April 13, 2010

Rapacious cavalrymen in Family Guy

In Sunday's episode of Family Guy, April in Quahog (airdate: 4/11/10), everyone thinks the world is going to end. Peter decides to act out his long-held fantasies, leading to this scene in the kitchen:BRIAN:  What the hell are you doing with a musket?

PETER:  Last day on Earth. I've always wanted to save a Native American family from rapacious cavalrymen.
We see a peaceful Indian camp attacked by the US cavalry. An officer chases and grabs an Indian maiden.OFFICER:  Yeah, this one'll do nicely.Peter "saves" her by shooting her, causing her head to explode and spattering the officer with blood.PETER:  Let her go.

PETER [whispering to the headless corpse]:  You don't have to be afraid of him anymore.
Killing Indians is a joke?

Most people thought this episode wasn't funny in general and the Native scene wasn't funny in particular. Some reactions to this "joke":The bad jokes continued with Peter shooting the head off of a Native American woman with a musket. It wasn't even dark comedy...it's not even comedy, it's just dark and odd, and another example of the show's hit-or-miss cutaway shtick missing far wide of the mark.

The scene with the Battle of Hastings was boring and Peter shooting a Native American was just horrible humor.

Peter "Saves" Native Americans from the Calvary: In trying to "save a Native American family" from the Cavalry (circa 1880), Peter shoots a Native American woman's head off with a musket. I'm not kidding, it's not funny...so many nopes! Grade: F
Everyone agrees: It wasn't funny.

So many potentially bad messages here for people to absorb. Men accost women because they're temptingly attractive. Attacks happened because of "bad men," not genocidal government policies. Murdering Indians is okay, even beneficial.

Peter might as well have said, "Kill the Indian, save the (wo)man." Making this explicit by blowing up the woman's head may be ironic, but it isn't funny. Not even close.

Summing up the stereotypes

The camp consists of tipis, so we immediately know we're in Plains stereotype territory. Other than that, the images aren't too bad.

There's a variety of Indians: male and female, young and old. Their skins are light brown, not red. They're dressed in simple buckskin outfits. A couple men have a single feather each, but there's no stereotypical chief. The older one is smoking a pipe.

The other faux pas is the Pocahontas-style maiden. Hollywood can't resist Indian women who are young and beautiful--i.e, exotic sex objects. If they've ever given us a Plain-Jane princess, I don't remember it.

No other ethnic group gets stereotyped as savage and uncivilized. Only Indians. Sure, Family Guy insults other groups occasionally, but not with the same level of bias. Showing every Indian as a Plains denizen is equivalent to showing every black as a slave.

Of course, the larger stereotype is showing 150-year-old Indians in the middle of a contemporary story. Viewers learn from the umpteenth source that Indians are primitive people of the past. And as we learn from other shows, any remaining Indians are casino owners.

It's a classic case of stereotyping by omission. No modern-day Indians exist in the Family Guy universe, so primitive Indians are the norm. White people live in suburban tract homes and Indians live in tipis.

What audiences learn

Is this just a harmless TV show? Let's do a pre- and post-test of people's knowledge of Indians. Here's the question:

"True or false: Most Indians lived it tipis?"

How much do you want to bet the percentage of wrong answers goes up after watching April in Quahog? Does anyone think the percentage wills stay the same or go down? Of course not. People will vote "true" for "most Indians lived it tipis" even if Family Guy is a piece of fiction.

For more on the subject, see Indians in Family Guy and TV Shows Featuring Indians.

Below:  "The family gathers around the television as the end of the world approaches."

The entire episode:


John said...

Yeah, sounds like a deeply unfunny, tasteless joke.

On another "Family Guy" note, I'm sure in one of the earlier seasons they did an episode where the family visited an Indian casino. You might want to check that out.

Anonymous said...

Rob reiterates again:

"No other ethnic group is deemed as savage and uncivilized."

Actually Blacks are copiously catagorized as "uncivilized" in various White Supremacist sites as well as the fringed radical right like the ones you'll see in VDARE. But the problem with Rob is that he likes to think of Natives as such. I'm sensing hypocrisy.


Anonymous said...

Hey Rob, once again you make inaccurate assumptions about the other side and don't bother to check them out before publishing them. Way to invalidate your otherwise valid points... again!

"No other ethnic group gets stereotyped as savage and uncivilized. Only Indians. Sure, Family Guy insults other groups occasionally, but not with the same level of bias. Showing every Indian as a Plains denizen is equivalent to showing every black as a slave."

This paragraph alone makes it pretty clear you've never seen any other episode of family guy, like the one where everyone black was a slave for instance. Not that you should be faulted for not being an avid Family Guy follower, but you shouldn't make sweeping claims about a series you can't be bothered to verify with a bit of googling.

Oh, and to people saying it's deeply unfunny and tasteless... you did know you were watching Family Guy right? That's kind of the theme.

You might as well criticize soap operas for never wrapping up the story.

John said...

Anon, I of course know tasteless humor is kinda the point on "Family Guy". I have laughed heartily at many a politically incorrect gag in the show's earlier seasons.

But more recently I've felt the shows had less hits and more misses, and in this instance it seems a bit like "Family Guy" trying to hard for shock value and forgetting to make it funny too.

Anonymous said...

What's the point of watching a show just to complain about it?

(condolences to all Native Americans harmed in the making of this episode)

seriously. get a life.

Anonymous said...

This was clearly the MOST HILARIOUS JOKE in the show that episode! If your going to cry about it, don't watch the show. Family Guy takes equal jabs at all races and classes...