BLOG POST (Module 8): LINDA GIRÓN, Good Savage, Bad Savage — Native American Portrayals in Twin Peaks

In his essay “Fantasies of the Master Race,” Ward Churchill reveals the various way in which Native Americans have been portrayed across all US film and TV, from the appropriation of a non-distinct Native American cultural aesthetic to the cryogenesis of the antiquated Native American and the common stereotypes that have emerged from these ideals. Though this post will focus mainly on the Native American “noble savage” and “brute savage” stereotypes in Twin Peaks. However, it must be noted that outside of its two Native American characters, David Lynch appropriates a significant amount of Native American aesthetic/culture in order to create the world of magical realism that has given the show much of its quirky appeal.

Nonetheless, Lynch, spends just as much time appropriating Native American culture as he does stereotype the Native Americans on his show. The first being Deputy Hawk, right-hand man to Twin Peaks’ Sheriff Harry Truman. Just as Churchill describes, Deputy Hawk can be characterized with the same qualities as that of the noble savage trope. Deputy Hawk, played by Michael Horse, is portrayed as indubitably loyal, stoic, supportive and with just enough an air of wise elder mysticism to reaffirm his ethnic otherness.

Here, is a clip in which we seek Deputy Hawk provide Agent Cooper with valuable knowledge about the mysterious Black Lodge (that of course only he would know on part of his heritage):

As if that weren’t enough, David Lynch seems to hit us over the head with the noble savage stereotype countless times throughout the show with incredible dialogue such as this:

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Talk about putting a bandaid over some personal white guilt, Lynch. And still, even in Twin Peaks’ 25 year revival, it seems times really haven’t changed for Lynch and we begin once again with Deputy Hawk at the center of the show’s mystery that has “something to do with his heritage.”

Now, the second stereotype we see is a bit more subtle on behalf of the fact that the character’s identity is not central on his ethnicity, although Lynch’s casting of a Native American as the antagonist, Killer Bob, helps reaffirms the negative “brute savage” stereotype.

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Although in interviews Lynch reveals that casting Frank Silva as Killer Bob was purely coincidental, an accident even, that Silva had been working crew on set and had given Lynch such a fright after having glanced at his reflection in a mirror. Seems innocent enough (But, please, where’s the coincidence in a white man being scared of a brown person)? But regardless, unconscious or not, politics of bodies particularly black and brown bodies prove time and time again how color-blind casting isn’t a relevant excuse anymore. The connotations that come with having a brown man, more specifically a Native American playing a highly violent criminal, who murders young women can very easily give audiences an affirmation of these problematic stereotypes; not only for Native Americans, but for ethnic minorities as a whole.

 

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think television can’t seem to portray Native Americans in a contemporary light, completely separate of any mystic connection?
  2. What are some other ways directors/screen writers can include Native Americans without subjecting them to stereotypes or keeping them as token minorities?
  3. Do you think Lynch can be excused for unconsciously casting a minority as the shows grotesque villain, can racial bias be kept completely out of our ideal aesthetics for casting choices?
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14 thoughts on “BLOG POST (Module 8): LINDA GIRÓN, Good Savage, Bad Savage — Native American Portrayals in Twin Peaks”

  1. Hi Linda, I greatly enjoyed reading your take on the Native American “noble savage” and “brute savage” stereotypes as seen in “Twin Peaks”. For one, I find it incredibly absurd that screenwriters of the 21st century still depict Native Americans in a manner that sustainably reaffirms their exoticness or ethnic otherness. It’s also another disappointing matter to witness the casting of a minority as the show’s grotesque villain; I find it unfathomable as to why television just can’t seem to champion Native Americans in a contemporary, positive, and rejuvenated manner instead of mystic, savage, or as Churchill coins, “creatures of a particular time”. Screenwriters probably uphold these stereotypes and reaffirm the ideas of the “good Indian” vs. the “bad Indian” in order to make the White characters more superior and of higher caliber than other minority groups. Because the entertainment industry is primarily dominated by White men, it is perhaps partly in due to their fear of minority groups dominating and ultimately taking over. Nevertheless, I still think it is imperative that director/screenwriters include Native Americans without subjection to the reinforcement of stereotypes or the characterization of this minority group as barbaric, uncivilized or vicious. Directors can instead, prevent placing Native American characters in “Wild West” settings or perpetuating this notion of savagery through warrior-like clothing. Native Americans could also be represented as less stoic, silent, mysterious, but rather, more outgoing, cordial and unreserved. Women could, likewise, be more empowering, especially during this era where feminism pervades; they should be characterized as fearless and independent individuals, rather than sexual, exotic objects that cater to the white men’s appeal.

