BLOG POST (Module 8): The Noble Savage and His Curse

The depiction of the ‘native American’ as a noble savage is not a new one. According to Terrence Canote it is one that the television industry adopted from the fading throngs of show business, an industry relying on television to carry the baton until the Western genre` slowly faded and found itself as much a relic as the native-American depiction itself. Here the noble savage found himself passed onto a different role to embody, one that made use of his mysticism whilst stereotyping many of the tribal traits in commodifiable, bite-sized tropes of consumption that are palatable for consumption by the general masses.

Parks and Recreation serves both a statement and entertainment in the form of its main protagonist Leslie Knope, a character noted for her many shenanigans whilst heading the parks and recreation department in Pawnee, Indiana. Here the snippet in question involves an episode where a seven-day carnival is being held to offer the residents a social experience, albeit one whose presence is objected to by the local Wamapoke tribe who consider it an insulting commemoration of events past where their tribe found itself marginalized and comprehensively defeated in battle when it objected to said marginalization.

Consider the portrayal of the Chief Hotate in this video. Here the depiction of the past – proud, bold, honourable and brave – meets the depiction of Indians associated with today, such as cunning, capitalistic and wide ‘reverence’ as opportunists. Subsequent episodes show tribal elder Ken Hotate akin to a greedy chief-in-arms whose concern for casino profits belie concern and service to his people. Here Ken is reduced to the two different caricatures; embodying traits from both the past and present, situating him in this manner perhaps to make him more palatable for the masses attracted by the show?

Bird accredits the primary appeal of a ‘savage warrior’ to the earliest ethnographic work. Here the ethnographers didn’t ‘mean to’ portray the native American tribes as noble savages, but found the group defined by its stoicism and lack of emotion as seen in photographs released over a century and and a half.

Questions

Bird asserts; “Where personal knowledge is lacking, media have additional power as agents of enculturation” (78). If this assertion is to be agreed with, would you say the producers of Park and Recreation missed an opportunity to portray the Wamapoke tribe as more than a stereotype? What could they have done differently?

What other groups can you name that have found their portrayal on television evolve from one negative stereotype to another? According to this week’s literature would you say that during the course of said evolution, portrayal of marginalized groups tend to get a lot worse before they get better?

America is defined by McQuade (in the Batille reading) as being invented ‘in the image of its inventor’ (7). The article refers to the many myths and legends that work in lieu of coherent understanding when two cultures are vastly different, as seen in the case of Europe and the New America. Is it possible to ‘reinvent’ this portrayal of native Americans on television today? Is it still possible to honour their contribution over television without stereotyping it?

Readings: A Shroud of Thoughts (Terence Towles Canote), Native American Representations (Gretchen M. Bataille) and Gendered Construction of the American
Indian in Popular Media (S. Elizabeth Bird).

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14 thoughts on “BLOG POST (Module 8): The Noble Savage and His Curse”

  1. I’m glad you wrote about Ken Hotate on Parks and Recreation, because he was the first American Indian character that came to my mind when I was doing the readings! I think it’s interesting how you compared him to the “noble savage” stereotype, because I initially dismissed it when considering which stereotypes he fit best and hadn’t made that connection. He certainly seems to be proud and honorable; however, we see that he lies to people by only pretending to place a curse on the festival, and his character does not have a “strong sexual dimension” that Bird says both the “noble savage” and the “ignoble savage” have (64). Like American Indians, I think you could argue that African Americans have continually been most commonly portrayed by a few negative stereotypes that have evolved over time. For example, the “noble savage” stereotype for American Indian men has mostly been replaced by the “mystical American Indian man.” For African Americans, the “mammy” stereotype for African American women has been exchanged for the “black lady” stereotype. I’m not sure if the portrayals of minorities tend to get significantly worse before they improve, but I think that I can more confidently say that it takes a very long time for the depictions of minorities to not be limited by a small number of stereotypes.

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  2. Job well done on your blog post! I am a big Parks and Recreation fan, so I was excited to see that you had written about the series for this module. The clip you have chosen to include is a wonderful example of the stereotypes of indigenous peoples in television.

    I would have to say that the producers of Parks and Recreation missed a big opportunity to portray the Wamapoke tribe as more than just a stereotype. They could (and should) have given Hotate a different, less stereotypical occupation. Frankly, it does not make sense for a town as broke as Pawnee to even be home to a lucrative casino. That being said, I commend the producers for casting a Native American actor to play a Native American character and the costume designers for outfitting Ken in a suit.

