One person's thoughts may change the world
Tarzan, the mythical rope swinging legend of the jungle, is alive and well. What, you don’t believe me? I’ll say it again, he’s alive and well. He may not be in the form of Johnny Weissmuller the Olympian ( 5 gold medals, 1 bronze for water polo) that once portrayed the conqueror that was raised by apes, but, he still exists, just in a different form. Unfortunately, Weissmuller’s version was a dummied down version of Tarzan, barely able to speak English. But, first, let’s do a little history, beyond the updated rope swinger, who had all of the African beast at his command, and subjugated the local tribes who could not reach him.
Once upon a time, Tarzan was king, or, as he was advertised, ‘lord of the jungle’. It all started in 1912, with a book to follow in 1914. Now, that’s a tall order coming from a man who was raised by guerrillas who possessed 5 times his strength. Add to that, he was king of the club, having access to calling upon elephants to him, while wresting lions and snakes. Now I’ll have to admit, I drank the Tarzan cool-aid as a child. I watched him on occasion. I marveled at his control of the wild beasts of Africa, he has wrestled full grown bull apes and gorillas, lions, rhinos, crocodiles, pythons, sharks, tigers, man-size seahorses (once) and even dinosaurs, as well as a tribe of “natives” sometimes throwing spears at him with an aim so bad they could not hit a tree with a baseball bat. He learns a new language in days, ultimately speaking many languages, including that of the great apes, French, English, Dutch, German, Swahili, many Bantu dialects, Arabic, ancient Greek, ancient Latin, Mayan, the languages of the Ant Men and of Pellucidar. You would think Tarzan would procure a “native” African wife, but no way, it had to be a woman of education and adventure, who adored dear Tarzan and gave up a life in the cement jungle of cars, department stores and Victoria’s Secret to build a family, a tree house, and have a son called… ‘boy’. Now the original author, Edger Rice Burroughs, actually had Tarzan choosing life in the jungle, after educating himself amongst his own European kind.
The Tarzan books and movies employ extensive stereotyping to a degree common in the times in which they were written. This has led to criticism in later years, with changing social views and customs, including charges of racism since the early 1970s. This goes without much thought, considering of the time it was written as well as when the first movies were created. Theodore Roosevelt had his Tarzan moment, riding off to Africa and shooting wild game from a moving train, and posing with a “wild beast” he shot.
Now fast forward to today, and also, recent history. The current form of him exists in the movie, “The Million dollar arm”, the new feel good movie about a sports agent finding two cricket players amongst thousands to play baseball in the United States. Now at first, you’re going to say, “Hey wait, that’s India”, and you are correct Dr. Livingston. But the premise is still the same. A white person, going to a far off land, down on his luck, goes to the far reaches of the world, to find a new pitching sensation. He goes through the native population, at first, wondering what he got himself into, but soon, embraces the culture, and finds two potential baseball pitchers and ‘rescues’ them from the debts of what he views as poverty, and saves his career. It’s exploitation at its finest, hey, he help two young men out of poverty, only to be exploited by the system, to which they are completely oblivious to.
Although India is the largest Democracy in the world, has the largest middle class in the world, and a software powerhouse, it is usually portrayed as a backwater type country, over populated (to which it is), some impossible living and sanitary conditions ( to which it has) and in need to be brought into the 21st Century. Who better to do it than a downtrodden handsome white guy? ala Jerry Maguire, who rebounds as an agent after getting his jive talkin’, football player a big contract, and saving the day for himself and a member of the tribe of athletes he has to convince they need his services. Different tribe, different country, same white guy.
Avatar, the white savior to a blue race of humanoids to save the day against the evil gluttonous, exploitative people of earth. Same white guy,Different planet.
How about “The air up there”, Kevin Bacon’s movie about an assistant basketball coach, headed off to the wilds of Africa in search of a basketball player to get him that head coaching job he was looking for. They both learn the lessons of life once brought to America. Same white guy, same country.
The “Last Samurai”, once again a white guy, sent to fight the Samurai, is captured by them, compelled by their culture, and helps leads the fight against the Japanese trained army trained by their white saviors in an internal civil war. By the way I liked the movie. Same White guy, different country.
“The Blind Side”, a White woman or white family this time, saves a under achieving black male from himself and his environment, and turns him into a great football player. She even conquers the coach, the NCAA investigation, and herself. New White woman, different sport: Football.
“District 9”. An alien ship parks itself above a poor community, then the inhabitants of the ship form their own getto community below the ship, to be saved by a former white taskmaster who was sent to first subjugate them, is infected by some black liquid that helps him be able to shoot a powerful weapon, that ends up protecting them. Same White guy, same planet, same country, different alien beings.
“Mississippi Burning”. Two fictional FBI agents investigate the deaths of three real life civil rights murders, and low and behold, save the day, regardless of all the black civil rights leaders and workers who helped stem the tide against the KKK and white segregation. Two white guys this time, who save the black southerns against racism.
“The Help”. Now this may be a controversial one. Now if a black maid decided to write this book, I don’t believe it would have received the fanfare it did. But, it got the approval of its white benefactor, the white woman. Oh my, and educated white woman from the University of Mississippi in the 60s to reveal racism against black people. Another white woman, different country, saves the day again. The movie made over 216 million dollars, on a 25 million dollar budget.
Now the colonials had the same theory, “Here is a missionary for you, to teach you our religion, and mend your savage ways”. Not to mention we will steal you timber and other natural resources, capture you, enslave you to be taken to either, South America, The Caribbean, or the United States as free labor. Oh, by the way, good luck on making it through the middle passage, I hear the sharks follow closely behind the ships in the Atlantic.
Now, if you look at the map of Africa, or the Middle East for that matter, most of it is drawn from colonial lines, not based upon any of the tribal or ancestral demarcations of the indigenous population. The demise of the Ottoman Empire alone still has its ramifications from countries carved up by the English into Jordon, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Israel, ( the Kurds got a raw deal) etc. Now, not to say that there were no natural boundaries, but considering most of these lands were occupied by nomadic tribes and Bedouins up into the 20th century, they were ripe for the picking, and control by the traditional colonial powers before and after the great world wars of the 20th century. All for the sake of the idea of Tarzan, coming in to save the day, to conquer, exploit, rape, and destroy. Hmmmm, sounds like the Romans huh…
So, another feel good movie, to the age old solution. I have to save the natives from themselves. And in the end, it’s a better world for both of us….yea right. Thanks Tarzan….