October 12, 2010

Nanookwaffe in Family Guy

In Sunday's episode of Family Guy, titled Welcome Back Carter (airdate: 10/10/10), Lois's mother Babs reminisces about how she met Lois's father Carter. They met as young adults at a beach resort for the rich.

The timeframe is unspecified but it's meant to be the big-band era of the late 1930s and 1940s. One clue is that Carter sends Babs a tape of Jeepers Creepers, a 1938 song.

Then Carter is drafted to fight a war with...Alaska. I dreaded to see what "enemy" the US would be fighting in Alaska, and sure enough, it was bad. Angry-looking Eskimos wearing parkas, waving rifles, and riding walruses...the Nanookwaffe.

So the Eskimos are stupid and primitive because they're wearing parkas into battle. They're savage and warlike because they're attacking US soldiers. They're strange and exotic because they're riding walruses. And they're equivalent to Nazis, or employed by Nazis, because of the Nanookwaffe name.

Why Eskimos?

I guess creator Seth McFarlane invented a war because he didn't want to tie Family Guy to a specific timeframe. Nevertheless, this choice is an epic fail.

If Carter is in his 60s or 70s, he would've fought in Vietnam. If he's in his 80s, he would've fought in the Korean War. (He's not old enough to have fought in World War II.) But, oooh, I guess that would've been too real for Family Guy.

If you're going to fabricate history, why not a war with the blue-bloods of Virginia? The Jews of Florida? Or the surfers of California? Because those are "normal" states with "normal" people in them. There are no uncivilized savages like the Eskimos of Alaska.

Why not a war with a real country: Canada, Mexico, France, Germany, or the USSR? Because people know that didn't happen. Or a fictional country in South America, Eastern Europe, or Africa--the usual locations for fictional countries? Because that would smack of xenophobia or racism.

But I guess it's okay to make up a war with the Eskimos. Because there are only a few of them left and they don't watch TV in their igloos. Heck, they're too busy riding dog-sleds and harpooning seals to know anything about the modern world. They probably don't speak English and don't even realize they're part of the US now. Am I right?

(For Geno the cowardly commenter, this is sarcasm, stupid.)

What it tells us

The Nanookwaffe appear on screen for only a second or so. But still, it shows
the mainstream Hollywood mentality at work. "We need an enemy for Carter to fight," McFarlane or his writers probably thought. "Who can we pick without offending any pressure groups? How about the Eskimos? They're silly and comical and hardly exist anymore. They're more like legends--like Blackbeard, Paul Bunyan, or Bigfoot--than real people. Right?"

McFarlane proceeded with this racist choice because, well, who would disagree with him? Almost everyone at Fox TV, in Hollywood, and in mainstream America would agree: Eskimos are primitive savages. Few if any of them exist anymore. They're too ignorant and backward to care how a TV show portrays them.

This is a fine example of how America's myth-making process works. McFarlane has learned that Eskimos are primitive savages from thousands of depictions in the media. On his nationally televised platform, he repeats what he's seen and heard. And so a new generation gets the same message: Eskimos are primitive savages.

Even when it's not portraying indigenous people, Family Guy contributes to this myth-making. "Normal" is a white middle-class family living in the suburbs with two parents, 2.4 kids, and a dog. There are no minorities on the show except Cleveland the buffoonish black and Mort the buffoonish Jew.

Indeed, in Welcome Back Carter, the only minorities besides Eskimos are a Hispanic maid and her obese son, a black waiter, and an Asian sex object. It's pretty much pure racial (and racist) stereotyping.

As the opening montage demonstrates, Family Guy is McFarlane's twisted homage to white-bread sitcoms such as Leave It to Beaver and The Brady Bunch. Compared to it, The Simpsons and King of the Hill are giants of multicultural diversity. In Family Guy, white people may screw up sometimes, but they always remain front and center as the norm.

For more on Eskimos, see The Experimental Eskimos Trailer, "Eskimo Sisters" in Indian Headdresses, and Ólöf the Eskimo Wannabe. For more on Family Guy, see Indians in Family Guy.


Wise Dude said...

Calm down. It's a cartoon that no one takes seriously. I know native americans who laugh at Indian jokes and black people who laugh at black jokes. I even have a jewish friend who laughs at the holocaust. Eskimos haven't wrong nearly as much as those three groups and their pretty chill.

Anonymous said...

Hey now, you didn't give them consolation points for having the Eskimos fighting with modern guns instead of more primitive weapons. You usually notice that kind of thing.

Rob said...

I'm calm. One doesn't have to be upset to criticize racism.

Almost every racist in history has claimed they were joking when called out for their racism. MacFarlane is no different.

Here's more on the subject:

10 Times Family Guy Played The Race Card


Family Guy Racism


Why is Family Guy so racist?


So, just how racist is Fox's 'Dads'?


Feel free to take up this issue with the thousands of people who have noted MacFarlane's racism, sexism, and homophobia.