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  2. Hi Linda! I’d just like to say that I really enjoyed reading your article and I thought that you made some very insightful points regarding the material that was discussed in module 8. In response to your first question, I think that the main reason television cannot seem to portray Native Americans in a contemporary light, completely separate of any mystic connection is due to the complex history that the United States has with Native Americans. I think that Native Americans have always been seen as “the other” in the eyes of white Europeans who originally colonized the United States. To them, there was always a kind of mystique surrounding Native Americans due to their unique culture. Most people viewed indigenous peoples as being more or less savage in nature and understanding how to live off the land. The idea of Native Americans as being a part of the environment, as described by Bataille, only bolsters this idea of the mystery behind indigenous peoples. Regardless of the prominence of Native Americans in North America today, their spirit is still somehow inherently tied to the land in one form or another. Although people do not like to admit it, Native Americans are the first “true” Americans so-to-speak and therefore they have a special connection with the country that was taken away from them by white Europeans. Some ways that directors/screenwriters can include Native Americans without subjecting them to stereotypes or keeping them as token minorities is by giving them more complex and dimensional personalities instead of having them play the role of ancillary characters. I think that by doing this many of the stereotypes associated with Native Americans will go away. Only until people make a clear distinction between Native Americans as people just like everybody else and their and their culture can we eliminate these stereotypes. Another way they can do this is to focus more on the average Native American of today. In many programs on television there appears to be a focus on Native Americans as they were in the mid to late 1800s and even prior. I think if we shift away from this antiqued view of Native Americans then some of these stereotypes can be eliminated. In terms of Lynch casting a minority as the grotesque villain, I think he can be excused. However, I think it is very difficult to keep racial biases completely out of our ideal aesthetics for casting choices because popular culture enforces certain stereotypes on different racial groups and cultures that sometimes we are not even aware of. I think most racial biases that people have are subconscious and when casting certain actors for specific roles, these biases that they are unaware of become exposed. Native Americans have always had a very unique place in American history and at least for now, will always play a certain role in popular culture. Unfortunately, these roles usually contain certain stereotypes and biases that have been engrained in American culture. Just think about it, there are at least six professional and college sports teams that have stereotyped Native Americans as their mascot. Even Stanford University, a progressive academic institution, originally had a Native American as its mascot in the early 1900s. Obviously the commodification of Native American culture for sole purpose of entertaining white people has been apparent for quite some time now. I also think that many people are ok with having these biases because unlike other minorities, Native Americans make up such a small proportion of the population compared to other minorities. Anyway, I hope that my points provided you with more insight into this matter. Please let me know if you need clarification or further explanation of anything that I have mentioned.

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  3. Hello!
    I’ve watched both of makes for Twin Peaks: the original 1990-1991 and the remake that just started this year. I agree with you that although there is this remake, there isn’t much of a difference going on both shows; both of them still portray the same concept of the good (“noble”) savage and the bad savage (or monster) of the series.

    Your first question and second question come hand in hand. I personally feel that this question doesn’t only apply to Native Americans but to all minorities. In general, I just want to be blunt and say that some of the directors of these shows are extremely small minded. The reason for such claim is due to the fact that mostly everyone, including these directors, knows about minority stereotypes. In the United States, we grow up learning from “different voices” the definition of these stereotypes and who they are branded on to. So in general, if these directors took some time to learn and understand these Native American cultures and customs, then maybe, there is a chance in which directors will change the way in which Native Americans should be portrayed. That would (and should) be an elementary step to begin with.

    To answer your third question, I think that this is depending on the individual listening to Lynch’s response as to why he “subconsciously” cast a minority to play a grotesque villain. In my opinion, I think that he is fine. If the minority accepted the role knowing about the role in its entirety, then there is nothing wrong because there is mutual agreement on both sides: the director and the cast member. Who knows, other people might think differently but that is my opinion for this matter.

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  4. I liked reading your blog post and your analysis on the “noble savage” and “brute savage” stereotypes concerning Native Americans in the television show “Twin Peaks.” It’s very interesting to see white directors, screenwriters and producers of our era, who are nowadays the dominant voice in Hollywood, still choose to represent Native Americans through stereotypes to the U.S audience. I think the first reason why television can’t seem to portray Native Americans in a contemporary light is that television industry in the U.S is still dominantly run by white people who do not tend to look from other ethnic group member’s perspective.
    They prefer to represent Native Americans as “creatures of a particular time” because the only thing that people actually know about Native Americans is their history with white European American in that particular era. The primary and nearly the only resource for people to learn that specific historical period and to have an understanding of Native Americans and their culture is of course through the representation of indigenous peoples on the U.S media. Therefore, these people’s identity is always associated with those stereotypes and a particular time and place. In the U.S people choose to overlook the adaptation of minorities into the society and under the name of “appreciating differences in society” they actually appropriate them and focus on people’s ethnic differences for the sake of their entertainment and amusement. Therefore, television producers choose to keep these stereotypical images on their shows to create a product of entertainment for the white audience.

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  5. I have never seen Twin Peaks but your chosen videos were great visual representation of stereotypes often associated with Native Americans. In response to your second question, it seems quiet simple for directors and screenwriters to cast and include Native American’s without subjecting them to commonly associated stereotypes. While going through the casting process, directors could simply contribute Native American actors in roles that aren’t specifically designed for Native and minority actors. Instead, directors could just simply focus on the individual, not solely on their ethnicity and assumed cultures. While casting certain character roles on television, directors can take steps towards not secluding a certain role to a specific race. These kinds of steps can open door to not only just Native American actors, but many other racial minorities. By doing so, television programs can diversify their casts while also not withholding certain actors to racial and cultural stereotypes.

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  6. Hi, I really liked your blog post, and especially the personal comments you put in which I feel is what everyone else is thinking and you managed incorporate in great way.
    When it comes to your first discussion question I think that the main reason why television is still hooked on portraying Native Americans in the same stereotypical way, with mystic connections, is because this is what has been working before and captured audience interest. I think that producers believe that a script with mystery can be made even more interesting with the otherness of the American Natives in the picture. Their uncertainty and unpredictability, in the sense if they want to be on the side or against Whites, gives the producers different ways to play out the story. I am not saying that it is right, and to challenge the stereotype would be very good for the industry, but it might be hard to go away from something that has proven to work before. The industry is dominated by Whites, and it seems like their need of keeping the white culture superior to other minorities are more important than creating roles that does not subject minorities to stereotypes.

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  7. Hi Linda, great post and I enjoyed reading your blog post. I do agree with your statement that TVs often cast minorities as villains and criminals. I believe that screenwriters can’t put Native Americans contemporary light, because the stereotype of “good” and “bad” Indians are too strong. Therefore, screenwriters usually use these Native American characters as “good” Indians who support the main character, or “bad” Indians who goes against the whites. Because white characters are used as the main characters in most of the cases, Native Americans and other minorities have hard time replacing the main character roles. I think to help these Native American characters not portrayed in their stereotypical ways, screenwriters should make a show that includes majority of the cast as native americans. For example, in George Lopez, Latinas/os characters aren’t portrayed in their stereotypical way as the poor minorities. I don’t think Lynch should be executed from choosing the cast, but I believe that racial bias has to disappear during the casting choices. In many shows, the casts are chosen through auditions, whch I bleive is the fair way of choosing the cast.

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  8. Thank you for your post! I really enjoyed your analysis of the cultural appropriation that the character portrayal in the Twin Peaks shows. In particular, I would like to answer your question about the fixation of television and other culture industries in portraying Native American Culture under a different light and not necessarily a contemporary one. In particular, your analysis brought to mind a quote by Adam Beach, an actor that has often been called to play the role of Native Americans. Beach said about his own culture as a Native American that “They [meaning Hollywood] like us in the 1800s”. This idea is very widespread across the industry. Through stereotypes like that of the noble savage or the brutal savage hollywood deliberately attempts to portray Native Americans as the exact same people the British colonialists had to tame. This fixation I think serves more as cultural spice, a way of introducing a fascinating alternative, that perplexes and mystifies the average viewer who has not been exposed to such cultures. Even today, Native Americans have been mostly associated with stories like the Standing Rock controversy which implicitly repeats the same narrative about the purity and wisdom that we have seen before. This selective publicity that both in the news but also in TV series and shows is what creates the fixation you are talking about and poses many obstacles in recognizing the progress that this community has made.

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  9. Hi Linda, I really enjoyed reading this piece about Twin Peaks and the differences that are seen between that of the noble and brute savage stereotypes. Although I have never see the show, I still feel like I was able to get a good grasp at the way the director runs the show. I feel like television can not seem to portray Native Americans in a contemporary light because many people are too tied into the fact that there is only room for good and bad natives. This seems to stem way before producing and to the beginning of the age of exploration with Christopher Colombus and how they categorized good natives as those who helped and gave valuable information and bad natives as those who resisted to help and be a part of white culture. I feel like a way that producers can stop stereotyping Native Americans is by not tying them into any of their cultural values if it is not necessary. This can be very crucial in the future of television producing because it will show that more minority characters are becoming less of background characters and more of three dimensional characters that have purpose for being there. I have mixed feelings about the last question because this show did happen a long time ago and people were not as heavily invested in performance studies as we are now in the present time. I still feel that there is room to blame because it is not as if he did this without thinking but quite opposite he did this having the stereotypes of the noble and brute savage in mind.

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  10. Hi Linda I really enjoyed your blog post about Twin Peaks and the two types of “savage” stereotypes given to its Native American characters. I find that it is a true shame that Native American heritage is so homogenized and portrayed under such a narrow scope on television, with characters only being portrayed as mystics with mysterious auras surrounding them and their culture. I believe that most if not all Native American characters on television today can only be portrayed under a mystical, spiritual light because that brings an exotic flavor to the realm of the program. As referenced in previous modules about “eating the other” in bell hooks’ essay, the same logic can be applied to Native Americans on television. By conceptualizing a mysterious, spiritually wise, yet new character, viewers will supposedly take in the culture and history behind this character. However, this comes at the cost of narrowing the view for said culture, with audiences generalizing all Native Americans under the scope of mysticism and spirituality. I find that film industries like Hollywood want to perpetuate a message of “inclusiveness” of different cultures yet it tends to restrict certain parts of the culture from ever gracing the screen. Viewers are subject to only observing certain parts of a culture without seeing other segments, giving an incomplete picture of what Native American tradition is truly like. I believe more accurate representations of modern day Native Americans can be reflected in television by updating their appearances in both looks and occupations with the world of today. For example, instead of creating these preset spiritual roles for Native American actors, new personalities should be created to reflect their lives in the normal everyday. Furthermore, perhaps by flipping the script on media roles in certain movies and shows, such as portraying the white man as the spiritual character and the Native American as the prominent yet well-developed hero, viewers can experience an extra dimension to Native American culture. I believe that racial bias will always exist in casting in the future and will not be solved anytime soon. However, depending on whether the actor or actress casted for a specific role agreed to the director’s preference and bias, racial preference in casting can or cannot be excused. If the casting was not done out of mutual consent, then it becomes an inexcusable issue regarding racial bias.

