February 06, 2012

"Pumps with Gusto" in Saturday Night Live

This week's Saturday Night Live (airdate: 2/4/12) featured not one but two skits featuring Indians:

First was 1960s actress Mindy Elise Grayson (Kristen Wiig) playing the game show "Secret Word." She explained flubbing another clue this way:Bob Fosse said the same thing to me in the smash failure "Wigwam Susie and the Corn Maze Crew," the story of a Native American girl who slept her way up to a two-room tepee. Here's the Act 1 finale! "Wigwam Susie and the Corn Maze Crewww, growing maize and squashhh, fearing the white man huy yuhyuhyuh huy yuhyuhyuh."

So...a promiscuous Native woman, tipis and wigwams, and chanting and drums. Nice.

A later bit gave us Bongo's Clown Room, an ultra-low-rent strip club with exotic dancers. The sleazy host (Jason Sudekis) announced the acts, including this one:Ladies, this next guy is a Native American. Let me tell ya something, he wants to bury his totem pole in your ground. And let's just say his spirit animal is an anaconda. You're gonna take one look at him and say, "How! Is that gonna fit?" His size is gonna give you some reservations. Ho-oh-oh, but he is worth the gamble. Give it up for Chief Pumps with Gusto!

That's Fred Armisen, the show's resident faux Indian, in a headband with feather and buckskin vest, shorts, and boots.

So...a long litany of stereotypes in an introduction twice as long as any other dancer's. A "funny" Indian name. And a strong implication that Indians are nothing but primitive sexual savages.


One could argue that both these bits were set in the past, years ago, when people didn't know any better. (Never mind that the "gamble" reference means the strip-club bit is set in the near-present.) In those days, they freely used Native stereotypes without understanding how offensive and harmful they were to Indians.

But this criticism isn't valid. In 2012, the writers chose to do these skits out of an infinite variety they could've done. They chose to showcase the ignorant attitudes of the past.

Moreover, they didn't do anything to contradict these attitudes. No voice of authority to denounce the stereotypes, as SNL does in its "J-Pop America Fun Time Now" skits. No real Indians to show the absurdity of the stereotypical words and images.

This is essentially an endorsement of these words and images. Most Americans think Indians wore "leathers and feathers" and lived in teepees. These skits don't do anything to enlighten them. Even if viewers laugh at the skits, they've received a subliminal message. Namely, that Indians are primitive people of the past...comically absurd and out of touch with modernity...and thus inferior to others. You can't draw any other conclusion from the skits.

By my count, SNL has now mentioned Indians four times this season. Is someone on the writing staff targeting them? And if so, can't the person do it any better? Give the job to me if you need someone to write Native-based humor that isn't stereotypical.

For more on Saturday Night Live, see Maya Calendar in Saturday Night Live and Columbus Day in Saturday Night Live.

No comments: