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America’s Next Top Model’s latest race fail

I’ve occasionally mentioned here and on twitter that I have a bizarre obsession with America’s Next Top Model. I don’t give a crap about fashion or modeling, though I can appreciate when the show occasionally produces artistic photos. I just love to hate it. And ANTM never fails to come up with new, amazing ways to be terrible:

  • The weird vocabulary (smeyes) and catchphrases (I’d put it in my salon!)
  • The typical reality TV type of humiliation. You mean modeling doesn’t usually require being set on fire or covered in bees?
  • The hyper drama and nonsensical screaming between the contestants that makes me feel good about myself because I’m not them
  • The inevitable stupidity that spews forth when they send the models who know nothing about world politics, geography, or culture to a foreign country
  • The fact that the show is comically bad when it comes to feminism and body image. Yes, those size 10 girls with perfect figures are certainly “plus sized,” and Tyra will teach you how to eat healthy but then throw you off the show if you gain a pound.

With Cycle 18 starting comes a new adventure. This cycle’s theme is “British Invasion,” with half the girls being Brits and half of them being Americans. And there’s some cultural battle or something. I hate to admit it, I kind of like it because the Brits also seem to be shocked and appalled by the behavior of the American girls, and they articulate their shock using delightful British slang.

But that’s not the interesting part. There’s a new milestone this cycle. Mariah Watchman is ANTM’s first Native American model, having grown up on the Umatilla reservation in Oregon. And what’s the first thing the producers make her do?

Dress up as Pocahontas.

Yes, you read right. ANTM has their first Native American model, and they immediately stick her in a tacky Pocahontas costume.

Let me put this costume in perspective for you so you understand how utterly flabbergasted I was when I was watching. The theme for the photo shoot was “Culture Clash,” where iconic figures from the UK and USA faced off. The pairings were:

  • George Washington vs. Queen Elizabeth
  • Janet Jackson vs. Scary Spice
  • Madonna vs. Elton John
  • Michelle Obama vs. Margaret Thatcher
  • Andy Warhol vs. Amy Winehouse
  • Jackie O vs. Princess Diana

Let me pause for a minute to reiterate that one of the models dressed up like MARGARET THATCHER.

With her buddy Michelle Obama. About to jump on a trampoline.

Anyway, I digress. Who was Pocahontas paired with? Who was the British equivalent the ANTM producers came up with?

John Lennon.

No, I don’t have an explanation for what Pocahontas and John Lennon have in common.

Yes, they gave Pocahontas a tomahawk prop. A TOMAHAWK.

My roommate and I were in utter disbelief. It’s not like ANTM is known for its racial sensitivity (remember the blackface episode?). But did the producers really not see the blatant problem with this? In case you need it spelled out, here’s what Adrienne had to say at her blog Native Appropriations:

She went on the record with an interview with her hometown newspaper discussing the choice as well (which was a choice of the producers, not her own), saying:

“As soon as I heard what the competition was, I knew that’s who I would be. I was completely fine with it. There’s no one else I’d want more to portray. It’s someone everybody knows.”I think this is completely a reflection of the sad, sad state of our society if a proud Native woman feels the only “iconic figure” that “everyone knows” of her race is a 12 year old who was famous for “saving” and marrying an old white dude, and then becoming a Disney character. Awesome.

The choice of the producers to have her portray “Pocahontas” is straight up offensive too. Let’s pigeonhole the only Native contestant by forcing her to don an extremely stereotypical outfit and be an Indian. The thing that stood out to me was that Mariah was cast into a race-based role, while the other pairings had plenty of (relatively progressive) race-bending. George Washington, Elton John, Jackie O, and John Lennon (all white) were portrayed by models of color, which I thought was kinda cool. But, because Mariah’s heritage is her “exotic” selling point for the show, the producers felt the need to exploit it.

Then the outfit they put on her. Oh the outfit. It looks like they bought it straight off thepocahottie halloween page--fake buckskin, primary colored feathers, plains-style beading and designs, braids in her hair. And, the kicker, a tomahawk. Yes, a tomahawk. History lesson, ANTM: Pocahontas was from Virginia, and none of those stereotypes apply to her people. So basically they did what everyone seems to do when they want to “honor” Indians–drew upon every Hollywood Indian stereotype without any regard for historical accuracy, regionality, or how effing racist it is to make the only Native girl basically dress up in blackface.

