I am a Film student just about to enter my fourth year at University and begin my dissertation. We were asked to think of and research some topics for this oncoming project. I wanted to take this opportunity to write about something I was passionate about, something I could make a good case on. Only one thought immediately sprung to mind: my home. My home is more than simply just my home. It is, yes, where I grew up, where I learned to walk, talk, read and write. It is where I learned to love the sea, where I learned to love where you’re from. It is also where I learned to work hard, and not stay quiet about something I believe in. My home is in the Isle of Lewis, in the Western Isles of the Outer Hebrides in Scotland.
If you are one of the directors, writers or journalists that I am writing to, you will have heard of the Western Isles. In fact, you will have filmed it or written about it. I agree with you, these Islands are wonderful, but not for the reasons you say. I want to write my dissertation on cultural assumptions, ethical ethnography and if there is a correct way to portray different cultures through film and media. I am unsure myself if there is indeed a “correct” way. I have yet to read my sources, study and come to any sort of conclusion on my subject, this letter is simply one of personal interest. However, I know that there is a wrong way to portray a culture.
As filmmakers and writers, I am sure there is something in particular that attracted you to our Islands. I know that I certainly am attracted to the vast space, the open air, the clear seas, the white sands, and the wildlife. But these are just aspects to our Island, we are so much more than what we appear. I have read and watched too many articles that describe where we live as a “cute” “magical” fairy tale land – and while I understand where you are all coming from – I want you to look past our appearance, I want you to properly study our people, our culture, and I want you to stop with your vintage, patronising crap.
Yes we have lots of sheep and cows on the crofts. Yes we have men who go out to fish. Yes we have the occasional Ceilidh and yes we have beautiful scenery. But we are so much more. Did you know we actually do have a mobile signal and Fibre Optic internet? Did you even know we have television?! Did you know young people leave the Island not because it is “outdated” or “behind the times”, but because we are surrounded by extremely hard working and intelligent people who have been accepted into various different Universities. Did you know that most of those who don’t “leave the Island” have stable, successful careers? The people from the Hebrides are driven. We are not twisted up in superstition, we don’t bring up our children on folktales and fairy dust, we don’t skip around in our magical pretty land and relax all day amongst the hills. We do not want to be patronised or made to look like “savages” who kill their own sheep and cows. (Reality check, the meat you eat from any other source has gone through the same process -just somewhere else.)
We have a thriving music scene and a fantastic music studio, with a new one being built 26 miles further out. We have a well funded, successful Gaelic language with its own television channel. We have busy pubs and supermarkets and the latest cars. We are immensely proud of our history but we also embrace our future as an Island. We live in a wonderful place, yes, but it is not the outdated, disconnected world you have portrayed it as.
As well as insulting the people who work incredibly hard, who brave the awful weather for the majority of the year, and even risk their own lives working from the land by calling us “cute” or by other similar demeaning adjectives, you are harming our culture and our welfare as a community. If your film/television show/article/book, which I am sure has been extremely well filmed or written, becomes the popular opinion of those outside our community in the Outer Hebrides, people will genuinely start to think that we live in a mystical fairy land disconnected from the rest of the world. People won’t see our thriving, growing culture, our modern take on old traditions. They won’t see us past the myth that you have all helped create, and they will not move here and contribute to our world. You are driving people away with your patronising portrayal of these Islands. Our Islands are buzzing with young musicians, young teachers, young nurses, young designers, young filmmakers. Yes, the Outer Hebrides is a fantastic place for a holiday, but is is also a fantastic place to live. I moved to the city because I wanted to experience city life and go to my chosen University, (which by the way, I got accepted into on my first ever film which was about life on the Islands) but I have always known I will go back. The Outer Hebrides has a lot to offer children, adolescents and adults, and like any intelligent person would, you just have to look.
I would please like you all to look past the sheep, the cows, the bendy roads and recognise that we are just as much a part of the world as you are. We are beautiful, but we are also modern and hardworking. There are no easy or carefree jobs in the Outer Hebrides, because a true Islander will always give 110% into everything they do, and would be proud to tell you so. Do your research, work here, live here, build your career and lifestyle in the Islands and then tell me if it is slow-paced! The Outer Hebrides has produced some of the best artwork, the best musicians and the toughest lot of people I have ever come across. So I would like you to stop looking at what you can take from us to fuel your lack of imagination, and look at what you could do to show the world our thriving community and culture. As a creative, you have power in the work you produce, I beg of you to use it wisely.
Zoe Paterson Macinnes – a proud Islander.