28 March 2007

Greg, Peter, and Bobby = "Indians"?

Any resemblance between Alice and Gen. Custer?

In The Brady Bunch episode “The Slumber Caper” (1970), Marcia, the oldest daughter, prepares to have a slumber party. The Brady family of Mike and Carol and their children Greg, Marcia, Peter, Jan, Bobby, and Cindy and housekeeper Alice does not try to reenact the June 1876 Battle of Little Big Horn in Montana, in which Custer and his men of the Seventh U. S. Cavalry were killed by an alliance of indigenous nations. Rather, they make explicit references to Custer and “Indians” and metaphorically reenact the battle in their home.

Marcia’s parents plan to go out for the evening and leave Alice in charge of the “fort,” as Mr. Brady says, if she is willing. “Oh, I don’t mind holding down the fort,” Alice replies. “Just bear in mind those were the last words of General Custer.” Sensing that trouble will occur in a houseful of children, Alice aligns herself with the defeated General Custer and the Cavalry. To play Custer encourages her to be strong and courageous yet aware that defeat and destruction may be imminent. Mr. Brady recognizes Alice’s new pseudo-identity and prepares to jokingly “tell General Custer to take her boots and saber out of mothballs.” Alice reassures him that she can oversee the slumber party: “Remember, you have left the cavalry in charge.” Alice’s self-alignment with Custer implies that she, a White female, associates herself with a White male. Rather than applying the WWFD ("What Would Fonzie Do?") strategy by making parallel references to Crazy Horse, who fought the Seventh Cavalry, Alice relies on standard rhetoric from White heroes who “protected” American homelands from “Indian” attacks. For the scriptwriters of “The Slumber Caper” to associate Alice with Custer may sound like innocent fun; but to speak of Custer, one must include “Indians.”

In The Brady Bunch, the “Indians” are marginalized and compared to children in the process. Because the Brady boys eagerly plan to sabotage the party, they are positioned in the episode as the “Indians" but playing “Indian” on a metaphorical level. Reminiscent of nineteenth-century White American mindsets that feared “Indian” attacks at any given moment, Brady Bunch writers equate three boys and their juvenile behavior with “Indians” who fought for their homelands and survival. The girls camp in sleeping bags in the living room, which could serve as a symbolic locale of a central area of the Little Big Horn battlefield. When the girls listen to a ghost story in their camp, Bobby howls like a wolf from the kitchen, suggestive of an “Indian” hiding before an attack. Later, a lit-up toy skull in the refrigerator frightens Alice. Then she and the girls see a fake spider in a sleeping bag. Possibly associating the multiple “Indian” tribes at Little Big Horn with the three antics by the three Brady boys, Alice remarks in cliché fashion, “It looks like there’s more than one tribe on the warpath.”

The boys’ sabotage concludes once the girls start itching profusely because of the itching powder that the boys planted in the sleeping bags. Upon Alice’s command, the young ladies sprint upstairs, hence fleeing the battlefield, to wash it off. While Custer was in charge of the Seventh Cavalry, Alice extends her duties to oversee not only the girls (read: innocent White female Americans) but also the boys (read: wild “Indians”). As Custer and the cavalry rolled into one, Alice is to protect the girls from the boys’ savage attacks. But she, like Custer at Little Big Horn, fails.

In the epilogue on the following day, Mr. Brady notices another prank. Alice hands a box of cookies to Mr. Brady, who finds a fake spider inside, perhaps the same one from the sleeping bag. “The party’s over,” Alice comments, “but the melody lingers on.” Similarly, the Battle of Little Big Horn ended long ago, but its impact surfaces today. As evident in rerun versions of “The Slumber Caper,” Custer’s (and hence, America’s) defeat by Indigenes in June 1876 linger on in American imaginations.

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