May 25, 2013

Racist Jim in Saturday Night Live

A few weeks ago, Zach Galifianakos hosted Saturday Night Live (airdate: 5/4/13). In one skit, he played "Racist Jim," a new greeter at an M&M store who quickly offended the other employees. The manager gave Jim a chance to apologize to them--starting with Noreen, who was played by Nasim Pedrad. She's Iranian-American but often plays Mid-Eastern or South Asian types.

The "apology" began:JIM: First off, Noreen? I know that all day, I continuously referred to you as the wrong type of Indian.

JIM: But I wanna get it right, please tell me, one last time, which kind you are, and I swear I'll never ask again.

NOREEN: I'm Pakistani.

JIM: And is...that the name of your tribe, or...?

NOREEN: It's a country.

JIM: How!

NOREEN: It just is.

JIM: No, I was saying hello.
Next, Jim apologizes to a Latino and two "gays," finishing with:JIM: Why don't we just bury the hatchet? [Turns to Noreen] No offense.Then he apologizes to "Black" Joe, after which the manager tells him to keep going:JIM: Yeah, yeah, okay, we should wrap up this powwow. [Turns to Noreen] I am so sorry.Finally, the manager tells him he's fired:JIM: What, are you positive about this? You have no reservations? [Turns to Noreen] Again, I am so sorry.

Comment:  Saturday Night Live continues its streak of mentioning Indians, which is good. It does seem the writers are trying to include Indians.

The setup for the humor was good. Racist Jim looked foolish because of his insensitivity to women and minorities.

But the Native-oriented "jokes" were more uncomfortable than funny. The skit spoofed Jim's ignorance of the difference between Asian and American Indians--but didn't spoof the Native stereotypes. Viewers might've thought, "Well, if Noreen had been an American Indian, it would've been okay to say 'How!' to her."

In other words, it wasn't clear why Jim's comments offended Noreen. Because he was treating her like the wrong kind of Indian? Because she recognized the comments as offensive to American Indians? Or both?

Probably the former more than the latter. But the uncertainty explains why these comments didn't hit home for me.

The skit had a few good moments. More important, it raised some racial and sexual issues that are rarely brought out into the open. As one example, would the phrase "bury the hatchet" really offend American Indians? No, but I bet most Americans don't know that.

Almost anything that gets people thinking about prejudice is good. In that sense, I'd say the skit was a success.

For more on Saturday Night Live, see Drunk Uncle in Saturday Night Live and "Village People" in Saturday Night Live.


Anonymous said...

Seeing as Racist Jim is a parody of racism, aren't you getting a bit worked up?

Rob said...

As I concluded: "Almost anything that gets people thinking about prejudice is good. In that sense, I'd say the skit was a success." You think that mild praise equals "getting a bit worked up"? Okay, if you say so.