“Taste Me I’m Scottish”

BAGPIPE BOTTLESTOPPERBAGPIPE BOTTLESTOPPERTASTE ME. I’M SCOTTISH. (seen on a t-shirt and a cake topper)

. . . dressed up as some sort of cross between Rob Roy and Braveheart . . . if people want to celebrate their heritage in that way, who are we to say that they shouldn’t. (James Hunter, author of A Dance Called America: The Scottish Highlands, the United States and Canada)

If you want to be a Scot, you can be a Scot. We’re very open about that. (Michael Russell, Member of the Scottish Parliament for Argyll & Bute)

Their general appearance is assumed and fictitious. They have no right to burlesque the national character or dress of Highlanders. (Alexander Ranaldson Macdonell, 15th Chief of the Clan Macdonell of Glengarry, organizer of The Society of True Highlanders, and friend of Sir Walter Scott)

Family history is second only to pornography on the Internet as the most common leisure pursuit through the new technology. . . (Sir Thomas Devine, Author of To the Ends of the Earth)

Blueface JeremyToday throughout the world there are genuine and heart-felt observances of Scottish and, more specifically, Highland culture. These can be found in the form of performances and rituals: singing Auld Lang Syne during New Year’s Eve, conducting the Kirkin of the Tartan in a church service, competing at Highland Games, toasting at festivities such as “Burns Nicht,” and dancing at ceilidhs.

BODACEOUS WOMEN 2Then there is something called “tartanry,” which can be seen as the over-emphasis of tartan in Scottish culture. “Highlandism,” too, is the mythologizing of Highland history.

Genealogy is now one of the most popular leisure pursuits. For some, celebrating a heritage is rich and long-standing over generations; for others, roots tourism is an opportunity to selectively dip into Scottish culture. Sometimes, traditions are even reinvented by taking pieces of the past and adapting them for the present, either knowingly or unknowingly. For example, the vaudeville act, Sir Harry Lauder, and the Broadway musical/Hollywood film Brigadoon are representations of the Highland and Scottish identities that feed the myth which then become part of the collective idea of what that identity is.

Can it be that some are merely “tasting” the culture, picking and choosing from a variety of symbols, motifs, language and imagery, in an attempt to construct an identity, either temporarily as a leisure pursuit or as something more serious and lasting? And are people giving any serious consideration to what has been considered a traumatic history? Are the events of the past trivialized and distorted?

Scottish Gaelic culture (whose members in Scotland are known by the somewhat misleading moniker “Highland(er)”) has been subject to rampant cultural appropriation for centuries as a result of its subordination to anglophone culture in an anglocentric British empire. (Michael Newton, author of Warriors of the Word: The World of the Scottish Highlanders and Seanchaidh na Coille/The Memory-Keeper of the Forest,)

Haggis with signs copyIf not tasting, then what?

Does the history of the Highland Clearances have relevance outside of Scotland? To what extent did the events affect what has been called the “Great Emigration”?

Additionally we ask, is Highland culture being appropriated? Are there stereotypes? Is anyone offended, including those in Scotland and abroad?

For some outside of Scotland, the events of the Highland Clearances are a mystery; for others, the Clearances represent why their ancestors left Scotland (whether it is a factual history, or a construction).

How does Highland history influence culture today? What are the debates, and what value is there in interpreting these historic events? What are the challenges of attempting an unbiased look at such a difficult history? How do original documents and an understanding of the Gaelic language fit in?

It is the filmmakers’ intention that the documentary itself will be a “taste,” that is, to whet your appetite to do further exploration. In that light, we encourage you to go to the sights where the events took place, explore the archives, museums, and landscapes, read the historians’ takes as well as the original, primary documents (including those in Gaelic). We hope you will do this not as a casual tourist seeking to validate a romanticized view of the past, but rather to go and seek a history that is both complex, and very rich.