(For Thanksgiving): _Ringer_’s Bodaway Macawi: Return of the F.B.I.*


*For those who haven’t been monitoring pow-wow T-shirt booths (a great way to catch up on Native sociopolitics while munching some of the better food on the planet), there was this shirt that said “F.B.I.- Full Blooded Indian.” Soon followed by parodies that said “F.B.I.- {Flat Broke Indian, Fat Butt Indian, or my fave, Fry Bread Inspector}.” Bodaway Macawi, the villain of the CW suspense series “Ringer,”. is a kind of FBI we haven’t seen in a few decades: the Fictional Bad Indian.

For most of the 20th century, almost all the fictional Indians were bad. They’d capture cowboys and homesteaders and torture them horribly. There’d been some noble-savage romanticism earlier, e.g. H.W. Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha” , and American schoolkids’ Thanksgiving pageants continued to celebrate Squanto’s generosity to those boat people from the Mayflower. But despite the Dineh Code-Talkers’ highly distinguished service in WWII, you really didn’t see Good Fictional Indians in the US mainstream media until the 1971 “Crying Indian” anti-littering TV spot. OK, there was Tonto: benevolent, but inarticulate, the Boomhauer to the Lone Ranger’s Hank Hill.

1971 also saw the success of the movie Billy Jack, whose Metis martial-artist hero fights for wild horses and runaway kids. The hippie generation (which became the politically-correct generation) hailed Natives in general as free-living, highly spiritual guardians of the earth, victims of The Man just like themselves. And they’d already been through so much, so quit being mean to them. The old-school Fictional Bad Indians pretty much died out, or were at least always carefully juxtaposed with fictional good Indians, – and stayed that way even when Hollywood started making Westerns again.

Until now. In Ringer, whose stars include “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” Sarah Michelle Gellar and “Horatio Hornblower” Ioan Gruffudd, Fictional Bad Indian Bodaway Macawi is an organized-crime boss with both Native and non-Native minions and apparently national connections, a sociopath who tortures and kills without remorse. He owns a Wyoming strip club and has been arrested for fatally dismembering one of the strippers, giving “employee severance” a whole new meaning.

Others have noticed Macawi; for example, there’s an ongoing discussion here. But I’m not reading a lot of outrage, just some lukewarm grousing. The producers and writers seem to have gone through some contortions not to give anyone the standing to sue (yep, finally some law in this post) and it’s resulted in a bewilderingly amorphous character. Macawi appears to have gone off the reservation in more ways than one: although he’s based in the Wind River part of Wyoming (Shoshone and Arapaho lands), there’s no hint of ties to a nation or even a family (ok, a passing mention of a brother. Whom he killed). He’s involved in a vice-related business but NOT GAMBLING (according to one of my law professors, the “regular” FBI couldn’t find organized crime in tribal casinos despite a whole lot of looking). Also unclear how his tentacles reach to NY and beyond, and yet he doesn’t even have a place to keep prisoners other than the basement of this tiny dump of a strip club. And his gang sells heroin, Really? In Wyoming? I’d have pegged that for meth country.

Oh well: He’ll get his; this isn’t real life, after all. If Buffy and Horatio don’t take him down, Walter White could stomp hm flat. Though that wouldn’t necessarily do the people of Wind River any favors.

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