September 14, 2008

Indian in Upstairs, Downstairs

You'd think a turn-of-the-20th-century drawing-room drama would be about the last show to include an Indian. And normally you'd be right. But a faux Indian does show up in "Laugh a Little Louder Please," the third episode of the fifth season.

World War I has ended and the Bellamys are holding a costume ball with a "freedom" theme. People show up dressed as the Statue of Liberty, French revolutionaries, and satyrs and nymphs. Someone reports that "Sitting Bull's" costume is coming undone, and then we see a man dressed as an Indian "brave" (not a chief). He wears a full buckskin outfit, a black wig with braids, and a feather in his hair.

Once again, it's interesting to note that an Indian is the universal symbol of freedom (along with the corollary values of wildness and savagery). The partygoers couldn't show up simply dressed as American, British, or French men and women, because that wouldn't have sent an unambiguous message. Only an Indian personifies freedom by his mere presence.

Note also the equating of an Indian with the mythical Liberty and the Greek divinities. To most people, that's about how real Indians are. As living people, we presume they disappeared long ago. They now exist only as props and symbols.

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

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