December 26, 2006

Human sacrifice and other thrill rides

Mel’s Merry Messianic Movie Missionaries:  An Analysis of Apocalypto and Other Silver Screen Savagery

By Tim MitchellIf Gibson learned anything from his previous filmmaking experience it would be that if you are going to demonize a minority group, pick one that the mainstream public knows and cares so little about. The portrayal of ancient Mayans in Apocalypto as violent heathens in need of salvation not only fits with Gibson’s conservative Catholic understanding of the world, since the populations of modern-day Central and South America are overwhelmingly Catholic due to the religious affiliation of their European conquerors, but with his own upbringing in Australia, a country with its own brutal colonial past. He also found a way around the concept of “white guilt.” Instead of risking the arousal of remorseful feelings among his predominantly Caucasian audience by showing cowboys or conquistadores killing Indians, he chose instead to show Indians killing Indians—or, to be more exact, show many Indians killing many, many Indians, and with many, many, many more Indians cheering them on. The Western genre of filmmaking may no longer be the blockbuster franchise it was before, but it appears that portraying Indians as brutal, bloodthirsty savages from a primitive, bygone era is still considered acceptable in mainstream filmmaking. While Gibson has claimed before that his movie is a critique of the Bush administration, his movie clearly exploits the white American fear of exotic, swarthy foreigners with unusual languages and violent, inexplicable religious beliefs to add appeal to his movie—the same kind of xenophobia Bush has utilized in promoting his anti-Arab, anti-Muslim “War on Terror” that has resulted in countless cases of profiling, harassment and incarceration on the basis of race and religion.

To put the figurative shoe on the other foot, imagine if a violent, gory movie was made that portrayed a large medieval Catholic community as a group of child-molesting, Jew-torturing, witch-burning, crusading holy warriors who relished gruesomely executing thousands of innocent people in Vatican Square, and that “a new beginning” for the Catholics was provided at the end of the film by the arrival of several Scientologists. (Yes, I know—witch burnings ended centuries before the beginning of Scientology, but if you use the same kind of sloppy chronology that Gibson uses in Apocalypto, Scientology and church-sanctioned witch killings could easily co-exist.) Also imagine if this film was written and directed by one of Hollywood’s more well-known and controversial Scientologists—Tom Cruise, for example. Do you think that the mainstream media would give Cruise’s movie such a free pass, calling it at best a “thrill-ride” and at worst a “blatantly sadistic spectacle,” and not make connections between Cruise’s religious beliefs and the ending of his film? Just think of how the Pope would respond to hearing that Cruise, in his search for “historical accuracy,” used a cast of no-name Catholic actors who he had to train to act like medieval Catholics to fit the movie, to “knock the 21st century right out of them”? Somehow, I doubt Catholics like Gibson would view such a film as an “inspiration to Catholic actors who aspire to perform relevant roles in the film industry.”

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your article reads ok, and makes some good points. But, why did you have to drag my religion, Scientology (a non-theocentric, not Christ-based empirical philosophy), into your tirade against Apocalypto?

Was it simply a thirst for keywords?

It has NOTHING to do with the issue, and seems a gratuitous slap at something you don't understand.

Sincerely,
Greg
Scientologist and proud of it
http://www.liveandgrow.org

Rob said...

Tim Mitchell wrote the article, not me. I don't know why he used Scientology, but I think the contrast between Catholicism and Scientology worked well as an analogy.

As for why I quoted that part of Tim's article, it was because it made a key point. I'm not clever enough to choose excerpts for their keyword value in Google.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Interesting attempt at satire but eventually failing because, if the film was as bad as the writer claims, imitating it cannot rise above or beyond the the film or the writer's own initial conclusions. And the internal attempt at parody fails worst of all because Natives are a race and Catholicism is a religion, not a race. The same mistake occurs when Jews are referred to as a race. BUT --
It was funny, even hilarious, but totally without intention. Tom Cruise may be a Scientologist but writerfella knows that Cruise couldn't write or direct his way out of Fleer Double Bubble comic strips. And writerfella, being a science fiction writer, knows that Scientology is not a religion and that Scientologists are not a race. And apparently the writer never has watched the Monty Python comedies, otherwise 'Nobody expects The Spanish Inquisition!' would have occurred to him as he was constructing his own sendup of Catholicism.
Which brings writerfella to a small aside: from 1972 - 1978, writerfella lived in Hollywood about a block and a half from Hollywood High on Highland. When writerfella and various friends would walk to movies on Hollywood Boulevard, invariably we would be ambushed by seemingly earnest Scientology members who wanted us to come into their headquarters and see some short films on Scientology. The bunch of us usually were science fiction writers and it got to be a pain to gracefully try to get loose from such loud and avid sidewalk pitchpeople. Finally, I had to do something. One afternoon, we purposely walked in a group of six right by the Scientology HQ and, of course, we got jumped. I backed the two nicely-dressed, almost Mormon good-looking young men away from my friends, and said, "Do you realize that all we want is to be left alone, to walk on to a sci-fi movie that we want to see?" They blinked at me and held up their beer cans wrapped in copper wire. But I continued: "Well, I think there's something you should know. I am a science fiction writer and so are all of my friends. And we've been giving serious thought to starting our own religion, just like L. Ron Hubbard. So, I think you'd better be good to us, BECAUSE NEXT YEAR YOU COULD BE WORKING FOR US!" My friends burst out laughing and the two fled. After that, if they or others like them saw us coming, they went inside and let us pass.
Now, that was satire, with a capital S...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

Again, I'd say it was an analogy, not a satire. Whether Scientology is a genuine religion or not, the point was clear. The analogy worked as it was supposed to.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
But - but - but -
Satire IS analogy, and parody IS analogy, or it wouldn't work otherwise! Even pathos and hyperbole and sarcasm, by your comparison, would not work, either. The post's writer never even realized that what he was trying to construct was satire, else he would have done it quite a bit more carefully and wise. THAT'S where he missed the ark...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

a·nal·o·gy –noun, plural -gies.

1. a similarity between like features of two things, on which a comparison may be based: the analogy between the heart and a pump.

Not all analogies are satires and not all satires are analogies. Mitchell used an analogy--perhaps one with satirical overtones--and it did the job. Did anyone not get the point when Mitchell wrote that Catholicism is to the Maya religion as Scientology is to Catholicism?

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Whether anyone got any particular point or not is immaterial. That point had to make sense in the first place. Catholicism to the Maya religion is NOT what Scientology is to Catholicism. Scientology is Hubbard's take on a philosophical concept argued back and forth among American intelligentsia in the 1920s. The same concept became popular among American and British science fiction writers of the 1930s, making up two camps, the Technocrat writers and those writers who dismissed them. It basically was a form of technological Fascism where the best and elite minds in a particular field would run that aspect of government, doctors running medical services, lawyers making laws, engineers building all infrastructure, economists running the economy, etc., with a totally-government-run-society and very little private sector. Central planning, enlightened rational leadership, abandonment of monetary systems, and utopianism were central to the core ideals. And the espoused beliefs included that technological progress cures all ills, that all such progress always is good, and that rational, educated people always will come up the best solutions to all problems.
Problem was, it also was the form of government that Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party were establishing in Germany. As quickly as WWII began, the majority of American and British SF writers quickly fled for the door, leaving Robert A. Heinlein, John W. Campbell, L. Ron Hubbard, and others like Edmond Hamilton almost alone in their advocacy of Technocracy.
Even later, the principles of Technocracy continued to have influence in science fiction, as one only has to examine STAR TREK, STAR WARS, or DUNE to see the above characteristics in play.
A modern SF writer, Charles Stross, has recognized the now-antagonistic role that Technocracy still has in contemporary SF, writing that, "...only an idiot would see faith in technology as a reasonable philosophy upon which to build anything other than a pile of bleached skulls."
Thus, does social Fascism still compare to Catholicism?
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

If people got the point, the analogy made sense and thus worked. So getting the point is central to the issue, not tangential or irrelevant.

Re "Catholicism to the Maya religion is NOT what Scientology is to Catholicism": In a broad sense, yes it is. We're talking about a radical shift in paradigms from one belief system to another. Going from the spiritual mysteries of Catholicism to the rational technocracy or social fascism of Scientology is just such a paradigm shift. In terms of philosophical revolutions, it's roughly equivalent to the huge leap between the Maya religion and Catholicism.