19 May 2007

"Michael's Tribe," Part II

[Part I of the BBB response to the My Wife and Kids 2002 episode "Michael's Tribe" can be found below.]

A side storyline in “Michael’s Tribe” involves Michael’s teenage daughter Claire and her plan to sneak out of the house with Tony, one of her friends. Learning of the plan from his son Junior, Michael asks, “How?” To which Junior replies, “Are you asking me a question or are you speaking ‘Indian’?” After Junior explains how Claire’s friend will arrive at midnight and use a ladder to climb up to Claire’s room, Michael turns to storytelling to recruit the Indian Princesses to help him catch Claire and her friend.

MICHAEL. Many, many moons ago, there was Princess Claire-awatha. She was the daughter of the greatest chief ever. One day a brave from another village came to steal away Princess Claire-awatha and this made the chief very, very angry.
RACHEL. Wait a minute. Claire-awatha? Is this just a thinly veiled reference to your actual life?

Michael tells the Princesses of Claire’s plan and asks them to help make sure Claire stays “here in the village” (i.e., at home). Next, the Princesses prepare for what Bald Eagle labels as “war” while dancing senselessly and chanting “hi-ya uh-ya-ha hi-ya uh-ya-ha” with their chief. Chief Bald Eagle also leads the Princesses in a rendition of “the sacred song of our Indian People.” In unison, they sing “three little, two little, one little Indian” from the well-known Septimus Winner nineteenth-century minstrel song (and later nursery rhyme) “Ten Little Indians.” “Indian” players in My Wife and Kids unabashedly sing a tune about the counting of “Indian” deaths. As Kanatiyosh (Onondaga/Mohawk) states, “Asking children to sing ‘Ten Little Indians’ is pure racism. The song is an Indian annihilation song that the Pioneers sang to their children to sooth [sic] their fears. If you remember the song, they count up and then they count backwards until there is only one Indian boy left.”

The time arrives, Bald Eagle tells his warriors, “to prepare our faces for war with paint.” The girls, who now wear a headband with a single feather, shout in excitement as they line up to physicalize redface. Donning a red, white, and blue headdress, Michael tells them, “Step forward, close your eyes, and look to the moon” before he slaps their faces with a paintbrush. Next, he teaches them the war dance and soon begins to do the robot dance. When one of the Princesses recognizes the familiar dance, Bald Eagle declares, “Oh, you are wise. That’s because we must be brave like robots.” Not surprisingly in this episode of dehumanization, “Indians” are objectified into robots as everyone performs the robot dance.

Having prepared for war, the Chief and his Princesses attack. When Tony arrives to the house, he begins to climb a ladder to Claire’s upstairs room. The Princesses hide in the bushes and, upon Bald Eagle’s command, hit the young man with toy arrows. Bald Eagle instructs them to take Tony away. Viewers then see Claire’s friend tied to a chair in the living room while the Princesses yell and run circles around him. Rachel, the supposedly educated one, asks Bald Eagle, “Do we get to set him on fire now?” She sounds well-versed in Hollywood footage that depicts “Indians” dancing around captive White men who are tied to wooden stakes. In The Flintstones “Droop-Along Flintstone” (1961), for example, White characters Fred and Barney are tied to stakes by “Indians.” Whereas their wives Wilma and Betty rescue them, Bald Eagle in My Wife and Kids declares, “We should let [Tony] go back to his village so that he may tell others what happens when they try to mess with our women.”

To recognize and applaud his efforts for the Indian Princesses gathering, Kady says, “Daddy, I had a good time tonight. You’re the best chief ever.” In a self-aggrandizement of confirming his ability to be a pseudo-“Indian,” Bald Eagle replies, “You got that right.” If the use of “best” can mean the best in playing “Indian” in one of the most anti-Indigenous, disrespectful, and misinforming American sitcom episodes in television history, then Kady may be onto something.

No comments: