June 14, 2008

Indian poltergeist in Family Guy

In "Petergeist," the May 7, 2006, episode of Family Guy, Peter unearths an Indian skull that unleashes an angry poltergeist. Here's the story:

"Petergeist""Petergeist" is an episode from season four of FOX animated series Family Guy. The title, and the episode itself, is a parody of Poltergeist. Some segments of the movie's musical score are even used.

Plot summary

After Joe builds a home theatre system, Peter tries to build a multiplex in his backyard just out of spite. While digging, Peter finds the skull of a dead Native American buried in the backyard. This resembles the haunted skeleton seen in "Ready, Willing, and Disabled." Brian urges him to put the skull back, but Peter decides to use it as a novelty (playing with it, peeing in it, using it as an athletic cup, etc).

That night the Griffins start experiencing strange paranormal activity, such as Stewie talking to the TV static, the chairs and refrigerator being stacked upside down on the kitchen table, and Chris getting attacked by an evil tree before being saved by Herbert in the same fashion as Gandalf saves the rest of the Fellowship from the Balrog in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Lois is in denial (and Peter is oblivious) of the events that are happening, until Stewie gets sucked into his closet and disappears.

To find Stewie, the Griffins hire a spiritual medium to contact the other side, and learn that the entrance to spirit world is Stewie’s closet, while the exit is Meg's ass. After they eventually rescue Stewie, the spirits ravage the Griffin house and suck it into their world. As the Griffins drive off, Peter dumps the Native American skull in a garbage can.

Now homeless, Peter and Lois try and find a way to get their house back, and learn the Native American skull has to be put back in its resting place. After searching through the city dump, a garbage man tells them that the skull would be in the human remains bin, but it was cleaned out by Carrot Top for things to use as props. They go to Carrot Top's mansion and, after a chase through a hall of mirrors, they retrieve the skull and rebury it, thus getting back their house and life returning to normal.
Comment:  The Indian skull is wearing a chief's headdress. This is just as wrong and stereotypical as it was in "Ready, Willing, and Disabled."

Peter makes a complete mockery of the Indian skull, even using it as a urinal. This is (barely) tolerable, since Peter represents the ignorant American. But except for Brian's half-hearted try, no one else corrects him. And it's hard to imagine the show offending any other minority for most of an episode.

Worse is the tired cliché that Indian burials and remains are tied to black magic. This basically tells viewers that Indian religions are unholy if not evil. Of course, the show also mocks Christianity, but our culture supports and honors Christians in countless ways. Indian religions get no such respect from the mainstream.

Even if this scenario happened in Poltergeist, that's no reason to repeat it. If you want to satirize Poltergeist, go ahead and start with finding an Indian skull. But maybe a buried voodoo doll or monkey's paw causes the supernatural events instead. An expert tells the Griffins they were foolish to attribute the magic to an angry Indian spirit.

You can view the episode here. For more on the subject, see TV Shows Featuring Indians.


Akira Oni said...

I'm sorry, I just find it hard to believe that you would get so uptight about native American stereotypes in Family Guy. They are there for the sake of satire, to make people talk about these things. If nobody acknowledges them, we may as well sweep any growth potentials we might have under the rug. If you are a watcher of family guy, then you'll know the show is regularly offensive to all groups of people. It's like Issac Hayes voicing chef through years of insults to race and religion, and quitting over the episode that portrayed Scientology. Anyway, that's my two cents.

Rob said...

I criticize stereotypes because they're wrong, Akira, not because I'm uptight about them.

For more on the subject, see Rob "Uptight" about Family Guy?

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Akira Oni. The whole show is offensive to everyone. Just do not watch it if you do not enjoy the satire.