May 30, 2011

Hopi mask in American Dad!

I usually don't watch the animated series American Dad! But I happened to catch a rerun of the episode Escape from Pearl Bailey (airdate: 11/9/08). Wouldn't you know it, it had a Native bit.

The story is straightforward. Steve, a nerdy high-schooler, plots revenge against the popular girls after his girlfriend loses her bid to become student council president.

To show he's serious about revenge, Steve wears a tribal mask with a painted face and feathers. I thought it was supposed to be from some equatorial region: the Amazon, Papua New Guinea, or Africa. But someone identifies it as a "Hopi Indian revenge mask."

It's true that the Hopi wear masks in some of their ceremonies. They may be the most famous mask-wearing tribe in North America. But they don't wear this or any mask known as a "revenge mask." The Hopi call themselves the "people of peace," so they're about the last ones who would wear such a mask.

What does it tell us?

So what do we have here? Escape from Pearl Bailey portrays a pacifist tribe as nasty, vicious, and revenge-minded. Including the reruns, millions of people have seen this episode. It confirms what they already "know" about Indians.

Namely, that modern-day Indians don't exist. That Indians are primitive people represented by crude artifacts from distant places and times. That their "culture" consists only of barbaric rituals like scalping, war dances, and revenge schemes.

Most people won't pay much attention to the single Hopi reference. But they'll add it to their store of a million other stereotypical representations of Indians. It'll help cement in their minds the idea that Indians are murderous savages.

As for the rest of the episode, it includes typical examples of bigotry from Seth McFarlane, creator of Family Guy. In this case, his targets include fat and Asian kids. Yeah, because the "joke" that Asian Americans can't speak or understand English is so fresh and cutting-edge.

For more on the subject, see Home Schooling in Family Guy and Halloween Joke in Family Guy.


Anonymous said...

There is also the Thanksgiving episode "There will be bad blood" with Stan's Native American half brother Rusty.

Stan invites his brother over every TG to show off how rich he is but later finds out that his brother takes his family over there to show his family how poor Stan is.

Anonymous said...

Most of us assume that the joke behind Toshi is that he speaks Japanese because nobody understands him. At many points, the subtitles show that he has contempt for his friends. (Which, to be fair, if all your friends behaved like animated sitcom characters, you'd dislike them, too.)

Rob said...

Toshi's "contempt" often takes the form of his responding in non sequiturs. Which means he's too addled to learn how to communicate effectively, as most people in his position would do. The overall portrayal makes him look bad even if individual comments make him look good.

Jaekn said...

You've got close to no sense of humor. How do you operate with such a serious disposition? I bet the Hopi had a much more refined sense of humor than you.

Unknown said...

Lol u guys need to loosen up a bit lol

visorak650 said... don't know how satire works. Also, the mask-wearing is a parody of Navajo Joe, a movie from 1966. The writers of American Dad! and Family Guy love to reference things and parody them.
TLDR: it's satire and parody. Don't take it seriously.

Anonymous said...

I love AD and FG, Seth is awesome and I would suggest to anyone who gets offended by the material to simple change the channel.