No Doubt put out a brand new music video yesterday for their song "Looking Hot" with lyrics like "Do you think I'm looking hot? Go ahead and stare, and take a picture please, if you dare. Yeah, I think that says it all." I can't judge the song for you because all I can see when I think of the lyric "Do you think I'm looking hot" is Gwen Stefani tied to a wall with two men pointing guns at her and as she wriggles around sexily turns to them and says "Do you think I'm looking hot?"
Oh yeah, and she's dressed like an Indian.
Here's the thing, it's just a music video. They don't even play them on TV any more. (Instead, we are all left waiting to find out the cast of the next Teen Mom II or wait for the start of the next season of Awkward because she's finally picked Matty, but did she make the right decision? Did she?) They mostly play them on the You Tube. I've watched a few on You Tube, but mostly with my daughter, because she really likes the video for "Somebody that I Used To Know." So before I get a bunch of "it's just a music video" responses, I want to let you know that yes, I am quite aware that it is JUST a music video. Video killed the radio star. Jersey Shore killed the music video. Nobody watches the Real World Anymore. And every year some girl is going to dress up as a Sexy Indian for Halloween and give me the opportunity to say "You're a sexy Indian today, but I'm a sexy Indian every day... BAM."
The music video is problematic, to say the least. And it's not just because No Doubt has decided that the best way to portray their song about Gwen Stefani confronting someone by telling them to "take a picture it will make it last longer" is to have her portray an Indian woman getting shot at, lassoed, dragged into town, tied up to a wall, and finally escaping with the help of her Indian man (who's in jail with a bunch of drunk policia.)
The video also features a tee-pee village, Gwen doing some sort of smoke signals dance and sending up red smoke, scenes of cowboys getting drunk and heading out to the tee-pee village to shoot point blank at Indian people. It features Gwen in a weird swimsuit thing dancing in front of a bonfire in combat boots while telling us that we can go ahead and check out her ragamuffin. There's a lot of feathers, a red dress, a tee-pee hideaway which is for some reason filled with a hookah, an African mask and a bunch of other vaguely ethnic looking stuff. And a dog.
I watched the video ready to be disappointed and maybe a little annoyed. I watched it thinking "It's just going to be one of those Urban Outfitters, hey look at me on a horse and in a tee-pee. Look at me dancing around with a wolf-dog and wearing feathers and I'll just think 'Gwen, you're about 8 months behind looking dumb dressed up in a headdress. You're FOLLOWING Urban Outfitters, when you USED to be a trendsetter." But then I saw the video and what struck me mostly was the implied violence against Native peoples. And especially the implied violence against Native women.
Here's the thing. Violence between "Cowboys and Indians" was brutal. Maybe we become desensitized, and judging by many of the comments on the video when it first came out, people are desensitized. They think "what am I supposed to be offended by Cowboys and Indian movies now too?" Yes, you probably should be. But what you should really be offended about is the way in which this violence, perpetrated as a means to exterminate a people, is continually portrayed as a game. The scene in the music video was eerily familiar to many of the massacres of Indian people. They shoot at them point blank, and then drag the woman away. She's a spitfire, she's tough. They don't put her in jail the way they do the other Indian they captured, instead they tie her provocatively to the wall and proceed to oogle her as she writhes around.
And this is all one thing, but when you consider that at the same time she's singing her song which has her repeat the line "Do you think I'm looking hot" over and over again while they are doing this, coupled with the "go ahead and stare and take a picture please..." it just becomes too much. In the words of one guy I know it's "traumatizing."
"But it's just a video! It's art! Get over it."
Yeah, I've heard it all before. So let me repeat what I've said before. This video, in fact, glorifies trauma. It erases real, living Native peoples. It forgets that "those people" could be watching. I quite honestly think that this is what happens when someone approaches a subject without much historical or even contemporary knowledge about the subject or without consulting community members. So I ask- could I remake this video shot for shot but instead use a young girl who is being dragged away from her family to a concentration camp, tied up against a wall, mocked by Nazi soldiers and then she asks "Do you think I'm looking hot?" Could I do the same with black face and slavery? Would there be less of a "calm down" response to those portrayals? (The truth is, I don't plan to find out.)
The implied violence of this video is startling. I do a lot of my work on gender violence in Native communities. I can suggest a LOT of reading and even some movies if you'd like to know more. Sexual violence against Native peoples is a part of the continuing genocide of Native peoples. It manifests itself in portrayals of Native peoples in popular media. It ties to the way that people feel about Indian peoples. Andrea Smith writes -- "As a consequence of this colonization and abuse of their bodies, Indian people learn to internalize self-hatred, because body image is integrally related to self-esteem. When one's body is not respected, one begins to hate oneself. ...Native peoples internalize the genocidal project through self destruction."
There are continuing real issues in Native communities because of this history that people "play" at in their Cowboy and Indian games. That is what people are responding to. Maybe No Doubt wants to "love" Indians, but do they want to make the effort to truly understand or be educated about them? Do they want to humanize them and acknowledge their continued existence? Or do they want to dance around a bon fire in feathers carrying torches and watching Gwen Stefani gyrate around in her fringe coat?
There are a lot of real issues that are going on with Native women every day, the least of which is the continued sexualization of the violation of their bodies. This type of stereotype plays out in the policies that are created by government agencies. It plays out in the way that people treat Indian women. It plays out in the fights we have to fight just to be able to celebrate our women and rebuild our societies.
No Doubt has since responded on their website and taken down the video. I am giving them credit for their quick response. I wonder who it was they were "consulting" with on this video and I hope that they try in some way to make this a learning experience for their fans, some of whom have written on their website that people are "too sensitive" and that "you're always going to offend somebody." There is a real opportunity for them to at least meet with some Native Women's groups, maybe throw their support behind the Violence against Women Act and the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center. You can find out more about them here: http://www.niwrc.org/
It's would be a start...
Cutcha Risling Baldy is an Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies at San Diego State University. She received her PhD in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis. She is also a writer, mother, fan of "The Good Wife" and "The Walking Dead", who likes to go for long walks on long piers...
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