November 28, 2006

Simpsons trivializes Indian religion

In "The Seemingly Never-Ending Story" (episode 13 of the 2005-2006 season), the Simpsons are exploring the Carl's Dad Caverns when they encounter a stalactite. The following dialog ensues:MARGE (reading from plaque):  "Local Anahoopi Indians believed this stalactite was the finger of Tsisnajini, their god of pointing down."

HOMER:  Silly Indians.

HOMER:  Our god made their god.
Even if dumb ol' Homer said it, he's right. The "Anahoopi" Indians do sound silly.

Needless to say, this bit stereotypes Indian religions. It's a takeoff on the Indian belief that everything has a spirit, but it trivializes this belief by inventing such a trivial god.

What's next, the god of belly-button lint? No wonder people think Indians worship every animal, vegetable, and mineral.

6 comments:

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
First, THE SIMPSONS somehow came to be regarded as combined avatars of satire, irony, and social irreverance. Second, if there was any reality to such a presentation, it would be that Natives did not place the sign and likely had little to do with the interpretation so presented. Third, the comment, "Our god made their god.", likely would/will be defended as coming under satirical license. Fourth, the 'cartoon' series, THE SIMPSONS, is so poorly drawn and conceived that writerfella mostly has ignored it, as presentation always is everything. And it usually seems to be described as 'brilliant', that is until it treads on admirers' toes...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

One, being an avatar of satire and irony doesn't mean the show can't be stereotypical sometimes. In fact, the ethnic characters--Dr. Hibbert, Apu, Groundskeeper Willie--are relatively few and far between, and they're mainly types. And don't overlook the lack of strong female characters.

Two, tourist displays on plaques usually present the most positive or benign spin on Native lore. More to the point, white people are generally responsible for Native stereotyping. If the non-Indians in this case are the fictional creations of other non-Indians (the writing staff), it doesn't change the diagnosis.

Three, I didn't say Homer's "our god" line was stereotypical. It reinforces the stereotype on the plaque, but it's a legitimate comment on how some non-Indians view Indian religion.

Four, The Simpsons, like many animated shows today, intentionally uses a crude drawing style. I'd say it's often brilliant, but it also straddles the line between mocking stereotypes and using stereotypes without mocking them.

Anonymous said...

Jesus. Looking under every rock until you find something to be offended by. What a weird hobby.

Rob said...

A few of the many quotes at The Harm of Native Stereotyping: Facts and Evidence may help educate you about this issue, Anonymous:

More so than any other group, American Indians are portrayed in popular culture as a people of the past, and as a result, the material conditions of the lives of Native peoples today are largely ignored.

--Bruce A. Goebel, "Reading Native American Literature"

America prefers Tonto-esque "good Indians" located in the far off past where Indian rebellion can be ideologically managed. Real Indians with real culture and real grievances are generally taboo.

--Brian McKenna, "Giving Thanks to America's Indians: Native Resurgence Spurs Hope," 11/24/06

Media image is especially crucial because it is that image that looms large as non-Indians decide the fate of Indian people. If non-Indian decision-makers continue to view native people as savage survivors or happy hunters on the way to extinction, the policy is different than it would be if decision-makers saw beyond the stereotype.

--Rennard Strickland, retired dean of Law, University of Oregon, quoted in "Illiniwek Becomes a Controversy in Oregon, Too," Native Times, 12/13/05

Anonymous said...

Todos los pueblos de la Tierra somos hermanos, por tanto debemos tolerar toda creencia entanto no vaya en contra de la ley natural.

Rob said...

Rough translation: All the people of the world are brothers, so for that reason we must tolerate all the beliefs that don't go contrary to natural law.