    Your second question is quite interesting. African Americans have also found their portrayal on television evolve from one negative stereotype to the next. I would not argue that portrayal of marginalized groups tend to get a lot worse before they get better. I would, however, assert that more contemporary portrayals are often mistakenly viewed as blunder-free because they are not quite as bad as they used to be.

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  3. I believe that the producers of the did miss an opportunity to have a the Wamapoke shown contrary to the stereotype of Native Americans being casino owners as well as mystical people. But I think the producers use these stereotypes in a satirical way in order to bring humor to the comedy based show. They see the stereotype of Natives being magical people that curse ancient lands, is done in order to point a mirror at people who believe in this stereotype it points to how silly they look. We see this especially when he speaks at the press conference stating, “I’m not saying anything…No one can understand me anyways” in his native language as they think he is lifting a curse.
    I believe that African Americans portrayal over the years has developed negatively similarly to Native Americans. From the “Uncle Tom” to the “Mammy” to the “Sambo” and now the present day “thug” there has been a negative development African American characters in television. I believe that there have been spots of positive roles contrary to these characters where we see an occasional doctor or lawyers in television but these character archetypes are always present. I also believe that these portrayals are widely based on the public perception and stereotypes of African Americans during certain time periods. For instance, we see the rise of the “Mammy” character during the early 20th century and the rise of the drug dealer or “crack- head” during the late 20th century. These characters are portrayed on television the way that society sees African Americans.

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  4. Hey there! I thought it was very insightful when you described the progression of indigenous portrayals on TV as a curse passed through time. Awesome post overall!

    I agree that “media have additional power as agents of enculturation.” Regardless of the validity or truthfulness of their messages, media spreads information. People may choose to take such information as truth. Based on the clip alone, I do not think that Parks and Recreation missed an opportunity to break out of indigenous stereotypes. In fact, I think the series took a progressive spin on mainstream society’s image of Native Americans. Chief Hotate may be cunning, but I do not think the show portrays this as an absolute negative. Instead, I think the producers make Hotate appear clever. He negotiates a compromise in which the festival will still take place, in addition to including attractions to honor the historical war. He is also shown to be very self-aware when he sarcastically states, “A Native American tribe making a deal with the government. What can go wrong?” This line suggests that Hotate knows what he is doing, and he manages to help his side while mocking the government employees.

    I can’t think of another group whose stereotypes have evolved into more negative portrayals over time on American television. Currently, the country of Russia has been portrayed as deceptive, manipulating, and subversive on mainstream news. However, I don’t think this contributes to any new stereotypes, as it seems to be a continuation of the Cold War portrayal of the Soviets. Regarding marginalized groups within the US, I think that portrayal has improved. If you look at shows such as Orange is the New Black, there is a balance between characters that fit stereotypes (Aleida) and those who break the stereotypes (Marisol). Even for characters that fit the stereotypes such as Aleida Diaz, the show makes her a multidimensional character who has faults because she is a human being that has been influenced by her circumstances. Thus, I think contemporary TV has been much more progressive.

    Portrayals of demographics will always “contribute” to stereotypes. There is a saying that stereotypes have a bit of truth in them, because they are born from examples from real life. However, I think it is important that TV producers also include non-stereotypical characters. I’d imagine that a more progressive portrayal of indigenous peoples may tackle contemporary issues and account for various perspectives. For instance, there may be a show inspired by the Dakota Access Pipeline conflict in which we see Native Americans who are closely tied to reservation lands and those who have grown up in mainstream culture. In short, proper actualization of characters with a healthy balance of backgrounds and personalities is key to honoring marginalized groups’ contributions to TV.

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  5. Reply to: “BLOG POST (MODULE 8): THE NOBLE SAVAGE AND HIS CURSE” in Juan Manuel’s Section (https://juanmanuel118ac.wordpress.com/2017/07/13/the-noble-savage-and-his-curse/)

    I believe the Parks and Recreation producers actually did a great job of introducing a post-modern stereotype into today’s media. Ken Hotate of Wamapoke tribe represents what Gail calls the “Indian Casino Owner” stereotype. In this clip he wield business acumen and manipulates perceptions by white folks. Ken is neither the “noble savage” or the “brutal savage,” merely a capitalist functioning within the market. I believe Ken Hotate’s representation of Native Americans is contemporary and challenging to those that have perpetuated in the twentieth century. The stereotype he portrays is unyielding to white control. Such multi-dimensionality provides a breath of fresh air when compared to Tonto-legacies of the past.

    In order to reinvent Native American portrayals in television today, the socio-historical context between native groups and the U.S. government must be acknowledge. Native American treatment by the television industry is similar to that of most minorities: it is problematic and points to a greater symptom of racial segregation based in historical context. However, some minority portrayals are moving towards multi-dimensional characters. Shows like Scandal, Fresh Off the Boat, and Jane the Virgin all acknowledge the treatment of their stars’ minority status, yet each character represents more than traditional, stereotypical roles. Each character still functions under the stereotype blanket, however, and negative stereotypes are deployed first before the positive ones. However, I do think it is possible to honor the contributions of people of color to this country without perpetuating the problematic stereotypes. It will require an understanding of the specific American treatment of minorities.

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  6. Thank you for sharing your post, I thought it was very good. I believe that Parks and Rec. did a decent job at portraying a modern Native American in this scene. First, I commend them on the fact that they hired an Indigenous actor to partake in their show. As well, I think they did a good job by giving him a suit to wear as it reveals him as a modern-day Native American. That being said, I do feel like they stereotyped Ken Hotate and the tribe. The final scene where Ken is in tribal clothes doing a “ritual ceremony” to lift a fake curse is about as stereotypical as you can get when discussing Native peoples. Parks and Rec. is a satirical show that provides humor and for that reason, I believe to a certain extent that they need to do certain stereotyping in order to elicit humor from its audience. While they could have done better with the portrayal of Ken Hotate and the Wamapoke tribe, I appreciate their director casting a Native American for the role; something that many shows are afraid and consequently do not do. I believe that as more directors incorporate indigenous people into their cast, the stereotyping and roles of the actors will progress and modernize into equality in the entertainment world for Native Americans.

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  7. Hi Saad – I really enjoyed this blog post and I’m glad you wrote about an issue that I’ve also spent time analyzing in terms of Ken Hotate’s character and Native American representation in Parks and Recreation! I agree – this was a missed opportunity for the writers to cast a character that amounts to more than just a stereotype and actually represents aspects of Native American culture that American audiences aren’t traditionally exposed to in mainstream media – aspects such as family, relationships and socio-economic progress. I think it’s interesting that a culture so deeply ingrained into the narrative of US history struggles to find its genuine place on the most pervasive form of media, and it’s up to the writers and casting agencies behind many of these hit shows to accelerate their increased representation of Native American culture in a positive manner!

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  8. Great example that fit the description of a “noble savage” very well! I found it interesting how Chief Ken Hotate was not portrayed with feathers, face paint or other stereotypical features that Native Americans are usually come with in cultural texts and yet there was a a more subtle racism that was present. First of all, the jokes about the battle where lives of Native Americans were lost because “they did not have weapons” is a sore one because of the way battles were always in the favor of whites who had better weapons than their Native American counterparts. Next, Chief Ken becomes friends with the whites and goes out his way to help the whites at the expense of his own tribe! This portrays Native Americans as submissive, obedient “Nobel Savages”. Although the portrayal of native Americans is not outright absurd in this episode, there is still racism under the surface.
    Another group that has found their portrayal on television evolve from one negative stereotype to another is the Latino/as. First Latino men were depicted as lazy crooks, not to be trusted and up to no good. Now they have a slightly more positive appearance as the sexualized “ideal lover”. This may seem positive but it is simply just less negative.

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  9. Great post! Like someone else commented above, I think a positive from this clip is that at least the producers of the Parks and Recreation showed Chief Hotate wearing a suit and not in stereotypical native clothing (until he trolled them at the ceremony). However I can definitely see your point of how Hotate is shown as a “noble solider”. The part where he said white people hate curses was meant to be funny and it made me laugh, but it definitely shows some of the stereotypes we discussed from the readings. The way they mocked the ceremony and the “lifting of the curse” was clearly cultural appropriation, although it was not meant in a negative way but rather to make fun of how ignorant white people can be when it comes to the native culture. It just sucks that whenever we see Native Americans on TV it is in this way, stereotypical and predictable. Why can’t we see a Native American playing the role of a character living a normal life where his history and his traditions don’t consume the rest of the duality of his or her character, and why they were put on the show?

