February 02, 2010

Indian curse in Saturday Night Live

On last week's Saturday Night Live (airdate: 1/30/10), the SNL Digital Short featured an Indian curse.

We can summarize this digital short quickly. A yuppie (Andy Samburg) accidentally steps on a homeless man's "trinket." The angered man (Fred Armisen) curses the yuppie. The curse causes a saxophone player named Sergio (Jon Hamm) to appear at inopportune moments.

No one in the video utters a single Indian name or word, so what makes it Indian-themed?

First, the "homeless man" has the long black hair and turban of a Tecumseh-style Shawnee Indian. The feather is angled exactly as in the picture below.

Second, the crushed "trinket" initially looks like a dead bird or something made of feathers. But later we see it repaired and it's clearly an Indian dreamcatcher.

Most people will consider the turbaned man some sort of Arab, Asian Indian, or Romani ("Gypsy"). Few people will notice the dreamcatcher or connect it to American Indians. So this video probably won't affect people's impression of Indians.

But still...what is SNL's excuse for showing a traditional Indian as a homeless beggar? And worse, attributing a demonic curse to him? If the show isn't identifying him as an Indian, why make him an Indian? Why not give him an invented costume and "trinket" with no connection to any ethnic group?

It seems Saturday Night Live is trying to have it both ways. "Let's choose the least obvious costume for a traditional Indian. And let's not refer to him as an Indian in any way. That way, we can show him doing what Indians do--performing nasty black magic--without being criticized for it."

Nice try, SNL. Next time, I suggest you make your Indian stereotypes even more subtle. Otherwise, some cranky critic like me is bound to notice them. <g>

For more on the subject, see Cobell Skit in Saturday Night Live and Indian Outtakes in Saturday Night Live. For more on the subject in general, see TV Shows Featuring Indians.


Filmi Girl said...

See! This is why I read your blog - I didn't know that they had taken the traditional costume! Thank you for pointing that out.

To me it seemed like Fred Armisen was speaking fake-Arabic and I swear I heard some Hindi music in the background, so I guess the homeless guy was just a big stew of terrible ethnic cliches that do nothing help anyone and are not funny.

This leads me to Fred Armisen's "Indian Comic" character - have you seen that? And what did you think of him?

Kitty Elvis said...

I gathered the same thing Filmi Girl did...a bunch of "ethnic" stereotypes mashed up together so everyone knows the curse maker is "other." Ugh.

Rob said...

I was thinking the same as you. But Armisen's turban and long black hair made me suspicious. I knew some tribes wore turbans like that. And Middle Eastern and Asian Indian men usually don't wear their hair like that.

I wouldn't have said anything if that was all I had. But seeing the "trinket" turn out to be a dreamcatcher confirmed my suspicions.