinct lessons offered by two young Native American characters.
One of (I hope) the only downsides to my daily posting schedule on this blog is that sometimes individual posts can get a bit lost in the shuffle, or at least are of course immediately supplanted by the next post. The schedule remains a key part of my goals, so I’m not planning to change it, but it does mean I should probably find ways to highlight or even re-up certain posts that feel particularly important to me. One such post was this one from 2016’s series on 21st Century Patriots, in which I wrote about the talented and inspiring young Oglala Lakota pageant winner and activist Santana Jayde Young Man Afraid of His Horses. For one thing, Santana is just a genuinely impressive young person, the kind of individual and voice that we should all know about and celebrate. And for another, her efforts to combat issues such as depression and suicide among young people on Native American reservations perform two vital roles: asking us as a society to confront such issues and communities much more fully than we currently do; and offering an inspiring model for how young Native Americans themselves are responding to those challenges.
As you might expect from one of our very best pop cultural representations of Native American communities and stories, Longmire likewise presented such young Native American identities, in a couple particularly striking (and striking distinct) ways. On the one hand is Gabriella “Gab” Langton (the wonderful Julia Jones), whose harrowing story of rape and its aftermaths provided a key plot thread for much of Season 4. I’m trying to stay relatively spoiler-free in this series, to encourage anyone who hasn’t watched Longmire yet to do so, so will simply say here that while Gab is one of the show’s strongest and most resilient characters, her story nonetheless ends with what I would call survival and escape rather than true triumph over her adversaries and tragedies. That’s entirely understandable, if not indeed the best-case scenario for a character in her situation (and certainly one that contrasts with an even more tragic young Native American character’s story early in Season 5). And to be clear, I’m not in any way critiquing this emphasis on realism over romance (to put it in literary critical terms), as Gab and her story can (among many other meaningful effects) help draw attention to the kinds of systemic violence facing 21st century Native American women.
The first appearances on the show for Mandy (played just as compellingly by Tamara Duarte) focused on many of those same issues: initially a frenemy of Gab’s who was subsequently subjected to her own violent attack, Mandy then re-emerged in the next season as the friend to another young Native American woman (Tinsel Korey’s Tina) being abused by her husband. Yet as part of that latter plotline, Mandy began working as an assistant of sorts for Cady Longmire’s Reservation law practice; that relationship has had deeply meaningful effects for Cady (culminating in her adoption into the Cheyenne tribe), but has at the same time allowed Mandy’s character to develop and evolve significantly despite relatively limited screentime. She remains understandably somewhat sarcastic and cynical in her perspective on many issues facing the Cheyenne (and on the possibility of white characters like Cady improving them), yet at the same time has allowed her work with Cady to influence and shift that perspective, as well as (and most importantly) to suggest the possibility of a different and better future for herself. There’s no getting around the kinds of traumas and tragedies suffered by Gab, and we desperately need more collective awareness of them; but Mandy, like Santana, helps model how young Native American activists can move through them into vital 21st century voices and roles.
Next lesson tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other texts you wish we’d all check out?