Friday, November 2, 2012

Gwen Stefani, Cher, and "Indians"

So that was a first.

TMZ just called my office looking for a response to the new music video from No Doubt, "Looking Hot."  The song has a Wild West visual theme, even though the sound and lyrics do not have an obvious connection to that.

You can see for yourself that Stefani's sexy costume comes close to the "sexy Indian" costumes that we see each Halloween.  Adrienne K. tracks such things at her blog, Native Appropriations. 
[Update Nov. 3: No Doubt has pulled the video and issued an apology, but you can find it here.  See the story at Indian Country Today.  So I added some images from the video.  The online images I found do not show Stefani in her all-white head band, leather pants, and vest, which is what reminded me of Cher (see below).]

The TMZ reporter wanted to know whether I found the imagery in the video offensive.  I am pretty hard to offend, so I am perhaps the wrong person to ask that question.  I look at pop culture imagery and try to figure out how it works before I figure out whether I like it or not.  So I tried to provide some brief perspective on why other people might be offended by the video.

This is what I gave the reporter:

Cher-okee Princess
I think that the American Indian community is very sensitive to how its members are portrayed in the media, including music videos like No Doubt’s “Looking Hot.”  American Indians have been misrepresented so often in so many ways and with so many negative consequences that many are  leery of any pop culture representations.  It is rare that any of those representations are authentic  or accurate or serve a positive purpose for the American Indian community – honestly, those images are rarely created with an American Indian audience in mind, so their creators do not care about accuracy or positive purpose.

So, when I see Gwen Stefani dressed as she is in this video, I do not think about any really Indian.  I think “Hollywood Indian.”  Stefani here is inspired more by Cher from the music video for “Half Breed” than any American Indian who actually existed. Because of that, some people might be tempted to dismiss the video as campy, goofy fun.  But that is part of the reason many people in the American Indian community object to such depictions:  in the popular American consciousness, these campy, make-believe Indians have replaced real, living and breathing Indians.

Ryan Red Corn twerking.
A colleague in American Indian Studies at my university suggested I refer the TMZ reporter to "I'm an Indian Too," a video by The 1491s, an American Indian comedy/filmmaking troupe.  In the video Ryan Red Corn channels Jackass's Chris Pontius in dancing around lewdly as a tragic hipster Indian wannabe.  You can see some of their stuff at their website,

Party on, Ryan.

[Updated Friday night: I haven't seen anything on the TMZ site; this reporter was calling for specifically.  I won't be surprised if they don't run anything.  It just isn't a very interesting music video.]


  1. Interesting, Scott! Going over to TMZ to see what they've saying. I'm glad we've got your full remarks here. Mainstream tends to edit us in ways that don't do justice to our remarks.

    1. I don't know if they used my comments. I was really reluctant to provide any, since such things could backfire or my comments would not measure up to those my colleagues could make. But the reporter is a CSUN student, so I wanted to be helpful.

  2. If only they could splice the two videos together, it would be amazing. Stefani/Red Corn dance off! I'd watch that!

    1. Thanks for the suggestion of the 1491s video, Birdheart. And for the correct spelling of Ryan's last name. I corrected it after seeing your message.

  3. Just another round in an endless cycle of American douchery. It's boring. I do like the "I'm an Indian Too" suggestion.

    1. Theo, I agree. It is a boring video. Boring song. Uninspired visuals.

  4. When people produce things like this and say, "But we consulted X people," I always wonder what constitutes "consultation." Perhaps the producer of this video called up some random NAS prof and asked, "Are feathers a part of any authentic Native garb?" "Yes, but mostl.." "THANKS!" *click*

    I wonder when Stefani will apologize for her solo career's Asian fetish.