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.
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).