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  10. Since we have been stereotyping Native American culture for so many decades now, conflating the cultures to a point that most of society has no idea what the actual culture and traditions of different Native American tribes are, I think it is very hard to be able to reinvent the portrayal of Native Americans on TV today. It will most likely take a lot of time to move forward, probably starting small and trying to differentiate the small things from different tribes and attribute them appropriately. Additionally, not making up rituals and clothing and traditions, but instead taking the time to research them and use them with respect on the screen. It is possible to honor Native Americans on television, but it requires us to talk to native people, understand their values, why they do the things they do, instead o just using the very limited knowledge most of us have in our every day lives. Even in Parks and Rec, one of my favorite shows for the way it empowers women in politics, teaches us about nature, this obvious stereotyping of the “savages” who are selfish and will do anything for themselves can be seen. In order to do it differently, they should not have used a fake curse and reversal ceremony but paid tribute to the tribe and used their actual rituals in the proper way performed the way it was intended. Defiling an sacred burial land is a big deal to the tribe and should have been taken seriously in the episode instead of being a joke.

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  11. Hi Saad, I think the clip you showed demonstrates how limited representation is for Native Americans on modern television.I really do think missed an opportunity with the Wamapoke tribe, as it is really only mention when stereotypical Native American topics arise, such as casinos, burial grounds, and conflict with the government. Ken hardly appears on the show, and is absent whenever the main focus of the show has no direct connection to his tribe. I think that the show’s producers could have not only featured Ken in more episodes that did not directly focus on stereotypical Native American subjects, but I think they could have also at least shown one other member of his tribe, because as I recall he was the only Wamapoke ever shown on the show.
    I think in the evolution of negative stereotypes of minority groups, the main sentiment persists throughout the years but only changes cosmetically to fit the times. For example, the stereotype of the lazy African American as been around for many years but has changed from the former slave to the drug addict on welfare. Additionally, a similar thing can be seen in Asian American stereotypes from the Chinese railroad workers in the late 19th century to the medical professional which both depict Asian Americans as cultural invaders. I don’t think they get much worse before they get better, and although I think it feels like representation for groups is getting better, I think the old negative stereotypes will linger in ways to fit the context of the times.

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  12. Very interesting! I have not been able to get into this show, nor do I feel like I’ve been well exposed to Native American characters on television, but it was interesting to see this depiction of Native Americans on the show. The negotiating scene reminds me very much of a Simpsons episode where Homer gambles at the casino and loses all their money and their car. He goes to great lengths to try to get it back. In the episode, they also tap into the mystic stereotype, very similar to this episode of Parks and Recreation and the rituals they present. From my experience, it seems like Native American culture has been simplified and generalized, which brings forth misrepresentation of all tribes and their proper rituals. I put it into Latino/a perspective and how things tend to get generalized to things being Mexican, but in reality they may be Colombian, Guatemalan, Salvadorian, Argentinian, etc. that collaboratively work towards our Latin heritage. I can imagine it being the same issue for Native Americans and how culture from one tribe is generalized to reflect onto all tribes. This misrepresentation seems like a long way to fix because the stereotypes and stigmas have been built for so long. For starters, it would take the media to make more proper representations with the more current culture, as opposed to taking old age representation of what Native Americans have been through, while still being able to properly represent the history of Native Americans. I truly wish I could elaborate more on this matter, but as mentioned, I lack exposure and knowledge in this matter, and in television.

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  13. Interesting post! Many of my friends recommended me to watch Parks and Recreation and now I want to start watching it. It does seem like the producers missed an opportunity to portray the Wamapoke tribe as more than a stereotype. The Indian tribe chief is associated with lying for his casino profits and being mystical, using his Native American powers. Native Americans are constantly portrayed as being involved with casinos and the government. They are also portrayed as savage and somewhat evil with their and actions and intentions. However, the character was portrayed as a modern day Native American not wearing any old clothing from the past. They are not portrayed as the people of the past. But it is sad that the producers still used modern day Native American stereotypes in the show. The show should include other story line that doesn’t involve casinos and mysticism of the Native Americans. The stereotypes are used for entertainment but they should work towards new portrayals of Native Americans.

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  14. Yes, I think that the producer of Parks and Recreation could have taken the opportunity to better educate the American audience about the Wamapoke tribe. They could have explained in more detail about the battle ground where the carnival was taking place. Therefore, the viewers would have a better context of why the chief was so angry about the festival’s setting. Additionally the creative team could have explored the customs, religion, and overall culture of Chief Hotate’s people. This exploration of these indigenous people would give the characters on this show more authenticity and believability. Thus, not portraying enough of the Wamapoke’s culture and heritage was a missed opportunity on the part of Parks and Recreation’s executives.

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