December 25, 2009

Maxwell Smart, Indian chief

Episode 12 of Season 5 of the spy spoof Get Smart (airdate: 12/12/69) featured Maxwell Smart as an Indian chief. Here's the story:

Is This Trip Necessary?A mad scientist threatens to poison the Washington water supply with a hallucinogenic drug which causes people to suffer bad dreams. Max and 99 have to investigate KAOS's operations at the Dartfoot Spring Water Company.

The interesting part is the first 2.5 minutes, but enjoy the whole clip. A few notes:

We get only a glimpse of the Smarts' bedroom before the psychedelics begin, but they may have tribal art over their bed.

Max is wearing a buckskin outfit and warpaint. He does a "woo woo" gesture instead of a yawn.

Besides putting on a Plains headdress, he dons what look like genuine Native snowshoes. It would be a nice touch if the writers knew that northern Natives invented and used such snowshoes.

When the psychedelics begin, we see scary, wide-angle shots of a stuffed bear, a stuffed owl, and a tribal mask. When Max returns with the baby, it's a baby alligator. The message? Indians are associated with nature, and not in a good way. Nature is full of dangerous or ominous creatures. Indians have some sort of connection to these dark, demonic things and the forces they represent.

We could dismiss Max's hallucinogenic dream by saying that's what he thinks of Indians. Since he's absorbed the stereotypes of his time, the dream reflects his stereotypical thinking.

But I'm not inclined to give the writers a pass. They were probably thinking, "Let's do Max as a genuine Indian chief," not, "Let's do Max as a stereotypical Indian chief." I'm guessing they, like most Americans, thought a Plains chief was an accurate representation of all Indians.

Summing it up (literally): Subtract seven points for Indian stereotypes. Add two points for the snowshoes and (possible) tribal art. Net score: Minus five points.

For more on the subject, see Hello Columbus in Get Smart and TV Shows Featuring Indians.

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