The cherry on top of this absurdity sundae was the judging panel. The judges insisted that Mariah “had a very easy thing to do” because she’s a Native American portraying a Native American, and that she should have done a much better job. Because, you know, all Native Americans are the same, and she didn’t portray Pocahontas close enough to their stereotypical notion of how Native Americans act. They couldn’t “see the angst.”

That’s what being Native American is all about. Angst and tomahawks. Gah.

Comments

  1. says

    My favorite (…) part was when the Native American model was criticized because she didn’t bring her heritage to the shoot in some nebulous way. And I’m thinking, what would that look like, exactly? Oh, using the tomahawk on the camera man, I suppose. She probably would have been dropped from the show for that. At the least.

  2. Brian says

    Is the Obama/Thatcher picture real? They look like Barbie dolls in that light.

    Also, did anyone else see the gavel in the Thatcher-model’s hand and immediately think “slave auction”?

  3. says

    By watching this show you are putting money in the pockets of the producers. They don’t give a shit about your blog; as far as they are concerned you endorse this and want more of the same. At some point you have make a determination: is the masochistic titilation you get from watching this disgusting dreck worth the immoral compromise of paying for it.

  4. nattaruk says

    Why else would she have a gavel in her hand? Here in the UK the only people who use gavels are auctioneers.

  5. annie says

    Her real name was Matoaka. The name “Pocahontas” was her childhood pet name, which meant she was playful (and some other translations include ‘and a bit hard to control’). I think she is an important figure in American history… both for Native Americans and those of foreign descent, as it was a famous meeting between these two cultures. I don’t know why it bothers me, but I wish history books would refer to her as Matoaka. To call her Pacahontas would be similar to referring to “Maggie Thatcher” or “Mishie Obama” in historical texts.

  6. Ryan says

    I told my roommate about this and he wanted to know if they are saving Sacagawea for next week.

    I’m adding Native Appropriations to my blog subscriptions, thanks for mentioning them. It’s nice to have a Native American point of view.

  7. Pen says

    The gavel is a symbol of parliamentary procedure. I suppose it’s used for opening and closing proceedings.

    Apart from that, it also says something about ANMC that being the elected leader of a country with real political powers and responsibilities (however much I hated her) is equivalent to being the wife of the elected leader of a country whose official role is ‘Hostess of the White House’???

  8. doktorzoom says

    Still and all, “Angst and Tomahawks” would be a great name for a band. Maybe they could do Love & Rockets covers.

  9. mcbender says

    What. The. Fuck.

    …I’m sorry, I can’t think of anything else to add. This is simply inexcusable.

  10. Forbidden Snowflake says

    They couldn’t “see the angst.”

    “Come on, honey, gimme that this-is-what-the-white-man-did-to-my-people look!”
    Srsly, WTF.

  11. says

    Well even if you don’t warn me with a big giant button that says do not read or bunnies will surely die…bunnies will nonetheless surely die.

    Seething rage.

    All those poor bunnies.

    I have never watched the show, and now I am quite certain I never will. This right here is the difference between tokenism and inclusiveness. They turned this woman into a token by highlighting only qualities about herself that are outside her control and then stripping it of any uniqueness and posing it on a pedestal saying look at this token we have. Haven’t we dressed it up all clever? Assholes, then set her up a perfect little catch 22 all her own by narrowly defining what it means to be Native American then criticizing her for failing to meet unattainable criteria.

  12. Bill Door says

    I think this is completely a reflection of the sad, sad state of our society if a proud Native woman feels the only “iconic figure” that “everyone knows” of her race is a 12 year old who was famous for “saving” and marrying an old white dude, and then becoming a Disney character.

    - be a proud Native American woman
    - dress in cheap Pocahontas outfit

    Pick one.

  13. julian says

    You know… I’m positive there are artistic people out there with actual, like, original thoughts and stuff who could probably have come up with something more original and less fucking idiotic as dressing up the Indian woman as Pocahontas.

    Maybe the producers should go hire them.

  14. Nele says

    But the British Prime Minister does not open or close the sessions of the House of Commons…

    A more fitting prop for the Iron Lady would obviously have been a handbag.

  15. Nele says

    Yes, those size 10 girls with perfect figures are certainly “plus sized,” and Tyra will teach you how to eat healthy but then throw you off the show if you gain a pound.

