November 14, 2009

Spirit of Pawnee in Parks and Recreation

Thursday's Parks and Recreation episode (11/12/09), titled The Camel, had a few references to Indians. Here's the basic plot:

The CamelThe Pawnee council decides it will replaced the town hall's "Spirit of Pawnee" mural, which has been repeatedly vandalized due to its racist undertones. When each Pawnee department is asked to propose a new mural, Leslie (Amy Poehler) becomes determined for the parks department to win, especially after she is taunted by Joe (Kirk Fox) in the sewer department. Everyone in the parks department is told to come up with a possible mural.Comment:  Here the bits featuring Indians:

  • The old mural shows a train racing across the plains. A cartoonish Indian warrior jumps off the track before the train can hit him. It's as if he didn't have enough sense to avoid a train. Nearby, another cartoonish Indian warrior is drinking "firewater" and gesticulating wildly.

    I think these are the primary "racist undertones" referred to in the summary. Since murals like this exist and Parks and Recreation characterized the mural as inappropriate, this seems like a reasonable use of stereotypes.

  • For inspiration for the proposed mural, Leslie examines a display of Indian artifacts: a desk with a couple of shelves of baskets and pottery. I couldn't tell where the artifacts came from--somewhere in the West, I suspect. But I doubt baskets and pottery would be the primary artifacts recovered for Indiana's Indians.

  • For more inspiration, Leslie examines an old painting that shows Anglos getting off a locomotive to meet a Plains chief by a tipi. As with the baskets and pottery, I don't think you'd find Plains imagery as far east as Indiana.

  • So the episode tells us a couple of stereotypical images are bad. It then undoes whatever good it may have done by presenting more mistakes and stereotypes: Indians are museum pieces, Indians make baskets, Indians look like Plains chiefs. Nice of you to include Indians again, Parks and Recreation, but you're still not doing it well.

    You can watch the episode at

    Parks and Recreation: The Camel

    For more on Parks and Recreation, see Face-Cutting in Parks and Recreation and Twisted to Death in Parks and Recreation.

    1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    it was pretty much racist towards everyone involved in the painting, other than the english. you had the examples you cited, then the cartoon-ish chinese laborers and the irishman selling the "firewater" to the indians (or native americans, whichever you prefer.).