August 16, 2010

Wannabes and "others" in Eat, Pray, Love

Why "Eat, Pray, Love" Makes Me Want to Gag

Do we need another movie about a self-centered Westerner squeezing one-dimensional natives for exotic food, wisdom, and spirituality?

By Sandip RoyShe tries not to be the foreign tourist but she does spend an awful lot of time with the expats whether it’s the Swede in Italy, the Texan in India or the Brazilian in Bali. The natives mostly have clearly assigned roles. Language teacher. Hangover healer. Dispenser of fortune-cookie-style wisdom. Knowledge, it seems, is never so meaningful as when it comes in broken English, served up with puckish grins, and an idyllic backdrop. The expats have messy histories, but the natives’ lives, other than that teenaged arranged marriage in India, are not very complicated. They are there as the means to her self discovery. After that is done, it’s time to book the next flight.

But all through the film this is what I was wondering. Why was she drawn to those three countries? Why Italy, India and Indonesia?

Is it because they all start with I?

I, I, and I.

Not inappropriate for a film that is ultimately about Me, Myself, and I. I travel therefore I am.
Comment:  Although Eat, Pray, Love features the wrong kind of Indians, it has lessons for us.

1) From the original Last of the Mohicans to Dances with Wolves to Avatar, this is what happens when you see exotic people and lands through white eyes. The "others" become supporting players or guest stars in their own stories.

In this case the fortune-cookie wisdom came from India. But it could just as easily have come from Mr. Miyagi, a magical Negro, or a mystical Indian. These characters exist to serve the white protagonist's needs.

2) This is also what happens when wannabes try to emulate a Native culture or religion. Even if they're sincere, their efforts are likely to be superficial.

This effort may work in movies, but it doesn't in real life. Whether you're learning from a Native elder or a Buddhist monk, a culture or religion isn't something you pick up casually in a few weeks or months. It takes years of rigorous study, not a fly-by vacation.

3) Whether we're talking about a fictional character a real-life wannabe, it isn't about showcasing the indigenous culture. It's about "I, I, I." "Look at me," the person is saying, "I can be sensitive, compassionate, and wise too. By caring about others like an indigenous person, I can prove how great I am. Isn't my humility amazing?!"

For more on the subject, see Indian Wannabes = Celebrity Wannabes.

1 comment:

GENO said...


I would borrow the title film phrase:
"Not Another Teen Movie"

Except in this case, replace the "teen" with "wannabe indians" or indigenous. The film is probably not worth anyone's time. Aren't the people sick and tired of the White man's dying to be Indian instead of White?