Nothing is sacred for the 'D-List' comedian, and that's the secret to her success. Her Bravo special airs Tuesday.
By Yvonne Villarreal
"I'm not doing Caesars. Palace—that'd be too easy," she said backstage. "We're doing it Temecula style and, frankly, I deserve an Emmy for the drive alone. You can't come here unless you witness several accidents and get caught in several brush fires."
Spare us any comments about how the headdress was part of Griffin's comedy routine. Or how she was satirizing our ignorance about Indians. I've already dismissed those excuses as invalid.
For starters, I'd place a large wager that she doesn't know anything about the Pechanga Indians. In particular, I'm betting she doesn't know if they wore headdresses or lived in tipis. If I'm right, that alone eliminates the "satire" argument.
As for the "part of the show/it's just a joke" rationalization, it doesn't work. Everyone who wears a headdress is "putting on a show" for the public. It doesn't matter whether they're professional entertainers or not. They're making a statement about something: that they think Indians are "cool," they consider themselves "tribal," or whatever. That's why we use the term "fashion statement."
What's the statement?
So the question isn't whether the headdress is meant to make a statement or not. It is. And the magical power of intent assures us that no one ever intends to mock or belittle Indians. We know that because they tell us so, and they would never lie.
What the headdress tells us about the wearer--that they're hip or ironic--is a secondary and unimportant message. What the headdress tells observers about Indians is the primary message. And that message is loud and clear: that all Indians are the same, like Plains Indians. That they're primitive people of the past who used to kill white folks and now have mostly vanished.
Whether you're a comedian, a hipster, or some other wannabe, your intent doesn't matter. Your secondary message--"look how clever I am!"--doesn't matter. What matters is the primary message you're sending to the public. And that message is stereotypical.
It's also arguably racist. You wouldn't dress up as an outdated black or Asian person, but you will dress up as an outdated Indian. Picking on one race to the exclusion of others is racism.
Did the Indians laugh?
Let's recall one more point. Griffin's audience included many Pechanga Indians. They didn't need to hear that most people have stereotypical views of Indians. That it's "ironic" that people think Indians wear headdresses. They're living proof of that.
Would you go in front of a black audience in blackface to make a point about blackface? Are blacks likely to consider that funny? No. Then why would you do the same thing in front of an Indian audience? Because you're an ignoramus, I guess.
From what I heard, some people in the audience were uncomfortable with Griffin's redface minstrel shtick. And understandably so. Whether she realized it or not, Griffin mocked Indians in front of Indians.
For more on the "it's just a joke" rationalization, see:
Why minstrel shows are wrong
Irish band is just harmless fun?
The Dudesons, Polish jokes, and minstrel shows
Dudesons too "stoopid" to matter?
Okay to stereotype in "satires"?
For more celebrities in offensive outfits, see Paris Hilton as a Sexy Indian and Khloe Kardashian in a Headdress.
Below: "Comedian Kathy Griffin performs at Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula." (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)