Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cigar Store White Man???

As I walked downtown searching for something that may be 'performance', I couldn't help but struggle with the definition. While it is easy to categorize activities such as dance, theatre or concerts as performing, sometimes it can be a bit more tricky. We could say that people 'perform' for others with the way they dress; they are hoping to convey some sort of image and attitude to those who see them. Likewise, businesses dress themselves up to attract customers. Some try for a 50s diner feel, others go futuristic. Is this really performance? For the sake of my blog entry here, let's say yes. Now I'm not sure what sort of image a business is trying to project with the cigar store Indian, but I'm even less clear on the cigar store white man. I've never heard of a cigar store white man, but there he was, sitting in front of a tobacco shop. On his wooden hat rested a sign.

"The Cigar Store Indian 'Elijah' has been replaced by a Cigar Store White Man - 'General Custer'. 'It's payback time'. "

Below that was some fine print, reading "If you can't laugh at this, you must have lost your funny bone".

I don't know if I LAUGHED, but I raised an eyebrow and kind of chuckled. I wonder where they even found a cigar store white man. All in good fun, right? Obviously. It got me thinking though, where might this NOT be acceptable? Beyond being tacky, the cigar store Indian is a bit of a racist symbol that is probably better off gone, but it is a staple of tobacco stores and has endured over time. Still, I can't help but think that people in places such as Alberta (or deeper South in the USA) would have trouble finding the cigar store white man comeback amusing. In fact, they could even be offended. Then again, maybe not. Despite that, I think that the cigar store white man shows that Vancouverites are able to laugh and accept a rather fair rebuttal to the cigar store Indian. General Custer may not attract a whole lot of business, but he shows that the owners are at least with a sense of humour and forward-thinking on issues of race-relations. Hopefully, this is somewhat representative of the city as a whole.


  1. Thanks for this, Kyle. Do you remember where exactly you came across this? Like you, I find the incongruity of it all fascinating--and thought-provoking. I also agree that this complicates, in a good way, our working definition of performance and performativity.


  2. I only sort of remember where he might be, but I'll try to find him again when I go downtown today.