Stop making Tarzan movies, please


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

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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.

Is this hope I’m feeling?

After the Republican national convention, I was stuffed to the gills with cynicism and despair. It was a week-long orgy of America-hating yahoos ranting about the people who aren’t white American men destroying the world, and as one of them, it made me feel awful for my species.

Then I watched bits and pieces of the Democratic national convention. It started badly, with more people chanting “No! No! No!” and generally being irrational, but it got better, starting with Sarah Silverman.

To the Bernie or Bust people…you’re being ridiculous.

Yes. It is possible to favor Sanders’ ideas without being an ass about it, and to recognize reality. You know, even if Sanders had the nomination, it wouldn’t be as if you flicked a light switch and the world got better, right? That whether it’s Sanders or Clinton, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us?

Bernie Sanders also demonstrated principled graciousness.

In these stressful times for our country, this election must be about bringing our people together, not dividing us up. While Donald Trump is busy insulting one group after another, Hillary Clinton understands that our diversity is one of our greatest strengths. Yes. We become stronger when black and white, Latino, Asian-American, Native American – all of us – stand together. Yes. We become stronger when men and women, young and old, gay and straight, native born and immigrant fight to create the kind of country we all know we can become.

It is no secret that Hillary Clinton and I disagree on a number of issues. That’s what this campaign has been about. That’s what democracy is about. But I am happy to tell you that at the Democratic Platform Committee there was a significant coming together between the two campaigns and we produced, by far, the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party. Among many other strong provisions, the Democratic Party now calls for breaking up the major financial institutions on Wall Street and the passage of a 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act. It also calls for strong opposition to job-killing free trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Our job now is to see that platform implemented by a Democratic Senate, a Democratic House and a Hillary Clinton presidency – and I am going to do everything I can to make that happen.

I have known Hillary Clinton for 25 years. I remember her as a great first lady who broke precedent in terms of the role that a first lady was supposed to play as she helped lead the fight for universal health care. I served with her in the United States Senate and know her as a fierce advocate for the rights of children.

Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding president and I am proud to stand with her here tonight.

Now it’s time for all of us who voted for Sanders in the primary to follow his lead.

And Michelle Obama set the right tone.

It’s looking like we won’t be wallowing in a week of hate, and I’ll be coming out of this with a lot more optimism.

The calculus of Trump

Mano has the latest John Oliver video. Savor the “feelings”.

I’m baffled by the math in Trump’s latest ad, though. He is proud of the fact that his convention speech was 75 minutes long (yeah, I can talk for a long time, too, it doesn’t make me a hero) and that people applauded for 24 minutes (so? It’s the Republican convention), and then he calculates that 24/75, or 33% of the time was spent in applause, as if that were an accomplishment. Oliver points out that is actually 32% of the time, so he even got the simple math wrong…but shouldn’t it actually be 24/(75+24), or 24% of the hour and a half of the final speech?

Of course, if feelings are what matters, it was 24 minutes divided by an intolerable unendurable indefinitely long period of misery, so subjectively the period of applause was an infinitesimal fraction of the total pain.

Tim LaHaye: No rapture for you!

One of the loudest purveyors of that absurd (and coincidentally, completely un-biblical) End Times/Rapture bullshit, Tim LaHaye, has ceased to exist. His brain has stopped functioning, his self has dissipated into the cosmos as nothing more than a final sigh of heat, and he is not frolicking about in Heaven or roasting in Hell, because those places don’t exist, and because neither does he, any more. He is not discovering now that he was wrong about everything in life, because he is dead, and it’s only the living who have to deal with the lies he promoted while he was alive.

The only thing I’m sad about right now is that he doesn’t have to suffer the consequences of the misery he dealt to LGBTQ people, to teenagers who were inculcated with an unjustified mortal terror, and to all those people who wasted donation dollars to his fraudulent organization.

I’m sorry, but Pokemon Go is my game

At least this writer admits to having an unpopular opinion about Pokemon Go.

To my fellow millennials, and adults of all ages: Just let kids play. Considering it’s their game, let them have it for a little while, OK?

Wrong. I’m almost 60. I’m at risk for heart disease. My father died of heart disease when he was a little older than I am now. I have been told by my doctor to get an hour or two of light exercise every day, and for the past couple of years I’ve been walking a few miles every day, around my rather unexciting little town.

That opinion is exactly backwards. It’s like Pokemon Go was designed for us old people. You young’uns get out of my game and go play racketball or rugby or run marathons, or any of those other games that would kill me if I tried them.

Nah, not really. There’s room for everyone and no need to be exclusive in any way. This weekend we were in St Cloud to take my oldest son out for a birthday lunch (happy birthday, Alaric!) and we went for a stroll around Lake George. There were swarms of people out walking with their phones. I saw a couple of Hispanic families talking excitedly about the game (I assume!) in Spanish; I saw a woman in a hijab stabbing at her phone happily; I saw lots of kids and college students and even crotchety old people like me enjoying the weather and checking their phones as they were out for a promenade.

So yeah, please stop trying to claim for yourself what everyone has good reason to enjoy.