Stop making Tarzan movies, please

tarzanposter

We just got back from the new Legend of Tarzan. It was a mistake to go. It was a mistake to make this movie. Please, Hollywood, next time someone proposes to make a Tarzan movie, haul out the original source books and slap someone with them hard. You simply can not make a movie from them anymore.

I say this as someone who grew up on the Tarzan novels — my father had first edition hardcover copies of these things (which, as a child, I ruined by scrawling all over them in crayon), and I read them and enjoyed them. It was only as I got old enough to actually think about the content that I became uncomfortable.

They are irredeemably racist. They are built on a foundation of racist theories, and they openly revel in racist stereotypes. I could find them entertaining as an oblivious white kid, but once you grow up, you have to wake up to the context. And the context is intolerable.

Consider the stories. “Tarzan” is a word in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ fictitious ape language that means…”white skin”. The apes in the story knew of humans, but only black humans — and being white was the singular remarkable feature of the foundling child who was raised by the apes. This whiteness — and the fact that he was the child of an English lord — bestowed upon him remarkable physical and mental abilities, so that he was able to teach himself both French and English from primers that his deceased parents had rescued from the shipwreck that stranded them on the savage coast of Africa.

Note that Tarzan’s parents died almost immediately after he was born, so he had no knowledge of language or writing, but could bootstrap himself into literacy from moldering books in his parents’ cabin. I know, it’s a fantasy story, but this is a genuinely superhuman feat by a baby who was being fed on grubs and fruit by a family of apes.

A frequently ignored element of the books is the nearby African village, which is inhabited by classic stereotypes. The black people living there are cruel, superstitious, and stupid; many of the early stories are about how Tarzan gleefully torments and steals from the village, which he’s able to do because, well, he’s a white man, and they’re mere simple-minded negroes. This is treated as entirely natural and appropriate for an English lord to do. This feature is not in this current movie, but take a look at the portrayal of Africans in the old movies. You should cringe.

There are odious assumptions galore here. Burroughs wasn’t particularly original in his best-selling novel — the story used implicit prejudices common in Western culture at the time. For instance, take a look at the swamping argument of Fleeming Jenkin against evolution — doesn’t this sound very familiar?

Suppose a white man to have been wrecked on an island inhabited by negroes, and to have established himself in friendly relations with a powerful tribe, whose customs he has learnt. Suppose him to possess the physical strength, energy, and ability of a dominant white race, and let the food and climate of the island suit his constitution; grant him every advantage which we can conceive a white to possess over the native; concede that in the struggle for existence his chance of a long life will be much superior to that of the native chiefs; yet from all these admissions, there does not follow the conclusion that, after a limited or unlimited number of generations, the inhabitants of the island will be white. Our shipwrecked hero would probably become king; he would kill a great many blacks in the struggle for existence; he would have a great many wives and children, while many of his subjects would live and die as bachelors; an insurance company would accept his life at perhaps one-tenth of the premium which they would exact from the most favoured of the negroes. Our white’s qualities would certainly tend very much to preserve him to good old age, and yet he would not suffice in any number of generations to turn his subjects’ descendants white. It may be said that the white colour is not the cause of the superiority. True, but it may be used simply to bring before the senses the way in which qualities belonging to one individual in a large number must be gradually obliterated. In the first generation there will be some dozens of intelligent young mulattoes, much superior in average intelligence to the negroes. We might expect the throne for some generations to be occupied by a more or less yellow king; but can any one believe that the whole island will gradually acquire a white, or even a yellow population, or that the islanders would acquire the energy, courage, ingenuity, patience, self-control, endurance, in virtue of which qualities our hero killed so many of their ancestors, and begot so many children; those qualities, in fact, which the struggle for existence would select, if it could select anything?

Everyone took for granted the natural “physical strength, energy, and ability of a dominant white race”, and that it was only to be expected that “he would kill a great many blacks in the struggle for existence” and that he would rule over the inferior inhabitants of Africa. Burroughs took this presumption and combined it with a feral child story, and voila, Tarzan.

The new movie struggles to overcome the racist subtext of the story, but fails. It’s implicit. In this case, the writers have made some heroic black characters, and rather than robbing and tormenting the black tribes, White Skin has now arrived to save them from colonial marauders.

I shouldn’t have to spell out the problem with that.

Note also that — SPOILER ALERT, I’m about to tell you the end of the movie, but really, you should not care

[Read more…]

Improve your vocabulary!

I found these entertaining: 31 Adorable Slang Terms for Sexual Intercourse from the Last 600 Years and 35 Classy Slang Terms for Naughty Bits from the Past 600 Years. My favorites: “fadoodling” (although “play at rumpscuttle and clapperdepouch” is pretty good), “aphrodisiacal tennis court”, and “pioneer of nature”.

Now, unfortunately, I don’t have many opportunities to impress the ladies with my deep knowledge of houghmagandy.

We are teased with glittering flashy things and great balls of fire

Caine beat me to it. I’ve been watching all the eye-candy from Comic-Con — it is apparently the place to release all your super-hero trailers for the approval of adoring nerds — and has posted a bunch of trailers for upcoming movies. I’m seriously a bit burned out on the super-hero genre, although they sure do look purty and do a fine job of pandering to the short attention spans needed to watch a trailer, despite, I fear, often falling apart under the weight of holding up a whole movie.

The one she’s posted that I’d definitely like to see, though, is Wonder Woman. It’s set in WWI? That could be interesting.

Also, Caine missed one. I know what I’ll be doing the week of 30 September: Luke Cage on Netflix.

If it’s half as good as Jessica Jones, it’ll be excellent.

Now for the important political issues

The Democratic national convention starts tomorrow, in Philadelphia. The important question is…where to eat? And I will just tell you that all those recommendations about where to get genuine Philly food should be simply ignored, and the Pat’s vs. Geno’s competition is irrelevant. Fuhgeddaboutit. It’s really easy.

Find a food truck. They’re everywhere. Not only is the food good (for a greasy value of “good”, but you do want a taste of Philly, right?), but you’re supporting hard-working entrepreneurial Americans of the lower and middle class. And you can get it while you’re exploring the historic parks or the art museum or the science museums or the fountains downtown.

You probably don’t want to eat a cheesesteak before visiting the Mütter Museum, though. Just a word of advice.

The statistics don’t lie: the real reason Trump must be defeated

It’s the correlations. An analysis of facebook likes (we all trust that to be scientific, I’m sure) finds that potential Trump and Clinton voters have radically different tastes on a lot of different issues. Like what movie actors they prefer…

faveactors

OMG. Trump voters like Adam Sandler best? Now we know who to blame for all those terrible movies. We must crush Trump at the polls or we will be flooded with more unfunny, racist crap.

George Takei is a fine person, but he doesn’t really act anymore.

This next one is appalling.

favemovies

God’s Not Dead is the Trumpian favorite? I’m not personally impressed with Harry Potter, but at least it’s not that dishonest shit-smear.

Call me perverse, but now I want Pure Flix Entertainment, the company that made that abomination, to book Adam Sandler for their next god-fapping movie. I’m pretty sure the Earth will crack open to swallow their entire fan-base, creating a new paradise for us survivors.

As long as I’m mentioning science fiction…

The theme for next summer’s Convergence, has been announced, and it’s a good one: To Infinity & Beyond!

CVG-2017-Ad-flat-450x575

Set on a grand stage of sociopolitical intrigue, melodrama, and conflict, space operas have woven worlds of fantastic adventure and romance to capture our imaginations since the 1930’s. CONvergence 2017: To Infinity & Beyond is a celebration of all things space opera. Whether the hero is fated to a mythic destiny through blood or prophecy, or simply an average galactic citizen caught up in incredible circumstance, their adventures satisfy our hunger for the optimistic triumph of the individual and the common good.

Follow Yale athlete Flash Gordon’s strange odyssey towards interplanetary hero and uniter of planet Mongo, Rey escaping Jakku to join the resistance and realize her connection to the force, or Barbarella’s journey of personal discovery during her mission to rescue the scientist Durand Durand—when we dive into a space opera, we are truly along for a ride of epic proportion. Lovers Alana and Marko struggle to stay together as the battle between the technologically advanced Landfall Coalition the magic-using people of Wreath threatens to tear them apart in Saga. Paul Atreides dodges conspiracy to explore his destiny as religious leader of Arakis’s warrior Fremen in Dune. An Imperial Radch AI embarks on a desperate mission to uncover the truth behind her lieutenant’s murder in Ancillary Justice.

Ah, good old space opera. I will be entertained. Let a thousand Iain Banks panels bloom.

Meanwhile, in not-science-fiction, even more extrasolar planets have been identified, and some of them even look semi-habitable, maybe.

One of the most interesting set of planets discovered in this study is a system of four potentially rocky planets, between 20 and 50 percent larger than Earth, orbiting a star less than half the size and with less light output than the Sun. Their orbital periods range from five-and-a-half to 24 days, and two of them may experience radiation levels from their star comparable to those on Earth.

And meanwhile, in not-exactly-space-opera-but-is-it-really, there’s been a lot of appreciation for Octavia Butler lately, with people noticing the peculiarity of her fantastic stories not getting their deserved attention from Hollywood. And that makes me wonder if our vision of what is space opera is always seen through a white person’s lens. I hope we can see more “science fiction worlds from a hyper-marginalized lens”. Butler wrote classic sci-fi about aliens and space travel, but always from a weird and often curiously biological perspective — it wasn’t about space empires and space colonialization. Nnedi Okorafor also writes great SF, but with central characters who aren’t modeled after Flash Gordon. You’ve all read Binti, right? And then there’s Samuel Delany — amazing stuff from a gay black man.

So I’m a bit enthused about the prospects for next summer’s con — the topic is wide open for some real science, some standard popular tropes, and for an opportunity to expand our minds. I’m going to have to think about some panel suggestions, but you’re welcome to suggest some, too.

Blown away

cnv

One of the reasons I like attending SF conventions is that there are always smart literate people who will tell you about the books they’re enjoying. At Convergence, I attended a couple of panels that featured Amal El-Mohtar, and she kept raving about this one book that wasn’t even science fiction or fantasy — but she brought it up a couple of times as an excellent example of a story of friendship, and so I opened up my iPad, and looked on Amazon, and there it was for only $1.99, so I thought, “what the heck…” and bought it, and then I read it, and…holy crap, now I’m going to have to read everything El-Mohtar ever recommends. There goes my life.

And really, the rest of you need to go read Code Name Verity like, right now. Or you can tell me you already read it ages ago, and what took me so long? It’s just amazing.

It’s a World War II story about a pilot and a spy aiding the French Resistance, when the spy is captured by the Gestapo and the pilot is stranded behind enemy lines. It’s all about heroism and tragedy, and it’s a love story at the same time, and I swear there were multiple moments when I felt like breaking down and blubbing over it (but as a manly man, of course, I choked it all back and stared stoically at a wall until I’d composed myself). Although I’m still at risk of breaking down if anyone says “KISS ME HARDY” to me.

And all the central characters are women — fiercely courageous women. You’ll come away from it with a different idea of what it means to be brave.

Now I learn that there’s also another novel by the same author, Elizabeth Wein, Rose Under Fire. I may have to wait a while before cracking that one, though, I don’t know how well my fragile masculine veneer can hold up under another blast.