11.06.12

The Uproar Over No Doubt’s Native American Video Gaffe

Gwen Stefani and her bandmates might have quickly pulled a new video that features some of them prancing about in Native American dress, but not before the damage was done. Tricia Romano on the backlash and the impact on the group’s comeback.
Video screenshot

Watch No Doubt's controversial video for 'Looking Hot.'

In the last few days, Gwen Stefani’s been full of doubt.

That’s because her band No Doubt’s latest video, “Looking Hot,” the second single from their comeback record, Push and Shove, their first in 11 years, was yanked after just a few days online. The label didn’t make them do it—Stefani and the band pulled it of their own accord.

The problem? It depicted No Doubt in a scenario not seen since 1960s-era Westerns. Some members of the multicultural group were on the cowboy side—drummer Adrian Young wore a Lone Ranger–style mask, and two members, Gabe McNair and Stephen Bradley, both African-American, played gunslingers. And others, like Stefani and guitarist Tony Kanai, were hyper-stylized Native Americans—or in un-PC speak, Indians. The video features a party in a saloon, teepees (yes, really), a gunfight, smoke signals, and the band dancing outside around a fire. But, the video primarily seems to be a venue for Stefani to parade around in a series of sexy Native American–inspired outfits—fringe, feathers, and all—while looking, yes, hot.

November is Native American History Month. True story. After getting considerable pressure from Native Americans on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube (according to the website Indian Country, the video had accrued 800 dislikes), the band pulled the clip.

Shortly thereafter, the band posted a comment on its website stating, in part, “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. ”

The result of the video and its deletion? More people are now talking about No Doubt than at any time in the last 10 years.

But is this merely a case of making a mountain out of a molehill—or is there a legitimate reason to be upset?

Well, that depends on whom you ask. It didn’t take long for the media to hop on the “racism” bandwagon. The headline from Gawker read: “No Doubt Pulls Racist Music Video Off YouTube, Reminds Everyone That They Have Non-White Friends So YOU’RE the Racist.”

In the comment section of the sites where the video is still posted, viewers bickered over whether or not the video is offensive.

While another commenter on En Music Play, asked: “How is this racist? This video celebrates the native culture and Gwen is 'looking hot' while doing it. People need to STOP pulling out the race card, and practice something that has been locked away with the Constitution—tolerance.”

On the original YouTube post, Indian Country wrote that one commenter lambasted the group: “This video is very insensitive and very discourteous. Stefani, you have disrespected and slighted the entire Native American people with your counterfeit portrayal of our heritage. The way you pranced and frolic around, dressed in so called Native American attire, is a mockery of our way of life and culture. You have also debased all Native American women. The word squaw is very insulting and demeaning to me and all Native American women.”

The result of the video and its deletion? More people are now talking about No Doubt than at any time in the last 10 years.

Robert Holden, deputy director of the National Congress of American Indians, said the video “is definitely offensive and culturally insensitive to Native people. It does continue to push the stereotypical idea of Native dress and culture in that it also is a depiction that you see in Hollywood or in Halloween or Thanksgiving.”

When asked if it was ever okay to use cultural references in fashion or art that have potentially offensive origins, he said: “What if the group had dressed up in chains?”

It’s not Stefani’s first time at the cultural appropriation rodeo. She rode the Harajuku Girls homage all the way to bank for her triple-platinum solo record, Love. Angel. Music. Baby. And she’s not alone in her use of Native American fashion. Lana Del Rey recently came under fire for wearing an Indian headdress in part of her 10-minute-long video for her new single, “Ride.”

In the video she plays a prostitute who hangs out with bikers and kills them (not exactly playing someone who is the most powerful, honorable, or influential member of a tribe).

A Twitter user wrote her on the site and asked: “what was the reasoning behind using the n. american headdress in your video? srsly fucked up cultural appropriation. Disappoint.” Del Ray wrote back to the fan [sic]

“I’ve spent quite some time working on Indian reservations in my life—and it was an ode to the spirit of dance and freedom that we used to Say we wished had come more easily. I wore the headdress because I share struggles w my friends I know who gave it to me—its personal.”

But pop music has long stolen from other cultures for set design and fashion inspiration—sometimes to ill effect. Whether or not they are culturally insensitive, Stefani and Del Rey are merely following in the long-standing tradition of pop-culture divas everywhere. For instance, Rihanna’s latest video features her in harem pants and writhing around the floor with a harem-like posse. There’s even some belly dancing.

For tips on how to thoroughly steal from another culture, though, all artists should both bow to the queen of the practice, Madonna, who—as Sandra Bernhard has joked—has run out of cultures to rip off. Ray of Light featured Madonna wearing a sari in full Indian drag; she played a geisha in “Nothing Really Matters”; stole vogueing from Willie Ninja; and posed as a quasi Che Guevara on the cover of American Life. (We all know what she’s done to the Catholic Church.)

Still, in the end, No Doubt received high marks from the Native American community. Said the NCAI’s Holden: “I have to admit that’s quite significant for them to take down the video. Those are not easy projects and they are costly.  And for them to do something like that is no small decision on their part,” he said. “They are to be commended.”