Victoria’s Secret has apparently learned nothing from the uproar that occurred after the band No Doubt released their latest music video that depicted lead singer Gwen Stefani as a hyper-sexualized Native American. The band removed the music video from YouTube after they received thousands of negative comments on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
No Doubt’s video premiered on Facebook on November 2nd and was removed shortly after.
But days later on November 7th, the creative minds at Victoria’s Secret sent model Karlie Kloss down the runway wearing a headdress and jewelry usually reserved for special ceremonies. And of course, she was a sexy “Victoria’s Secret angel.”
To add insult to injury the headdress that reached the floor appears to be one usually reserved for tribe Chiefs.
The American Indian Studies Center at UCLA issued a statement after No Doubt’s that offers some context of why such costumes are culturally insensitive. An excerpt is published below:
The American Indian Studies Center is a research institute founded in 1969 at the University of California, Los Angeles, dedicated to addressing American Indian issues and supporting Indian nations. The Center also serves as a bridge between the academy and indigenous peoples locally, nationally, and internationally, with a goal of advancing understandings between Native and non-Native communities. One particular challenge faced by American Indians in the United States is a perceived invisibility and a corresponding lack of understanding of the contemporary existence and relevance of Native peoples. We work to dismantle such barriers at the American Indian Studies Center, which remain due to a lack of knowledge about Native communities, including, for example, the fact that Los Angeles is home to the nation’s largest urban Native American population.
This perceived invisibility holds numerous consequences for Native peoples, including perceptions that American Indians are mere historical relics, frozen in time as stereotypically savage, primitive, uniquely-spiritualized and - in the case of Native women - hyper-sexualized objects to be tamed. No Doubt’s recent “Looking Hot” music video, released to fans via its Facebook page on November 2, 2012, is replete with such highly offensive and destructive images of Native peoples in general and Native women specifically.
The music video demonstrates the height of cultural misappropriation and a complete indifference towards and ignorance about contemporary Indian people. The video at once employs Native imagery and symbols, many of which still hold deep spiritual and ceremonial significance for Native Americans - including feathers, tipis, and fire - while at the same time situating such imagery in a (largely inaccurate) set of depictions of Indians at the turn of the century as primitive peoples fighting cowboys (and losing) in the Wild West. In this sense, the video diminishes Native people and Native cultures while, simultaneously, co-opting Indians and indigeneity for exploitative gain. In essence, it represents the grossest kind of cultural misappropriation.
Most importantly, however, the video is rife with imagery that glorifies aggression against Indian people, and, most disturbingly, denigrates and objectifies Native women through scenes of sexualized violence. Much like the 19th century paintings advancing the ethos of manifest destiny1 - the belief that the United States was destined to expand across the continent, bringing civilization and light to a primitive people - the video draws on familiar tropes of the conquest of the continent and, concomitantly, the ravage of the Native female. As lead singer Gwen Stefani writhes, partially dressed (as an Indian) and shackled in ropes while overseen by domineering white men brandishing pistols, today real Native American women in the United States are in a state of crisis.
November is Native American History Month.
Photo: Model Karlie Kloss walks the runway during the Victoria’s Secret 2012 Fashion Show on November 7, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for SWAROVSKI ELEMENTS)