October 02, 2008

Indians in King of the Hill

As I wrote back in Indian Comics Irregular #119, John Redcorn of King of the Hill is perhaps the best Native character on TV. In ICI #127, I mentioned a couple of episodes featuring him: Redcorn Gambles With His Future (Apr. 2005) and The Arrowhead (Oct. 1997). Here are some other significant Redcorn episodes (with plot summaries from TV.com):

Peggy’s Headache (October 1998)When Peggy starts writing "musings" for the local newspaper, the pressure gives her a headache, so she goes to John Redcorn for a therapeutic massage. When she finds out that Dale's wife Nancy is having an affair with John Redcorn, she is so horrified that she decides to tell Dale about it.Nancy Boys (April 2000)Nancy and Dale go to a romantic restaurant and fall in love all over again. Nancy decides to end her affair with John Redcorn and be faithful to her husband. But she soon starts to wonder whether she made the right decision.Problems with this episode: Redcorn turns to Dale Gribble for advice on getting his tribe federally recognized. In reality, Redcorn would have little trouble finding a real lawyer to take his case. And the whole tribe would be involved, not just Redcorn.

Dale’s approach, such as it is, is to use the Freedom of Information Act to uncover information. In reality, tribes seeking recognition must extensively document their history using the data at hand. Petitions for recognition seldom if ever turn on facts the government has but the tribe doesn’t.

Spin the Choice (November 2000)When John Redcorn comes to Bobby and Joseph's class and tells them about the way his people were treated by the white man, Joseph doesn't care, but Bobby is so horrified that he decides to boycott Thanksgiving. At Hank's Thanks¬giving party, Bobby stages a tribute to the heritage of John Redcorn's tribe...including their history of cannibalism.Problems: The cannibalism identified at a few Anasazi sites is controversial. It could’ve been part of a religious ceremony, or it could’ve occurred in a time of extreme hardship. There’s no proof it was a fundamental part of the Anasazi culture rather than a freakish exception.

More to the point, the Anasazi lived in the Four Corners area (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado). Redcorn could be descended from them only if his unspecified tribe is Ysleta del Sur (Tigua), a Pueblo tribe that migrated to southwestern Texas. Most of the state’s tribes aren’t related to the Anasazi.

Even if Redcorn’s tribe is related to the Anasazi (doubtful) and the Anasazi practiced cannibalism (questionable), Bobby talked as if all Indians practiced cannibalism. This perpetuates the fallacy that all tribes were and are the same rather than distinct cultural entities. It’s okay to portray the other characters as ignorant, but as someone who supposedly just read about Indians, Bobby should know better.

Vision Quest (February 2003)Worried about how Dale is raising Joseph, John Redcorn asks Hank to take the boy he fathered on a vision quest. But it's Dale who winds up having a vision—and it leads him to decide that he's really an Indian.Problems: In his own vision quest, Redcorn recalls seeing a chief wearing a headdress. But Texas tribes generally didn’t have Plains-style chiefs.

I'm not sure which Texas tribes practiced vision questions. I think the Comanches did but the Tiguas didn't. Depending on which tribe Redcorn is supposed to belong to, the vision quest may be a stereotype rather than a genuine cultural practice. Chiefs and vision quests (along with tipis and peace pipes) are common Indian stereotypes, of course.

Incidentally, in The Best (Only) Native Character, I said Redcorn was the only Native character on TV (at the time). A correspondent asked me if I should’ve counted Redcorn’s son Joseph as a second Indian character. Short answer: No. For the reason why, see my explanation.

For more on the subject, see TV Shows Featuring Indians.

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