July 22, 2008

Indian casino in Family Guy

In The Son Also Draws episode of Family Guy (Season 1, episode 6), the Griffins visit an Indian casino. Here's the story:

The Son Also DrawsThe family stops at a Native American casino when Peter needs to use the bathroom (because Peter had a prune smoothie and saw a lot of signs that reminded him of going to the bathroom), but Lois quickly becomes addicted to gambling and loses the car. After hearing that Lois has gambled the family car away, Peter tries to get the car back by claiming to be Native American ("My great-grandfather's name was Chief Grand Cherokee"), and the doubtful elders demand that he go on a vision quest to prove his heritage.

Chris accompanies Peter into the wilderness, hoping to tell him that he only wants to draw instead of being in the Scouts. Delirious from hunger, Peter begins talking to trees and sees a vision of his spiritual guide, The Fonz.

He finally listens to Chris's complaints and realizes his son is a talented artist. They return to the casino and reclaim their car. The episode ends with a parody of NBC's "The More You Know" public service announcements. Lois, Stewie, and Meg counteract stereotypes about Natives, Mexicans, and Swedes, respectively. But when Peter continues about Canadians ("Canada sucks"), he doesn't correct himself and "The More You Know" logo doesn't appear.
Comment:  The Griffins are driving from Rhode Island to New York City when they see a sign adverting "Craps...Craps...Craps." They turn to go to an Indian casino. Presumably they're in Connecticut and the casino is a stand-in for Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun.

How bad is this episode? Pretty bad. Here are some of the mistakes and stereotypes:

  • The casino is named Geronimo's Palace.

  • Its main sign is a faux totem pole.

  • The casino itself looks like a cluster of giant teepees.

  • The Indian employees wear feathered headbands and vests over their naked chests.

  • The Indians have offensively "funny" names such as Change for a Buck, Watches You Pee, and Leonard Cornfeathers.

  • The slot machines use corn and teepee symbols and have tomahawk handles.

  • An animatronic chief and "brave" greet the guests.

  • Behind the scenes, the Indians who own the casino all wear headbands.

  • Peter pretends to be an Indian and they take him semi-seriously. Clearly, tribal membership is such a joke to Family Guy that any Irish-looking guy who wants money can claim to be a previously unknown Indian.

  • In Peter's flashback to his alleged ancestor, he envisions the usual Plains Indians and teepees.

  • The Indians send Peter on a vision quest, even though it isn't part of New England's Indian cultures. They have no idea how long it's supposed to last.

  • Peter's "spirit guides" turn out to be wisecracking trees and a cloud that mimics the Fonz. Clearly, Indian religion is a joke to Family Guy.

  • The Indians seem insincere about their culture, saying they wouldn't sell it except for $6 million.

  • Wow. This episode is more ignorant than the Simpsons and King of the Hill episodes about Indian casinos and almost as bad as the South Park episode. About the only thing missing is the Indian waitresses in skimpy Pocahontas outfits.

    What is it with all these TV shows doing episodes about Indian casinos? Is it the imagined conflict between traditional cultures and modern commerce? Or perhaps it's imagined insincerity of Indians trying to earn a living like everyone else.

    Yes, I think that's it. No TV show has dared to spend an entire episode mocking a black Juneteenth or Kwanzaa celebration, a Latino quinceañera, a Chinese New Year, or a Jewish bar mitzvah. That would come across as pure racism.

    But as I've said before, Indians are the last safe target. In a perfect example of "hipster racism," creative people can mock Indians to demonstrate that they're not "PC." That they're "equal opportunity offenders" who will criticize "everyone"--meaning Indians but not blacks, Latinos, Asians, or Jews.

    For more on the subject, see TV Shows Featuring Indians.


    Anonymous said...

    Native here before you jump on that bandwagon, FYI Rob...apparently you've never met a current "pequot" or been to their casino. Otherwise, you would get every single joke. Except for the one about the headbands. They don't wear those, fake moccassins, Pendleton bags yes, but not headbands...no comment on why not.


    writerfella said...

    Writerfella here --
    Let's put forth a possibility: Rob Schmidt goes to New England to meet a Pequot. He will come back, still having never met a Pequot...
    All Best
    Russ Bates

    dmarks said...

    I suppose Writerfella has the answer to "how many Pequots does it take to screw in a light bulb"

    Anonymous said...

    this episode is years old. why exactly are you bringing this up now?? watching reruns? out of touch with current pop culture? and don't forget that Family Guy is disciminatory across the board--that's kind of the point.

    Rob said...

    Yes, I'm watching Family Guy reruns, Anonymous. If you're new to this blog, I often comment on old as well as new movies and TV shows. Besides, anything that appears in a rerun or on DVD today is part of pop culture today.

    The only non-Indian groups I've seen Family Guy tackle for more than a minute are Southerners and the Irish, who aren't ethnic minorities in the US. Yet Family Guy has devoted at least three shows to stereotypical Indians. Why is that, pray tell?

    As I wrote before, "No TV show has dared to spend an entire episode mocking a black Juneteenth or Kwanzaa celebration, a Latino quinceañera, a Chinese New Year, or a Jewish bar mitzvah. That would come across as pure racism." Let me know when you come up with an exception to this rough-and-ready rule.

    Rob said...

    As for your complaints about the Pequots, I've addressed them in Indians of Many Shades and Educating Russ About Who's an Indian. Read 'em and weep.

    P.S. I've talked to a Pequot on the phone, Russ. I know he's real, but I don't know about you. For all I know, you're a white guy pretending to be Russell Bates, the little-known sci-fi hack.

    Rob said...

    Regarding the issue of whether I missed the "jokes" or not, see Foxwoods Full of Stereotypes? for my response.

    Anonymous said...

    seems to me that you come off as an opportunist looking for reasons to antagonize the ndn community by giving your own psycho-analytical analysis of how society hates ndns. You take a simple visual or phrase then pick it apart into 30 paragraphs on what "everybody mainstream thinks about ndns", when in fact you are merely picking at some comedy writer's off the wall attempts to be funny.
    I still think it's funny you state that you are not ndn one day then speak as an ndn spokesperson on the next. Family guy is offensive. That's the point. They do mock all cultures too actually...otherwise I might care. Now I just want to watch that episode even more as an ndn person...

    Rob said...

    The "ndn community" is almost totally behind my efforts to "psychoanalyze" the popular culture. My postings don't antagonize most Indians; they please and gratify them.

    An opportunist generally is insincere about his work and generally gets paid for it. Neither criterion applies in this case.

    I think it's funny that you think I think I'm an "ndn spokesman." Needless to say, you don't have a shred of evidence for this assertion.

    As for your claims about Family Guy, I addressed them in Family Guy Offends Everybody? Feel free to respond if you have something more than your unsubstantiated opinions to offer.

    Finally, I'm not trying to turn people off Family Guy. In fact, I encourage people to watch it and learn from its ethnic stereotypes. Your mistake if you thought otherwise.

    Anonymous said...

    Another non-story.

    Well, at least the Griffins are "equal opportunity" bigggots.

    Go figure.

    -Krazie K.

    Rob said...

    I never said this was a big "story," Krazie K. But we can learn about our general culture by studying its specific details.

    No, the Griffins aren't equal opportunity bigots. Again, I explained why in Family Guy Offends Everybody?