August 02, 2015

Cigar Store Indian in Seinfeld

A famous episode of Seinfeld featured a Native subplot. The video below shows the Native scenes:

Seinfeld — Native American (Full Scene)Jerry has some trouble dating a Native American. From Seinfeld (Season 5, Episode 10).Seinfeld: "The Masseuse"/"The Cigar Store Indian"

By David SimsJerry's thing with the Native American girl he likes is the only thing that's just too silly for the episode, not for how he stumbles over every word possibly connected to Indians (like making a reservation at a restaurant) but just for the idea that she's even consider going anywhere with him considering what an inept fucking idiot he is in this episode. Kramer's enthusiasm for the cigar store Indian, though, makes it worthwhile. "It's KITSCHY!"

Grade: A-
Was Seinfeld a Racist Show?

By Ravi ShankarNext, let’s move on to the episode entitled “The Cigar Store Indian” which primarily focused in one way or the other with racism. Jerry is very interested in one of Elaine’s friends, Winona, but offends her by purchasing a cigar store Indian as a gift for Elaine. Later in the episode, Jerry attempts to ask a mailman where the nearest Chinese restaurant is. The mailman turns out to be Asian, and responds, “Ohh! You ask Chinese man where nearest Chinese restaurant is! Oh, American man, where nearest hot dog, hamburger stand?” Obviously, this is hilarious, embarrassing for Jerry, yet stereotyped in general all across the board. Later on, the term “Indian giver” is used. In the end, nothing works out for Jerry, and he ends up being a victim of looking at races from a stereotypical standpoint. Though this seems pretty tame and you can give a little harty-har to, look at the shocking facts that continue.10 'Seinfeld' Episodes That Might Be Considered Racist and Sexist Today

The four main characters sometimes had a reactionary attitude toward woman and minorities.

By Sola Agustsson
While the show features Jewish characters (and was even criticized by NBC’s Brandon Tartikoff for being “too Jewish”), critics lamented the show’s lack of diversity even in the 1990s. “The show has never been terribly concerned with political correctness. Its depictions of minorities, from Babu the Pakistani who was eventually deported because of Jerry’s carelessness to the Greek diner owner with an apparent yen for amply endowed waitresses, can be patronizing. And its attitudes toward women can become downright hostile, as the final episode illustrated with its portrait of a gleefully nasty female network executive,” said New York Times writer John J. O’Connor.And:This episode stresses white middle-class discomfort over dealing with race. After offending a Native American woman by dragging a cigar store Indian statue and making hooting noises, Jerry somehow finagles a date with her in order to make up for his racist gestures. He continues to make prejudiced remarks in front of her, and inadvertently calls her an “Indian giver.” This episode is a good commentary on white male cluelessness, though the Native American woman is portrayed as being overly sensitive.Comment:  I wasn't a regular Seinfeld watcher. This episode reminds me why. It's mostly obvious and unfunny to me--not worth watching. I'd give it more like a C- than an A-.

Superficially, this episode's Native portrayal is fine. Winona is a modern Native woman--no different from Elaine or her friends. When Jerry unveils the cigar-store Indian, she leaves rather than saying anything. She gives Jerry a couple of chances to prove himself. After the cigar-store Indian and three verbal blunders, she finally gets mad. So I wouldn't even call her "overly sensitive" as Agustsson did.

Jerry blunders and we laugh at him for it. But it's more like laughing at an adorable "bad" boy who made an "innocent" mistake. He almost crosses the "PC" line and says something "scandalous"--but not quite. It's like we're laughing at social conventions for forcing him to be careful. And not at him for his demonstrated insensitivity and ignorance.

And even in this nominally "good" episode, you can discern Jerry's patronizing attitude toward minorities and women. He doesn't attempt to learn anything about Winona or her background. His only interest seems to be in her appearance. You can bet he'd never leave his comfort zone for her. Never visit her home reservation or even read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee for her. Too much negative stuff for a shallow guy like Jerry.

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