December 14, 2008

The message of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman

So what's the message of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman? Based on the first season, only a few "bad apples" were responsible for the Indians' plight. Fortunately the "good apples" slightly outnumbered the bad apples--at least on TV.

In Dr. Quinn, good triumphs over evil at the end of each hour. Everyone goes home happy. Yet the Indians continue to suffer. How does the show explain that? It doesn't, but they seem to be victims of forces beyond anyone's control. Although "our town" is full of decent people, someone somewhere is doing something bad.

In fact, the townspeople flourish and the Indians suffer in two parallel worlds that rarely overlap. Judging by their passive acceptance of their fate, the Indians are largely resigned to "vanishing." Only Dr. Quinn, Sully, and Cloud Dancing the good Indian seem to care enough to act.

What Cloud Dancing should say

It would be interesting to see Cloud Dancing blow up at his alleged friends: "Don't you idiots get it? Who cares about your petty problems? We're facing extinction here.

"Get off your fat white asses and do something. If you don't help us fight the Army, the railroads, and the influx of settlers, you're as guilty as anyone. If you're going to support the genocidal system, you might as well kill us yourselves."

I look forward to seeing that scene in a future episode of Dr. Quinn. But I won't hold my breath waiting for it. <g>

In short, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman addresses some challenging Indian issues. In the space of four episodes, for instance, it tackled alcoholism, miscegenation, buffalo hunting, and a massacre. But however good Dr. Quinn is, it could've been much better. Ultimately it takes the side of the government, progress, and Manifest Destiny against the Indians.

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


Anonymous said...

Of course - this regurgitated, hokey pap (like Bonanza and The High Chapparal) is essentially just one more massive, carefully structured smear campaign against the actual history of the American Indian served up hot and juicy with a delectable side order of eye candy for all the old gents who had a hard-on for Miss Kitty and all the old hags who lay awake during the Cold War-era dreaming nastily of Matthew (Dillon).

Even that part of the title of the series, "Medicine Woman" implies that the good doctor is some sort of healing nexus between the white man and the Indians - try as she might to heal all, she, like any other doctor is almost always quite succesful at treating the symptoms of disease while often ignoring or minimizing the long-term consequences of even potentially fatal afflictions.

dmarks said...

"Ultimately it takes the side of the government, progress, and Manifest Destiny against the Indians."

The later episodes with the U.S. Army annihilating Cloud Dancing's village took the side of the Indians instead of the Army. I think it was in a much more stronger manner than in hokey pap such as Bonanza. But it has been so long since I have seen those episodes. It'll be interesting to see how Rob critiques them.

With these episodes and others, the Colorado Springs of Dr. Quinn is in a west that has change, Manifest Destiny, and what some call "progress". I think this at least makes them more historically aware than other westerns such as Bonanza and "Little House on the Prairie" which existed in an external, unchanging niche where nothing really ever changed.

I wonder if Rob thinks it was better that the show included the Cheyenne people and characters in this imperfect fashion, or that they should not have been included at all.

Rob said...

If the Native stereotypes in Dr. Quinn were negative, it might've been better to leave the Indians out. As shows like Bonanza generally did.

But since the stereotypes were mostly positive, I'd say Dr. Quinn did good. Roughly speaking, it took two steps forward and only one step back.

P.S. It may take me several years to get to critiques of the final seasons, you know. I hope we'll all still be here then. ;-)

dmarks said...

As for positive stereotypes, the show was made right after "Dances with Wolves" came out, so that movie probably inspired some of the show's view toward Natives.

bar1scorpio said...

Well, one thing missing in this is the actual Message of Dr. Quinn. Dr Quinn is ALWAYS right. Even when wrong, she's somehow right. Quit questioning the woman in your life. She's Dr. Quinn, too.

The funniest thing about the show is how often the continuity is inconsistent. If the original air date was for National Read a Book week, some character who a season previous knew how to read suddenly can't.

And the villagers are racist, until the every episode, when Dr. Quinn sets them straight and they all learn an important lesson.... until the beginning of the very next episode, when they all forgot that they learned not to be racist & sexist & whatnot last week.

I was a fan of the show on its initial airings, but I can say it does not stand the test of time... or maybe it's the "marathon viewing" that kicks in when you watch it on DVD...