The “Casino Indian” Stereotype

30 Apr

As we’ve seen, there is an extreme lack of diversity in the portrayal of Native Americans in today’s popular media, especially in popular adult cartoons.  An article entitled, “High Stakes Stereotypes: The Emergence of the ‘‘Casino Indian’’ Trope in Television Depictions of Contemporary Native Americans” talks about this tendency towards showing a certain type of Native American, specifically the “Casino Indian” stereotype.  In two of my prominent examples provided below, this stereotype can be found without difficulty.

The author of this article, Celeste Lacroix, claims that the depictions of Native Americans in contemporary contexts reference age-old racist stereotypes of the Ignoble Savage while, at the same time, creating a new stereotype that she deems as the Casino Indian.  Lacroix thus looked at six different television shows that can still be accessed today, which allows for their continued circulation in the media.  All of these shows that are explored depict the “Casino Indian” stereotype in some fashion that draw upon age-old stereotypes that are harmful to the perception of this ethnic group.  She attempts to expose this “new and more virulent form of racism that is reflected in the media stereotype of the ‘Casino Indian’”.

To begin, Lacroix explains the history of the portrayal of Native American’s in American media and literature and states that there is a dualism in the main depictions of stereotypes.  That is, historically, Native Americans are portrayed as either a Noble Savage or an Ignoble Savage.  Lacroix argues that this new stereotype of the “Casino Indian” draws upon the notions of the Ignoble Savage, specifically the “dangerous savage” and the “degraded Indian” stereotype.  These two variants can be seen across the board in a staggering number of film and television portrayals of Native American’s, especially the men.  However, Native American women are not immune to these various harmful stereotypes that can be seen in so many media outlets.  The article continues on to state that in terms of the “degraded Indian” stereotype, women are called “squaw” to describe the lazy, drunken, and faceless females so often found in media portrayals.

In Lacroix’s analysis of six episodes, she provides several examples which evaluates the “characters’ vocabulary/speech, costuming, portrayed intelligence, anachronistic positioning, as well as the overall tone of each depiction.”  She then continues on to argue how these presentations of the Casino Indian are reminiscent of the age-old negative stereotype of the Ignoble Savage.

This article concludes with three main themes that emerged with this critique of the new stereotype of the “Casino Indian”.  The first theme was “Casino Indians exploit their culture for profit” suggesting that they exaggerated their cultural traditions to further their financial gain.  The second theme that was elaborated on was “Casino Indians are led by scheming, immoral chiefs” in which Native leaders are portrayed to be severely corrupted by money and power.  Finally, the last theme Locroix found was “Casino Indians aren’t authentically Native American”.  This theme suggests that certain individuals take advantage of the opportunities that being Native American give, specially building casinos on the reservation.

This study concludes that the narrow depictions of Native Americans and their relationship to the “Casino Indian” stereotype have led to the general notion that, “Native Americans have manipulated the system and cultural sympathy for their plight to gain access to unearned, and more importantly, illegitimate wealth”.  Though some of these episodes could be argued to be satires, such as Family Guy or South Park, this article address this counterargument by stating “the satire here seems to be less about making fun of our culture as it is using racist stereotypes to make fun of Native Americans”.  Lacroix continues to back up her statements by arguing that the audience is in a position to see the Native characters “as to be laughed ‘at’ in an unreflexive way since the depiction does not seem to be an ironic commentary on dominant racism against Natives.”   Overall, the article concludes that this new depiction of the “Casino Indian” constructs Native Americans to be looked at as both degraded and a threat to the dominant group.

I do not own any rights to this photo. It is being used only for educational purposes and was retrieved from Google Images on Sunday, April 29th 2012.

