Native American Warrior (Photo credit: Calsidyrose)
Gender stereotypes of Native Americans are prominent in mass media. The male noble savage is often shown hunting buffalo or displaying expert equestrian skill. The female noble savage combines elements of innocent natural beauty with forbidden, exotic sexuality. Merskin (2010) examined the term squaw and its presentation in popular culture; she concluded media depict them as sexual punching bags and drudges.
In spite of the decline of ‘western’ movies (Larson, 2006), Native Americans continue to be presented in a historical context such as during the times of settlers. These depictions emphasize the ‘otherness’ of the native people, either by eroticizing them or dismissing them as a failed social group. Consequently, this discourse places NAs on the margins of modern society. Popular culture portrayals of Native Americans have not redressed historical wrongs (Pierson, 2000). For instance, from Seinfeld, a classic television situation comedy of the 1990’s, came the episode wherein the hero continually finds himself insulting the Native-American woman he wishes to date, using idioms such as “reservations” and
“Indian-giver (Pierson, 2000).” In 2000, The Simpsons featured an episode in its eleventh season largely set in an Indian casino, which parodied modern stereotypes of Native-American insight and spirituality. Native-American women are still exotic and often the prize for the lead character that is usually white or black. Rarely are they in a starring role next to a male counterpart of the same race.
More recently, Lacroix (2011) examined examples from several popular television shows, concluding representations have not changed much. Native Americans on shows such as The Sopranos, Saturday Night Live, Chappelle’s Show, Family Guy, Drawn Together, and South Park include depictions of NAs that reference age-old racist stereotypes of the Ignoble Savage while simultaneously working to construct a new trope — the Casino Indian. Lacroix charted the themes of this stereotype and concluded that while the Ignoble Savage of the past posed a threat of violence, the contemporary Casino Indian image poses economic and political threats. Findings demonstrate both racist and classist discourses. Similarly, LeValdo-Gayton (2011) discovered stereotypes of Native Americans in “Twilight” films. For instance, one of the lead characters, Jacob Black, is powerful, aggressive and loving.
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