January 12, 2014

Native stereotypes in Life of Brian

Perhaps because of Thanksgiving, a recent episode of Family Guy had a long introductory sequence about Indians:

Life of Brian (Family Guy)"Life of Brian" is the sixth episode of the twelfth season and the 216th overall episode of the animated comedy series Family Guy. It aired on Fox in the United States and Canada on November 24, 2013, and is written by Alex Carter and directed by Joseph Lee.

The episode revolves around the death of Brian Griffin, after being struck by a car, and the family coping with the loss by adopting a replacement dog, Vinny. However, Brian returned, two episodes later, in "Christmas Guy," after Stewie goes back in time to save him.


Stewie and Brian flee a band of hostile Native Americans in a Jeep. Brian explains that on a trip to Jamestown in the past, Stewie gave the Native Americans guns which were used to wipe out the Europeans, leaving the Native Americans in charge of America. Stewie finds his return pad destroyed by bullets and decides to find the alternate timeline Stewie for help. Going to the equivalent of their house, they find a new time machine and pad and return to Jamestown to set things right. As soon as their original counterparts leave, they take back the guns and return to the proper time.
You can see brief excerpts from the opening sequence below:

Changing America's history is a time-honored science-fiction theme, but this sequence was full of racist stereotypes. Among the most offensive were:

  • Half-naked Native warriors chasing Stewie and Brian. Really, in a modern city, the soldiers would be wearing loincloths?

  • A Native "doctor" dressed like a witch doctor whose idea of "medicine" is standing in awkward poses. Presumably this was a commentary on Native healing rituals.

  • A Native radio station whose no. 1 hit song for many weeks in a row is a dull, repetitive chant.

  • When Stewie and Brian return to Jamestown to take back the guns, the show tries to subvert some stereotypes. For instance, the Indians only pretend to talk like Tonto to take advantage of the strangers.

    As you can see below, the Indians' skin, hair, and clothing isn't too bad. But tipis in the Jamestown area? Even when Family Guy is trying, it still gets things wrong.

    Racism to be expected?

    As I wrote on Facebook:

    Finally watching the "Death of Brian" episode of Family Guy. I didn't know it began with a five-minute racist "satire" of Indians.

    Some people commented on this:Isn't it always a "satire"?

    Did you not see the Casino episode and you're shocked? lol I've not watched it yet but thanks for the heads up.
    I think I've seen all the Family Guy episodes. Including the one where Peter claims to be Native for some casino-related reason.

    True, that episode had a lot of stereotypes, but I'm not sure it was nonstop stereotypes. I think it made some valid points about how others view Indians stereotypically.

    This sequence seemed more like pure racist stereotyping. And Family Guy seems to have cranked up its racism and sexism quotient. It seems like half the "jokes" now involve some groups' perceived shortcomings.

    For more on the subject, see Indians in Family Guy.

    1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    I watched that episode and was offended. By both family guy and American dad. I write both if them on Facebook to let them know the stereotypes were not appreciated. I never received a response from neither one if them.