Anthropologist: Mel Gibson’s ‘Apocalypto’ is a pornographic Western fantasy of supremacy

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

mel gibson apocalyptoThere’s an excellent article in Archaeology Magazine about Mel Gibson’s new film, Apocalypto. Traci Ardren, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Miami, argues that the film resurrects racist notions about Mayan culture that have long been disproved by scholars.

Ardren also points out that the same racist notions were used as justification for the genocide of the Mayans at the hands of the Guatemalan army from the 1970s to the 1990s. (I have to admit that I had never heard of their civil war until reading this article.)

Before anyone thinks I have forgotten my Metamucil this morning, I am not a compulsively politically correct type who sees the Maya as the epitome of goodness and light. I know the Maya practiced brutal violence upon one another, and I have studied child sacrifice during the Classic period. But in “Apocalypto,” no mention is made of the achievements in science and art, the profound spirituality and connection to agricultural cycles, or the engineering feats of Maya cities. Instead, Gibson replays, in glorious big-budget technicolor, an offensive and racist notion that Maya people were brutal to one another long before the arrival of Europeans and thus they deserve, in fact they needed, rescue. This same idea was used for 500 years to justify the subjugation of Maya people and it has been thoroughly deconstructed and rejected by Maya intellectuals and community leaders throughout the Maya area today. In fact, Maya intellectuals have demonstrated convincingly that such ideas were manipulated by the Guatemalan army to justify the genocidal civil war of the 1970-1990s. To see this same trope about who indigenous people were (and are today?) used as the basis for entertainment (and I use the term loosely) is truly embarrassing. How can we continue to produce such one-sided and clearly exploitative messages about the indigenous people of the New World?

I loved Gibson’s film “Braveheart,” I really did. But there is something very different about portraying a group of people, who are now recovering from 500 years of colonization, as violent and brutal. These are people who are living with the very real effects of persistent racism that at its heart sees them as less than human. To think that a movie about the 1,000 ways a Maya can kill a Maya–when only 10 years ago Maya people were systematically being exterminated in Guatemala just for being Maya–is in any way okay, entertaining, or helpful is the epitome of a Western fantasy of supremacy that I find sad and ultimately pornographic. It is surely no surprise that “Apolcalypto” has very little to do with Maya culture and instead is Gibson’s comment on the excesses he perceives in modern Western society. I just wish he had been honest enough to say this. Instead he has created a beautiful and disturbing portrait that satisfies his need for comment but does violence to one of the most impressive of Native American cultures.

(Thanks to Rob for the tip!) Be sure to check out the roundup of Apocalypto stories he’s been collecting on this page.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, says NBC game show Identity

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

identity nbc penn gilletteThere’s a new game show coming to NBC, hosted by Penn from Penn & Teller, that sounds like it has the potential to be pretty awful, race-wise. (Thanks to Dorothy for the tip!)

Basically, contestants have to guess who someone is, going just by their appearance. Here’s the official description from NBC’s web site:

In this intense game of impulse and reasoning where keen perception and instincts can lead to big money, each new contestant faces 12 new strangers and a list of 12 new identities. The game unfolds as the contestant picks an identity – ranging anywhere from a profession to a shoe size – and tries to match it with one of the 12 strangers. The amount of money the contestant accumulates increases with each correctly identified stranger. If all 12 are matched up correctly, the player is rewarded with the top prize of $500,000.

The “identities” given on the web site are things like felon, narcoleptic, insomniac, virgin, 200 IQ. But you have to wonder how race is going play into people’s assumptions. I guess we’ll see how it all turns out.

links for 2006-12-13

Racism special on CNN tonight

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

paula zahn racism special cnnJust spotted this on TVNewser:

CNN is devoting tonight’s hour of Paula Zahn Now to “Skin-Deep: Racism in America.” Guests include Whoopi Goldberg and the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

The show “will examine the Michael Richards incident and its repercussions,” the press release says. Correspondent Keith Oppenheim “will profile the town of Vidor, Texas, reporting on racial tensions there.” And Zahn will talk “to multicultural ten-year-olds about racism and reports on the results at the end of the special.”

Also, check out the results of this survey on racism that was just released (thanks to Karen and Philip for the tip!). Basically, most Americans agree racism is a big problem, half say they know someone who’s racist, but almost no one thinks that they themselves are racist.

Update 10:10 PM: Wow. Ok, I have opinions aplenty, but I’m going to save them so I can do a rant on Monday’s episode of Addicted to Race. But please share your thoughts in the comments section, as some of you already have started to do.

Gratuitous Keanu Reeves item

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Hmph. From today’s Page Six:

KEANU Reeves is single again, and prowling. The “Matrix” star went to South Beach steakhouse Prime 112 the other night, and while he was outside waiting to be seated, a “hot blonde pulled up in a red Porsche turbo Cabriolet, and he started chatting her up,” said our spy. “Her cheesy license plate read ‘NEW 007,’ and Keanu got her number before heading inside to sit with his friends.”

No comment. 😐

TV commercial about racism as a face cream

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Remember that racism as a face cream print ad we discussed a few weeks back? Well, it turns out there’s a TV campaign to go along with it.

According to gay persons of color, the spot was “directed by Tim Gibbs and produced by 8 Commercials, Sydney, for Saatchi & Saatchi, Sydney, the commercial won the Silver Plaque at the United Nations Department of Public Information Awards in September.”

So we’ve already discussed the print ad. But what do you think of the spot?

If you’re reading this in an RSS reader and can’t see the video, please click on the post title.

Kelly Hu plays high school valedictorian turned masseuse

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

kelly hu dara lee in case of emergencyHorrendous. Angry Asian Man reports on a new sitcom that brings us a stereotype double whammy:

I’ve been seeing commercials for this new ABC midseason comedy In Case of Emergency, starring Kelly Hu. As reported here previously, she plays Dara Lee, a once-high school valedictorian, now a hooker in a Korean massage parlor. WONDERFUL. Indeed, it is possible to portray not one, but two opposite Asian stereotypes in one role. And man, don’t get me started about the red dress they have here wearing in the photo here. For the curious, the show is scheduled to premiere on January 3rd.

Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World