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    1. Hey Linda, I really enjoyed reading your blog post. I have not seen Twin Peaks, but as someone who is planning on starting it soon I appreciated that you went over some of the problematic themes running through the story, as it helped give me a better understanding of how this show portrays minority characters, which I think is always a good thing to know. I thought you did a nice job of identifying Lynch’s use of the noble savage and the brute savage, and it was interesting seeing how Lynch uses the example of the “Good Indian” that takes away guilt from white people as a pivotal character in his series. I liked your usage of the gif where Hawk says that “some of his best friends are white people,” since that follows directly from Churchill’s use of the quote “good Indian acts as a friend to the white man” in his essay “Fantasies of the Master Race.” Moreover, I agree that it does seem a little less than innocent that Lynch cast a Native American to be a bloodthirsty villain, especially since Native American myth and lore has been a big part of the series.
      I think one of the main reasons that television can’t seem to cast Native Americans in more contemporary roles is due to the fact that many Americans are just too accustomed to seeing Indigenous people portrayed as savages that are closely connected with nature. Although the quote from Feraca at the beginning of Churchill’s essay that “many, many American children believe that feathers grow out
      of Indian heads” may not be very true today, Native Americans are still very much portrayed as the exotic other in a lot of media, without many filmmakers willing to challenge that paradigm and instead taking the easy way out. Unfortunately, the stereotypes that plagued Indigenous people when they were first portrayed on screen, still follow them today, albeit in a slightly altered form like the wise and old elder.
      I think the main way filmmakers can write Native Americans in positive ways is by making sure they don’t eat the other, as bell hooks said. It’s so easy for filmmakers to rest on their laurels and use the mysticism and alleged savagery of Native Americans to further their story’s plots, but if they’re able to dig deeper and appreciate Native Americans for whom they truly are and the stories that actually mean something to them then filmmakers will be able to avoid common stereotypes. Whether that change starts with white filmmakers checking themselves if they’re about to stereotype Indigenous people or with Native American filmmakers coming forward to tell their story, it has to start somewhere.
      I do believe Lynch can be excused for casting a Native American as the show’s villain, since it does seem that he didn’t mean any ill intent by it. However as I stated before, it does seem that it is a little bit more than coincidental that an Indigenous person was cast in a villainous role, and I do think that some of the time period and Lynch’s racial bias might have made Silva seem very menacing. However, as long as Silva himself was okay with the casting and did not find any problem with it, I don’t think Lynch should be faulted too heavily for this choice. I hope for a future in which we can attempt to completely rid ourselves of racial bias for aesthetic casting choices, but it is clear from the numerous examples in this course that we are not there yet.

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      1. Why do you think television can’t seem to portray Native Americans in a contemporary light, completely separate of any mystic connection?

        I think the reason is the people behind the scene (producers) grew up with the wrong information and have been having such stereotypes toward Native Americans. Another reason I can think of is the lack of information and education about Native Americans. If a parent doesn’t know well about the Native Americans, how can a kid understand what’s right and what’s wrong?

        But I believe that as we can access to information more easily than ever before, the understanding of Native Americans should be changed and hopefully people begin to portrait those characters correctly.

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  11. Hi Linda! Great post, I really enjoyed your analysis of the stereotypes present in Twin Peaks. To answer your first question, I think that television can’t seem to portray Native Americans in a contemporary light because writers and producers are afraid of straying from the status quo. I think this is especially applicable to Native Americans because they have been portrayed this way much longer than any other minority in the media. Another possibility could be that portraying Native Americans in a contemporary light would make it easier for the general public to relate to and therefore sympathize with them. To this day, textbooks, teachers, and historians find it difficult to acknowledge the atrocities that were committed against the Native Americans by the US government. Relaying a realistic historical account could be perceived as “unpatriotic”. I think that directors/screen writers need to study modern Native American culture. Many tribes still retain their cultural values and traditions but have also integrated with modern societal norms. Native American culture is still rich in tradition and history and their story deserve to be told in an accurate manner.

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  12. I thought this post by Megan was very insightful overall and it was a great read. Television doesn’t seem to portray Native Americans like they do with regular Americans. But it is important to note that this type of portrayal isn’t too different from the lack of portrayal of other races as well. Long before media texts were available as they are now, history has portrayed Native Americans as people that are reliant on spirits and their own religion. They were also linked to their tribal feats as well as their isolation from other societies. With the introduction of television and other entertainment mediums, it would have only made sense to portray the Native Americans as they were described in the past. Like other races and their portrayals, people seem to try to incorporate Native Americans with modern society in television, but they always seem to leave some characteristic about their past in there. One of the reasons may be because their appearance is significantly different than the people around them, leading to another difference in characteristics. Even though this type of portrayal should be fixed, media channels don’t have much of an incentive to do so as their portrayals of Native Americans haven’t been met with any complications so far.

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