    If those models ate healthy, they would not look as emaciated as they do…

    Just saying.

  16. says

    I have a weird fascination for the show too. And usually I feel like it’s awesome. Every episode lingers in someway, usually in a good way. Like remembering the photoshoot and thinking oh yeah that was cool. But this premiere was bad, ridiculously bad. Everything about it was bad… Except for the British accents <3

  17. Ysanne says

    The European cliché would include freaking out with all the cameras around that are stealing her soul.
    So disappointing she behaved like a normal 21st century human instead of displaying some “authentic” heritage.

  18. says

    I was completely floored when watching this episode, too. I half expected Tyra to condescend to her about how she had so much to draw from to get the appropriate “angst” and how she should have channeled the Trail of Tears, or smallpox blankets, or the white man getting her people addicted to fire water.

  19. edmundog says

    How about making her Sacajawea, and the other one some English explorer like Henry Hudson or whatever? How about she plays Crazy Horse and the other one Oliver Cromwell?

  20. says

    I’m agreeing to this.
    I’m Swedish and I have no means of watching this on TV (not unless I want to keep up to date with the latest cycle anyway) so I download the episodes. For free. Illegally. Whatever. It’s fun to watch sometimes but I would never pay for it.

  21. mnb0 says

    Yeah, I understand the fascination with ANTM. It produces stupidity beyond imagination.

  22. jaranath says

    I thought the exact same thing, Brian. Did they achieve that doll effect through makeup or photoshop? Creepy, either way.

  23. sambarge says

    I’m not crowing or anything, because really, this is the Next Top Model franchise we’re talking about here, but in Canada’s version a First Nations woman made it to the finals (lost to a blonde, of course) and her ethnicity was never exploited in this way. She occasionally talked about growing up on a reserve and the importance of her social work job in her community and setting a good example for First Nations kids but they never made a big deal about her ethnicity. They even cut her hair short for her make over.

  24. says

    Wouldn’t Pocahontas’s obvious British counterpart be John Rolfe? Or, since they obviously don’t care about any kind of historical accuracy, John Smith?

  25. dep says

    For crying out loud people, if you hate it so much, stop watching it. Watch only things you like, preferably things that improve your mind, or at least those shows that bring you a little real happiness – you know, the kind not based on feeling superior to televised buffoons.

    Reality TV has the worst drawbacks of pornography – human debasement and mind-numbing stupidity – without the benefits – sexual outlet. You’d be much better off making love for that hour.

  26. says

    Oh, thank goodness I’m not crazy. My ex-roomy would constantly watch this show and I’d get so disgusted with how shallow and offensive it seemed and she’d be like “Meh. That’s how modeling is!”

  27. says

    Well, I’d never heard of Boudica before and got to look her up. Thanks for the learning- she was clearly quite awesome.

    But, if Boudica was a rebel fighter, then she and Pocahontas wouldn’t really be counterparts at all. Pocahontas’s most important contribution was a cross-cultural, goodwill/peacekeeping marriage, as well as being one of the first Native Americans introduced to the British public in order to promote understanding; sort of the exact opposite of starting an uprising against the invading forces.

  28. says

    This is yet another reason why I don’t watch TV… Anyway.. I don’t know why this is surprising… this is what mainstream media (and popular culture) pretty much understands and knows.. why shouldn’t they just employ stereotypes… to do otherwise would risk forcing people to understand ambiguity and/or to learn something new–and that’s not at all what this show is about…

    It’s like the hostess cupcake of media–obviously bad for you, if perhaps tasty in certain ways–but it shouldn’t be all that surprising when you discover that they’ve decided to add some new sort of horrible and unnatural ingredient to it to make it taste even more chocolaty for their main consuming audience..

    Obviously–you know all of this already.. but I’d say just stop watching if it really bothers you.. I’m sure you can find something better for your soul–such as computer games–for the hour that this would take up..

  29. nathanlee says

    I first came here all prepared to defend them. Then… I saw they even gave her horribly innaccurate crappy clothes. There is nothing about that outfit that makes me think a native american would wear it, speaking from experience in rendevous and reinacting the 1600′s.

    Too much fringe, no cover of the shoulders, too short, tanned wrong, WTF is up with those shoes, the tamahawk is more like a cheap modern-made stone hammer than anything else, and WTF is that weapon-thing decorated with! crazy.

  30. Arctic Ape says

    Good point. I was going kinda tongue-in-cheek on the basis that Boudica was a semi-mythical female “Native British” character in the early “civilized contact”-era of Roman colonization. I didn’t really consider their actual achievements, which maybe shows my unconcious racism.

    Still, more obvious than John Lennon, and hardly any less appropriate.

  31. Quinapalus says

    I’m kind of amused at the idea that this is even worth discussing on its substance. I’ve never seen the show, but I’m getting a pretty strong vibe of “doesn’t matter what they say as long as they spell our name right”. They want headlines; they do something outrageous; and look, links saying “American’s Next Top Model” are all over the blogs! Mission accomplished!

  32. noastronomer says

    Isn’t the whole concept of America’s Next Top Model just a complete fail to start with? Expecting them to not fail at anything the show does is just wishful thinking.

  33. says

    Ugh… so wrong, so wrong in so many ways.

    I’m very likely related to Pocahontas. We don’t have records going back that far, the courthouse with the genealogical data burned down, and that sucks. It’s a very likely chance, though, since I’m of her tribe.

    Maybe I should write and tell them how offended, as a descendant of the Pamunkey tribe, that they…

    Nah… wouldn’t ever work. No one cares about offending Indians… Look at the fucking Cleveland Indians, after all…

  34. says

    Those are bad too. I call out the Indians entirely because of their logo which is simply the most offensive portrayal of Indians I’ve ever seen. It’s disgustingly offensive, it’s just like Native American blackface.

    And yes, I’m equally angry about the Redskins name, it’s no different from the “niggers” or the “chinks” or any number of equally offensive terms, and it’s ridiculous.

    Braves and Chiefs… not as much. I hate the Braves’ chant, and their name is a ridiculous Hollywoodism that’s more ignorant than offensive. Chiefs, same sort of thing.

  35. says

    What’s your argument here? Are you saying they should not be called out for racism? Can you tell me when a display of racism does qualify to be called out? I mean, I wanna be sure I’ve got your stamp of approval before trying to call out bigotry when I see it.

  36. Katrina says

    I’m sure Jen is thankful that she has people like you to point out the relevance or irrelevance of her posts with regards to the “big picture”. Why, otherwise I’m sure she’d have simply no idea what topics she should blog about.

    Hey, I have an idea. Why don’t you start your own blog and then you can decide what goes there and what doesn’t? In fact, you could write a whole post about bloggers who don’t write about things that “have substance”. What do you say?

    Idiot.

  37. The Pint says

    “I’m kind of amused at the idea that this is even worth discussing on its substance.”

    Your concern is noted. Although one does have to wonder why, if you don’t seem to think this idea is “even worth discussing” you bothered to comment on it.

  38. bahrfeldt says

    The “idea” of the show is to make money by cheaply presenting pretty, young, vulnerable women, who are forsaking what little apparent talent they have for anything else while seeking fame and fortune in modeling. The viewers rejoice in their own existence as all but one are tossed into the trash and forgotten. Like the pro careers of most of college football or basketball players. (Hey! A new idea for a reality show, America’s Next Top Benchwarmer!!)

  39. nemothederv says

    It could have been worse.

    They could have had her jump out of an airplane yelling “Chuck Conners!!”* and landing on top of a casino while playing a flute that you can also smoke tobacco with.

    If you’re going to exploit stereotypes you might as well go full throttle

    *In case you’re not into old movies, ultra white guy Conners played Geronimo in, you guessed it, Geronimo(1962). It’s worth a watch for the hilarity.

  40. says

    Um…right. Well. I guess we can now say ANTM has jumped the shark. And come to think of it, a model dressed as Pocahontas actually jumping a shark — properly armed with a tomahawk, of course — would make a much more sensible photo than the ones posted here.

  41. says

    And I guess it’s not necessary to say the real Pocahontas didn’t really dress like that, at least not outside the summer months.

    And since when was John Lennon a Philipino?

  42. Little Bird says

    “Thanks for the small pox, Whitey.”
    Oh ‘holytape’ you are snarky & amazing! haha Thanks for the laugh. I really needed it after the blind rage that threatened to burst out of me due to that disgusting display. :-/

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