Native pranksters the 1491s have fought the myth that American Indians are humorless with their “Smiling Indians” video. They’ve exposed the racist nature of sports mascots by confronting Utah Utes fans. With their “Represent” series they’ve spotlighted Native college students who are holding on to their culture while attending some of Turtle Island’s most prestigious schools. And on Valentine’s Day, they taught us to say “I love you” in about 70 Native languages.
All worthwhile videos, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that the 1491s (Ryan Red Corn, Sterlin Harjo, Dallas Goldtooth, Bobby Wilson, and Migizi Pensoneau) are a sketch comedy troupe above all, and the clips they’ve made about the absurdities of the contemporary Native experience are funny as well as insightful. But mostly funny. This is what they do best.
All the 1491s’ videos are viewable at the group’s YouTube channel; we’re bringing you five of the latest (the oldest dates from December 23). This first one addresses the commercialization of American Indian cuture — the cause for much hand-wringing in Indian country for a long time. What counts as sharing the culture, and what’s profiteering? And can one Indian really begrudge another for trying to make a living in this compassionless capitalist system — hey, everyone’s gotta eat. “The Indian Store” is a look at a shop that sells Indian stuff, exotic and cute as the customers want it to be, and by any means necessary.
A frisbee-sized dreamcatcher that will boost your wifi signal? How ridiculous!
We’ll take three of them — do you guys gift wrap?
The 1491s once again skewer the notion that Indians’ natural disposition in one of humorlessness and stoicism with “Stoic Off!!!”. It’s a competition between two Natives to see who is better at doing a supposedly-Native thing or, as the 1491s have put it elsewhere, who is “Indianer” — a theme that often comes up in their work. Nathalie Tomasik makes a cameo appearance, and her put-down in a sketch that is largely physical and dialogue-free seals the deal:
“You guys are frickin’ idiots.”
The 1491s may have been taking aim at ICTMN with this one, and we can’t say we didn’t ask for it. We’ve run stories about the attempt to rehabilitate the symbol known as a swastika, which is so closely associated with Nazi Germany that its prior name and meaning, “whirling logs,” in Native American culture, is all but forgotten. Can a swastika ever not be a swastika?
This sketch is called “It’s Not What It Looks Like!” — for a bunch of things that aren’t what they look like, even though they look exactly like what they aren’t, see “Melissa Cody’s Whirling Logs: Don’t You Dare Call them Swastikas.” Ok, Bobby Wilson and Migizi Pensoneau — you do have a point.
A little bit of cultural context: Europe is a Swedish hard-rock band whose heyday was the 1980s and whose biggest international hit was “The Final Countdown.” It went to Number 1 in 25 countries in 1986 and hit the Top Ten in the United States. Another single from that album was “Cherokee,” a rock-n-roll “tribute” to American Indians that seems like a cousin of “Stonehenge” from This Is Spinal Tap.
In “Cherokee!”, the 1491s decolonize — or would it be recolonize? — the song as the pretend band Turdle Island, who perform “Cherokee” on their pretend album NAMMY Gold.
There is a slight problem, though — it’s hard to parody something that is already so ridiculous. The 1491s’ “Cherokee!” video, funny as it is, might not be as funny as the video Europe made for the song, with a straight face, and released in 1987. You be the judge:
The 1491s’ latest video is probably their edgiest: “Native American Porn Audition,” with another appearance by Nathalie Tomasik, who plays American Indian pornstar Trixxy Bottoms. This Q&A on a casting couch establishes what she will and won’t do in an upcoming film, and it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Watch it only if you have a taste for racy humor — and pay particular attention to the sexual positions discussed, which include the “Land Bridge,” the “Keystone Pipeline,” and the “Idle No More.”