In last week's episode of Community, titled Critical Film Studies (airdate: 3/24/11), Jeff Winger reveals that his parents dressed him as a little Indian girl with braids for Halloween. Jeff suggests this is the source of much of his self-loathing.
In Community's fictional world, this is a reasonable bit. Anybody's parents might have dressed a little non-Indian boy as a little Indian girl. And that might've traumatized the boy.
But in the real world beyond Community, this is problematical. For starters, why make Jeff a little Indian girl rather than a little princess or ballerina? Also, why not add some perspective on this scenario? And more than just a faux PC comment such as, "The proper term is Native American, not Indian." How about having someone say, "Not only was dressing you up traumatic for you, but it also was insulting to Indians."
The lack of this real-world perspective is telling. It suggests that the producers don't think there's anything wrong with the Halloween Indian scenario. And that they don't think audiences will think there's anything wrong with it.
In other words, we're supposed to believe that pretending to be a stereotypical Indian is normal. Nobody would suggest dressing up as a black Uncle Tom, a Mexican bandito, or a Chinese coolie, but dressing up as an old-fashioned Indian is okay.
For more on Community, see Anthropology Class in Community. For more TV shows about Halloween Indians, see Halloween Joke in Family Guy, Halloween Comedy on NBC, and Pocahontas in Parenthood.
Below: Which one is still socially acceptable in America?