Citation: 

Lacroix, Celeste C. (2011). “High Stakes Stereotypes: The Emergence of the ‘‘Casino Indian’’ Trope in Television Depictions of Contemporary Native Americans.” Howard Journal of Communications 22.1

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Repeatedly mocking an entire culture shouldn’t be tolerated

30 Apr

 The Simpsons “Bart to the Future”

To further my point, I moved unto the hit television series The Simpsons to gain another representation of Native Americans.  A brief encounter between cultures is shown in an episode entitled, “Bart to the Future”, in which Bart and Homer walk into a casino on the reservation and learn from a future-seeing Native American that Bart’s future looks bleak.  When Bart and Homer first enter, a Native American guard with a long, dark ponytail and stern expression tells them that minors are not allowed.  Homer then replies, “Sorry son, although they seem strange to us, we must respect the ways of the Indian.  Hey, how are ya! Hey how are ya!”  Once again, a popular television show mocks the historical ritual chanting and makes the relationship between Native Americans and Anglo citizens seem like an ongoing joke.  Next, when Bart is caught sneaking back into the casino, the casino manager, who happens to be a Native American chief, catches him and seeks some sort of revenge.  The stereotype of both the wise Indian chief and resentful Native American can be seen here as well as the romanticized image of the spiritual and magical connections that Native Americans historically cherish.

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I do not own any rights to this photo. It is being used only for educational purposes and was retrieved from Google Images on Sunday, April 29th 2012.

The entire episode can be viewed below. (Skip to about one minute in to see the various depictions of Native Americans)

Bart To The Future

Let’s talk about Women of Color!

30 Apr
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I do not own any rights to this photo. It is being used solely for educational purposes and was retrieved from Google Images on Sunday, April 29th 2012.

 Family Guy “April in Quahog

The popular cartoon TV show that I looked at next was Family Guy.  In Season 8, episode 16 entitled “April in Quahog”, I found a horrific scene that depicted a Native American woman being brutally shot in the head with a musket.  In this episode, Peter Griffin tells his dog Brian that because it was his last day on earth, he wants to save a Native American family from the “rapacious cavalry”.  The next scene is of a tribe of Native Americans in stereotypical braids, feathers, jewelry, and buckskin outfits surrounded by tee-pees and campfires.  All of these tie into the Plains Indian stereotype and keep Native Americans stuck in the past through the eyes of our mass media.  What is most shocking is the following scene in which a cavalry man on a horse snatches up a Native American woman and states, “Yeah, this one will do nicely”, eliminating her identity as a human being by using dehumanizing terminology and degrading imagery.  Then with a blow from his musket, Peter shoots off the woman’s head saying, “You don’t have to be afraid anymore”.  This brutality against women of color horrifically mimics the historical genocide inflicted upon Native American people.

Implications and Historical Significance

So far, we’ve looked at the few representations I’ve found in popular adult television cartoons.  Notably, most of what I saw were Native men, with the exception of the sole Native female in the show “Family Guy” being brutally murdered by a musket.  I found an interesting connection to the way in which female bodies were viewed by Euro-Americans, which continues to add to the rate of violence and mistreatment inflicted upon women of color today.  Captain James Cook was one of the major influences upon how Native women were perceived both in the new land and overseas, in Hawaii for example.  “Cook conceived of the inhabitants of the village as exclusively male, and so categorized the women with the hogs.” (Wood 103).  He continued on to say how Native women “came with no other view” then to have sex with him and his men.  So, Native women were stripped of their identity only to be left with their bodies, which in the Euro-American perspective, was their property for the taking. Similar to the land, Native bodies were abused and taken over.  This concept of Native women being hyper-sexualized primitives allowed for the conquest of both their bodies and land.  Examples of this can be seen in Disney’s Pocahontas, in which the story presented was so skewed in romanticism and fabrications that it has had a lasting misguided reality of the real story.  Furthermore, this can be seen in my own research in that the only Native female I saw on television was being caught for the White man’s pleasure.  In fact, when he caught up to her, the Calvary man stated, “Yeah, this one will do nicely” before her brutal murder.  Even present day cartoons acknowledge the mistreatment of Native populations, but use dark humor as a way to cope.  The issues of colonization, race, gender, and perceived superiority cannot be separated when looking at how Native populations were treated and still are today.

