October 19, 2015

1/8 Chippewa in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

The new CW TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is good. Here are a couple of reviews that capture its quirky qualities:

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a smart, dark delight

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Series Premiere Recap: It’s Where Dreams Live

For Newspaper Rock, the relevant issue is the character Darryl Whitefeather:Darryl Whitefeather
Hometown: Scarsdale, New York

In The CW’s new comedy “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” Peter Gardner plays Darryl, Rebecca’s boss at a West Covina law firm. Darryl grew up in Orange County and considers himself very cultured and intellectual, a cut above the usual West Covina resident. He loves Rebecca because she is smart and well-educated, and he thinks she gives his firm instant credibility.

The problem is that he's 1/8th Chippewa, or so he says. This leads to several stereotype problems:

  • He doesn't look Native and he doesn't identify himself as an enrolled member of a tribe. These things aren't requirements, but they raise red or at least yellow flags.

  • His "Whitefeather" name is more of a stereotype than a real name--though a few Natives have names like it.

  • He wants to be called "Chief," though no one's doing it yet.

  • His office is a kitschy nightmare of Native items: wolf paintings, arrowheads, buffalo skulls, a dreamcatcher, a drum, a bow and arrows, a kachina-style figurine, a portrait of a chief, etc. Then there's his tie that sports Native basket patterns. None of this has anything to do with a genuine Chippewa culture.

  • He proves to be insensitive when he praises Rebecca because she's Jewish. And he proves to be buffoonish when he starts crying over his pending divorce.

  • You can watch a video about Darryl Whitefeather, with glimpses of his first appearance, here:

    Crazy Ex-Girlfriend--Full One Eighth

    As with his "Whitefeather" name and "Chief" title, his office is within the realm of possibility. A small percentage of people who claim to be Native will go overboard with displays like this. They're presumably overcompensating to banish doubts about their authenticity.


    Darryl and Rebecca comment on the wolf paintings, so it's not as if the kitsch goes unnoticed. But that's it for the Native commentary. And that lack of commentary is a problem.

    If you know anything about genuine Native cultures, you may snicker at Darryl's "wannabe" attitude. But most people don't know anything about genuine Native cultures, so they may take him at face value. They may say to themselves, "Okay, this is how a 1/8 Chippewa would act. Nothing strange here, just a guy trying to get in touch with his roots."

    That's what's missing from this caricature of a character: someone who explicitly says it's wrong. When Darryl makes a thoughtless Jewish comment, Rebecca pushes back against it. But no one challenges Darryl's "Native" gimmickry the same way.

    Without that, what are viewers supposed to think about Darryl the 1/8 Chippewa? Is he a real Native who's overcompensating? Or a "pretendian" who's trying to pass a la Ward Churchill, Johnny Depp, and Elizabeth Warren? There's no way to tell because the situation is unclear and no one clarifies it.

    There's a huge difference between satirizing a real Indian and satirizing a phony one. Someone needs to take a stand re Darryl if this subplot is to continue. Michael Stivic noted Archie Bunker's foibles on All in the Family and that kind of response is needed here too.

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