February 26, 2015

Wamapoke Casino in Parks and Recreation

The TV show Parks and Recreation has ended, but not before one last appearance by "Wamapoke Indian" Ken Hotate (Jonathan Joss):

See all of 'Parks and Recreation's' fake 'Johnny Karate' commercials

By Casey RackhamWhat's better than an entire episode of "Parks and Recreation" dedicated to Andy Dwyer's "Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show"? A "Johnny Karate" show plus four incredibly ridiculous commercials for things that thankfully/sadly only exist in the "Parks and Rec" world.

Throughout Tuesday's (Feb. 17) episode, which follows Andy and Co. during his last ever "Johnny Karate" show before he moves to Washington, D.C., a handful of commercials that might possibly be considered the most awkward ads ever aired.

There's one for Ron Swanson's building company that has approximately 20 seconds of silence, one for Paunch Burger that features a Dinner for Breakfast Burger Combo, one for Wamapoke Casino with Chief Ken Hotate using wolf folklore to get people to visit and one for a really scary-sounding company called Verizon Chipotle Exxon. It's pretty much all of the Pawnee-themed commercials fans could ever hope for.

Comment:  This commercial straddles the line between good and bad. Obviously, it uses the wolf stereotype only to subvert it with a casino pitch. But the Indian who uses a casino to take back the white man's money is also a stereotype.

You could say the joke is on the white casino customers who fall for this hucksterism and lose their money. Or you could say the joke is on the Indian who acts like a crass commercial money-grubber--i.e., a huckster.

Some Indian casino ads do have this rah-rah tone, but they're usually more sophisticated. Indian casinos are generally big businesses, akin to classy hotels or resorts. You don't see classy hotels or resorts advertising themselves like used-car lots, so why should a tribe take this approach. It implies Indians are less sophisticated--like amateurs or rubes--than they really are.

If it isn't a race-based claim--Indians are primitive and savage--it's a class-based claim. The implication is that Indians act low-class because they're one step up from poverty. Which is only slightly better than implying they don't understand the white man's ways.

In reality, you wouldn't even an Indian shilling for his own casino. Today's tribal executives have MBAs and run multimillion-dollar operations. They'd hire a management team that would hire an ad agency that would hire professional actors to do a commercial. Casino customers want fun and excitement, not Native culture, so that's what the pros give them.

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