This stereotype that Native women existed solely for the enjoyment and sexual exploitation for white men is almost inconceivable to imagine.  However, this aspect has been explored in a number of different works and narratives.  In the book entitled, “Indigenous American Women”, it discusses the clothing difference between Native women and European women and how this cultural dissimilarity made the European men assume certain things about Native women.  “Native women were viewed as decadent and sexual—dark-skinned whores—while the lighter-skinned, clothed European women were the more “pure,” respectable females.” (Mihesuah 59).  I found it interesting that Native women’s sexuality was automatically assumed by the men to be heterosexual.  These assumptions do not take into account any other option of sexual identity for Native women to express, as they are expected to be straight and willing to be conquered by the “dominant” white males.  This demonstrates the heteropatriarchal and heteronormative viewpoints brought in with the arrival of settlers to the land.  In terms of entertainment media, the invisibility of Native populations, especially those of Native women, play into this long history of demeaning and dehumanizing those who are deemed “other’s”.

            Continuing with this idea of symbolic annihilation of Native peoples in relation to today’s entertainment media, I will discuss the perception that settler’s have had on this population.  In chapter 1 of the book “Queer Indigenous Studies”, it further emphasis that historically, women of color are seen as “others” and through colonization they are dehumanized, making their value as living and breathing human beings nonexistent.  If I want to get a well rounded understanding about the treatment of Native people, I must address the way in which the Native men were perceived by Euro-Americans in order to gain a better understanding of where they belonged on the power sphere.  Once again, in chapter 1 of “Queer Indigenous Studies”, it explains that Native men are viewed as feminine and “less of a man” because they cannot keep their women within their tribe.  Therefore, using this viewpoint supports the idea that Native men were not a threat to Euro-Americans.  With Native men out of the picture, in a sense, it leaves Native women alone to be controlled, manipulated, and victimized by sexual violence because they are vulnerable and viewed by the settlers as “savages” who need to be civilized.  Once again, the depiction of the stereotypical Native woman on “Family Guy” comes to mind in that she was separated from her tribe (also a highly stereotypical Plains tribe), and captured to be a sexual object for the White man.

 Citations:

Finley, C., Driskill, Q., Gilley, B. J., & Morgensen, S. L. Queer indigenous studies. (pp. 31-42). Tucson, Arizona: The University of Arizona Press. (2011).

Mihesuah, Devon A. Indigenous American Women: Decolonization, Empowerment, Activism. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2003. Print.

Wood, H. (1999). Displacing natives. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Want to watch what I’ve discussed?

Click here! http://youtu.be/BS8GQy2-18w

Exposing Historical Injustices?

30 Apr
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I do not own any rights to this photo. It is being used solely for educational purposes and was retrieved from Google Images on Sunday, April 29th 2012.

 King of the Hill “Spin the Choice” 

Pictured above is John Redcorn, a Native American cast member of the popular cartoon show, King of the Hill.  Notably, he is always shown with long, dark hair, a stern look, a medicine pouch around his neck, and some other piece of Native American jewelry.

 In an episode entitled, “Spin the Choice” from the fifth season of King of the Hill, John Redcorn fights for 130,000 acres of land that was stolen from his tribe by the U.S government.  Feeling defeated and at a loss with his cultural identity, Mr. Redcorn eventually has to settle for a mere 12 acres of land at the end of the episode.  The plot itself touched on a broader sense of Native American struggles, as was evidenced by the young, white boy Bobby who boycotted Thanksgiving after hearing the true history of Anglo-Native American relations told by John Redcorn at school.  Outraged about his own historical ignorance, Bobby is shown reading various books about Native Americans which led up to the moment at Thanksgiving dinner when he made a speech about the ritual of cannibalism in Native American culture.  This scene parallels the “savage beast” stereotype that is so often seen in mass media.

Another aspect which I found to be particularly interesting was the way in which John Redcorns gender and sexuality is shown to the audience.  He is portrayed as hyper-sexualized and therefore lusts after white women in particular.  He has a son with the wife of one of his good friends, but he struggles to get his son interested in his true Native American roots.  Thus the lingering sense of a cultural loss is always present somewhere in Mr. Redcorns life.

