Image above: Bassist Tony Kanal as a tribal chief in No Doubt’s “Looking Hot” music video. Source: eonline.com
No Doubt’s music video for their new single “Looking Hot” was pulled down from the internet amidst complaints from the Native American community. The 4-minute-long video featured lead singer Gwen Stefani as a Native American princess in stereotypical tribal garb, her other band members as a tribal chief and cowboys. In the video, she is captured and bound by the cowboys and then rescued by the tribal chief. There are also scenes where she dances around a fire and sings in a teepee. After facing accusations of racism through the stereotypical and inaccurate portrayal of Native Americans and cowboys, the band has decided to remove the video from YouTube and their other official sites.
Ironically, November is Native American Heritage Month, dedicated to pay tribute to this particular cultural heritage. But it is also around this time, near Columbus Day, Halloween and American Thanksgiving, that people seem to think it is okay to dress in inappropriate American Indian apparel.
Sasha Houston Brown, in her definitive commentary on Racialicious.com, blames the lack of education about the history of America’s Indigenous people as the reason for such behavior. She also points out that No Doubt isn’t the only one in the spotlight. Recently, the Gap has faced similar controversy, as well as Victoria Secret on its runway show.
It isn’t just the dress that upsets members of the Native American community. The “Looking Hot” video also seems to perpetuate the idea of violence associated with Native American women. Stefani plays the princess who is held against her will. Brown remarks at this “dehumanization” through these stereotypes; Native women are seen as objects rather than people.
Samantha Escobar in The Gloss comments that No Doubt handled the situation with “good… etiquette” by pulling down the video and apologizing.
No Doubt has released their own statement:
As a multi-racial band our foundation is built upon both diversity and consideration for other cultures. Our intention with our new video was never to offend, hurt or trivialize Native American people, their culture or their history. Although we consulted with Native American friends and Native American studies experts at the University of California, we realize now that we have offended people… Being hurtful to anyone is simply not who we are.
I don’t believe there is an absolute clear line between appreciation and mocking through imitation, and I do think intent is an important aspect worth noting. Different people will inevitably always conflict between these boundaries, but Brown makes a fair point in describing what she calls “cultural commodification”. She comments that, “Despite what dominant society and mainstream media say, Native culture is a vibrant and living culture. We are not a relic of the past, a theme or a trend; we are not a style or costume; we are not mascots, noble savages or romantic fictional entities.”
Cultures should not be put up as fashion styles or trends, and people need to recognize and respect that there are limits to what is culturally (and historically) appropriate.