American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


Representations of Redface: Decolonizing the American Situation Comedy’s “Indian”

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies/Communication

First Advisor

Lynda Dixon


This study critically analyzes the thematic development of representations of redface, or of playing "Indian," by non-Native characters in live-action and animated American sitcoms. Predominantly White characters have played "Indian" to reeenact nostalgic colonialist versions of historical events, to gain fame and fortune deceptively, to be honorary members of a tribe, to acknowledge heritage through a distant "Indian" relative, and to be in "Indian" clubs. This dissertation also discusses the dehumanizing roles of rare on-screen "Indians" as cultureless dupes or subservient, vanishing Natives who legitimize and authenticate non-Indigenes' constructions of redface. Representations of redface in American sitcoms, from their appearance in the 1951 I Love Lucy "The Adagio" to the 2006 The Suite Life of Zack and Cody "Boston Tea Party," have largely defined the sitcom's "Indian." The result is a redface collective that emphasizes the recurring visibility of (mis)leading "Indian" players that represent, or stand in for, the mostly invisible Indigenes. American sitcoms have set forth a restricted logic on how "Indians" in comedic television should appear. In turn, this limited logic of the sitcom's "Indian" transmits a narrow, non-fully human view of real Indigenes to non-Indigenous and Indigenous audiences. A major objective of this study is to interrupt the perpetuation of "Indian" play by decolonizing the stereotypical, mythic, and fabricated representations of redface through decolonized viewing. As a media-focused area of decolonization that responds to media colonialism, decolonized viewing is a critical approach for Native and non-Native audiences to apply to their interpretations of American sitcoms. After explaining decolonized viewing in one chapter and applying it to the next three chapters of analyses, this study concludes with explaining the importance of shifting from the sitcom's "Indian" to the Indigenous sitcom, a crucial part of Indigenizing television.