Click below to see a clip from this episode! 

Thanksgiving Speech

Lack of Diversity

30 Apr

As I was actively searching for representations of Native American individuals in popular adult cartoon shows, the lack of diversity I found was unsettling.  With each new post, I will outline and discuss each portrayal I came across in my research.

“Red Man’s Greed” South Park

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I do not own the rights of this picture. It is being used solely for educational purposes and was retrieved on Sunday, April 29th from Google Images.

          In this episode, the South Park boys’ travel to the “Three Feathers Casino” run by Native Americans on the reservation.  As soon as the episode begins, stereotypes can be found with each passing second.  Furthermore, the mere title of this episode has racist tendencies that play upon the stereotype of the “Casino Indian”, which is filled with negative connotations.  The actual casino is shaped as a giant tee-pee and once inside, all of the Native American people speak in a slow, rhythmic, choppy dialect.  Chief “Runs with the Premise” wears a sacred headdress at all times and even the waitresses are dressed like the popular and highly misunderstood Disney Princess Pocahontas.  The next scene is of a comedy show within the Casino and the audience laughs in a chant-like manner (HA ha ha ha! HA ha ha ha!) which mocks yet another aspect of the Native American culture.

After one of the boys father looses all of his money gambling, the episode took an interesting turn by having a role-reversal of the complicated Anglo-Native American relationship.  The Native Americans who own the “Three Feathers Casino” essentially try to take all of the power and money from the poor and helpless town of South Park.  Native American’s are thus portrayed as aggressive, revengeful, evil, and greedy, while the middle-class, white townsfolk are the one’s shown being oppressed.  This episode therefore, was essentially a satire of the history of American imperialism, relocation, and genocide that has oppressed Native Americans since the arrival of Anglos to their land.

Implications? (Not so good…)

             Because the audience is never given any other modern day view of how this ethnic group lives and breathes, it gives the implication that Native Americans are primitive people who are stuck in the past.  They are thus marginalized and placed along the outskirts of modern society, left to be forgotten.  Obviously, this is a major issue that should be addressed and talked about to raise awareness.  Portraying such a narrow view of Native Americans is so dangerous and harmful because if the audience is only receiving one image, they are much more likely to believe such stereotypes.  The lack of, or extremely hyperbolic depictions raise questions about the status of this group within the framework of today’s culture.  By bringing these portrayals out in the open and bringing them together in my blog, I hope to make my readers aware of the implications the media makes about certain minority groups.  In a sense, I might ruin media for you.

Take a Look for yourself!

Premise Running Thin

Johnny Many Moons

             I want to challenge you to take note of the various misconceptions that the audience is receiving of Native American people.  Look at the ways in which they are dressed and the manner in which they speak.

Demographics

          For a sense of the demographics of Native Americans, check out this website that provides various statistics and percentiles of this ethnic group.  I’ve provided a few statistics and facts from that website that I think are important.

  • American Indians make up 1.5% of the total population of the United States.
  • To be eligible for Bureau of Indian Affairs services, an Indian must (1) be a member of a tribe recognized by the federal government, (2) be of one-half or more Indian blood of tribes indigenous to the United States; or (3) must, for some purposes, be of one-fourth or more Indian ancestry. By legislative and administrative decision, the Aleuts, Eskimos and Indians of Alaska are eligible for BIA services. Most of the BIA’s services and programs, however, are limited to Indians living on or near Indian reservations.
  • AI/AN women report more domestic violence than men or women from any other race (CDC 2004).
  • Reports of neglect appear to be higher for AI/AN children than for White children.
  • Rates of violent victimization for both males and females are higher among American Indians than for all races.

              To learn more about Native Americans and their relationship to Casinos, I suggest you read the study by William N. Evans and Julie H. Topoleski that outlines both the negative and positive changes that Casinos have brought to the reservations.

Read the article HERE

Positives (provided by the article above):

  • Young adults moving back to reservations, fueling an 11.5 percent population increase
  •  Adult employment increasing by 26 percent
  • 14 percent decline in the number of working poor.
  • In counties with or near a casino, the employment- to- population ratio has increased and mortality has declined.

Negatives (provided by the article above):

  • 10 percent increase in auto thefts, larceny, violent crime, and bankruptcy in counties four years after a casino has opened
  • An increase in bankruptcies within 50 miles of a new casino.

Source

Evans, William N., and Julie H. Topoleski. “The Social and Economic Impact of Native American Casinos.” National Bureau of Economic Research (2002). Print.

What have we been learning about Native Americans?

24 Apr

Today’s media has undoubtedly become a staple of American life.  Everywhere we go, we are inundated with images and implications of the “correct” way to dress, speak, live, and what we should believe in.  What I want to focus on is the media’s portrayal of Native American’s, specifically in adult cartoon television shows.

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. 20540, hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print

 

Native American individuals are essentially invisible to the public eye, and the representations that do actually get shown are unfortunately extremely stereotypical.  I would like to urge my reader to think of the portrayals of Native Americans that he/she has personally experienced in the past.  Has there been much diversity?  Are Native American individuals taken seriously, or are they merely there for comic relief?

What I’ve found in my research is that the media gives the public a highly skewed vision of the realities of Native American life and thus dehumanized the entire ethnic group.  This can consequently have disastrous and lasting effects on the perceptions of Native populations.  Because of the lack of information and coverage, White’s and non-Whites form stereotypical opinions about particular groups they don’t typically have contact with. In this case, the minority being generalized and hurt are Native Americans.  A study entitled, “The portrayal of racial minorities on prime time television” attempted to explore the relationship between mass media and it’s portrayal of ethnic minorities.  The relationship tended to shape the way in which the majority viewed minorities and consequently, the way in which minorities interact with the majority of the population.  The study, using an extensive method for gathering data, broke down the overall racial coverage into six categories.  Not surprisingly, the results showed that no Native American was found in the full sample of prime time television in 1996.  Asian American’s fared not much better, coming in at 1% of the TV population and 4% of the census.  (Mastro, Greenberg 699).  What I found interesting was that after giving those statistics, the study then omits both Asian American’s and Native American’s from further exploration.  The audience is thus left in the dark as to why the Asian and Native population aren’t given nearly enough attention in entertainment media until the final discussion of the study.  Mastro and Greenberg briefly state that the reason for this massive under representation of these particular minorities represent the need to uphold mainstream, white conventions (699).

In my future posts, I will be giving examples of various adult cartoon images our society gets of Native Americans.  The television shows Family Guy, King of the Hill, and South Park will be utilized as a small sample of this misrepresentation of Native populations.

Want to learn more?

23 Apr

This might be the most comprehensive website surrounding the lives of Native Americans.  It provides a plethora of information about various Native American tribes, products, and topics (from pow wows to medicine).  It is run by the American Indian Heritage Foundation and offers support to over 500 Native American tribes nationwide.

Continuing with my interest in Native Americans in the media, this website offers its audience a chance to find films and actors that are Native American.

This site gives a thorough look at the various aspects of Native American history. The reader can choose from a list of different takes of their history as a whole.  It provides an economic, social, cultural, media, and retrospective history of the Native American people.

The goal of the Bureau of Indian Affairs is to “… enhance the quality of life, to promote economic opportunity, and to carry out the responsibility to protect and improve the trust assets of American Indians, Indian tribes, and Alaska Natives.” Learn more and explore the website by clicking the link above!

If you are interested in Native American art, this is the website for you.  It features a number of Native American artists and their work that you have an option of buying.  It offers a unique perspective of art that is highly symbolic and spiritual.

Campfire stories with George Catlin is the basis for this website.  It offers paintings, historical documents, and commentary from modern experts so the reader is able to explore the two cultures, both in Catlin’s time and present day.  He was an artist that travelled through Native lands during the 1830s and documented his experiences.