In my short seven years of studying and working in archaeology I’ve come across many definitions and ideas for words like “heritage”, “authenticity”, ”tradition” and “culture”. They have all sorts of wack applications in our day-to-day parlance, in our writing, in movies and even in government legislation. Trying to understand what they really mean will only leave you in a labyrinth of confusion passed out in your own puke.
Recently Vancouver’s mordor (Mt. Seymour) offered up the remnants of the infamous “Mystery chairlift” as it embarked on a (much needed) revamping of its main conveyer up the mountain. As people waited in line to get their very own Mystery chair (complete with certificate of authentication), I began to think about the meaning of those shitty pieces of metal attached to a dilapidated cable that grooooaned every time someone sat on them. I could picture the Mystery chairs working together to haul families, rich kids and Poco burnouts up the mountain day-in and day-out. The chairs were slow and uncomfortable, on weekends the line-ups were long and the cable sagged like moose lips on a sweaty summers day.
Why would anyone want to keep one of these chairs? “Cause it’s dope Chelsey” – nice argument. I’m not trying to bum anyone out, if I had the time and storage capacity I’d probably grab one in a second. I just like bringing these philosophies and epistemologies to real-life scenarios. You see, Mystery chair sucked, but it sucked enough to create some sense of belonging between the people that had to put up with it. It was so long you could chug two beers and choke two smokes in a row. After a few runs you’d be scooped for the day, heckling at anyone passing under you and ignoring the 4 mm of rain that collected in the gunwale of your goggles. So Mystery builds a sense of identity for those that took part in it. There’s a solace of ingenuity and elitism that maybe Whistler kids will never have. But how many times would I have to ride Mystery to be “part of it”, more “part of it” then someone who might ride Grouse too? Is heritage what belongs to only one group of people? Or is it more inclusive than that? Where do you draw the line? Does someone deserve a chair more than someone else? I don’t know the fucken answer but it’s good to think about these things.
But not only that, Mystery is old – and if there’s one rule about tradition – it has to be old. Or does it? My bbm tradition of updating my friends Corpsey and Carmen everyday at 5pm is only 4 months old. Which means now we get into authenticity. The certificate is pretty neat. But what does it mean? If you received a different chair and 10 years from now sat your child on it, talking about “the good old days” would your he/she know the difference? Don’t kid yourself, the certificate is for you and you alone. It’s re-inventing the meaning of the chair – from “useful object” to “lavish antique”.
I again have to say that this is not meant to bum anyone out – I wish I could have been there to celebrate such a big part of my culture. I just like to take these opportunities to point out the subtleties of what we as humans create, re-create and authenticate and indoctrincate. It isn’t so much about Mystery as it is about other “heritage” and “traditions” that are created with – often – more at stake. History is a powerful fucken tool. Government institutions, teachers, unions, they all try to authenticate what they do by using history. The 200th anniversary of the war of 1812 is a good example, whereby Harper and his fat cat cronies have tried to re-imperialize and militarize Canada’s history. This probably has something to do with the neo-liberalization of the state, re-branding of the government and the acquisition of F-35’s.
O.K. that might be a stretch, but let’s start thinking about the underlying reasons for giving meaning to actions and objects. Why do we protect certain heritage and destroy others? A good place to start is by looking at the power relations involved. It might be a scary inquiry into vicious uncharted waters – or it could be a bunch of homies gettin’ down with their new piece of Mystery. Either way – it’s like someone said to me once “think about the thingness of the object and it’ll all make sense”.
Mystery Chair Sell-off:
For more on authenticity & culture creation (particularly Indigenous), check out “IPINCH (Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage):
Some hardcore propaganda for 1812 anniversary:
Marginal Cultures: Ethnicities, Histories and the Creation of Heritage: