Sunday, September 14, 2008

My brain needs a switch.

Granville Bridge

The problem with going to university is that I can't really turn off my mad critical thinking skills. I was watching The Gods Must Be Crazy with Abby last night. It's always been one of my favourite movies for it's satirical look at our society.

It's strength is in how it uses the perspective of the Kalahari Bushman to question so many things we do in our daily lives and are serious about. He wanders through what seems to be a ridiculous world where people rush about, stress, fight, war, exchange money, own property, beg, steal, jail each other and find more and more ways to make life and society complicated, and all of this is completely foreign to him because he comes from a very utopian little society where there's no strife. He's very clever and makes sense of it all in a very different way that we would that makes him a very loveable character.

But something began to bug me last night, and that was the portrayal of all the other African people. The way they act is slapstick and comical. They're dumb and disorganized even as they engage in what is post-colonial warfare. I started thinking that though it's funny within the context of the movie, there are a hell of a lot of people in Africa that suffer as a direct result of civil wars like that.

And then I started thinking about the time and place the film was made: South Africa, 1980. Right in the middle of Apartheid, wasn't it? Suddenly the fact that every single African character (except for the Bushman) was a bumbling idiot seems really racist.

Then there's one of the most important questions in anthropology: can you observe something without changing it in the process? The answer is that you can't. The moment you come into contact with a tribe out in the bush you've changed their entire culture and worldview, just by showing them that you exist.

So the irony of the movie is that they were talking about an isolated little community in the desert with people who had no contact with the outside world, and yet they pulled one of the people from this society, turned him into a movie star and then sent him home to a tribe that was permanently changed because of it.

So while the character in the movie goes back to his peaceful, utopian society where life is back to normal and everyone lives in a stick hut and scrounges berries and roots to eat, the actor develops shrewd negotiation skills, stars in four more movies and then builds a house and abandons the traditional way of life to start a farm and die of tuberculosis.

This is one of those instances where I wish I could shut my brain off.

And as I was thinking of this, I turned and saw a cat I didn't recognize rubbing it's face on the edge of the door. I yelled. It bolted. We soon found that it had sprayed a bunch of stuff. Luckily it was all stuff that I could throw into the washer.

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