Remind me why we take these guys seriously at all?

There’s some loony Indonesian witch doctor trying to put a voodoo curse on GW Bush. While I can sympathize with the sentiment, the method is a stupid waste of time (except, perhaps, that it has gotten the witch doctor in the news, so maybe it’s just a high-tech way to drum up business)—and it’s not something anyone could take seriously.

Or so I thought, until a link on Alicublog led me to this fairly well known wingnut, Rod Dreher. He starts out with some offensive macho colonialist remarks, punctuated with a description of this well known scene:

One of my favorite scenes in all of cinema is in one of the Indiana Jones movies, the first I think, when some grand, scimitar-wielding assassin leaps in front of Indy inside a souk, does some whoop-de-do presentation with his sword as a prelude to chopping the American to bits. Indy, unperturbed, laconically pulls out his revolver and blows the dude away.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about that scene—it’s not just a commentary about the superiority of Western technology, but also personifies the casual destruction of non-Western peoples by the European side of the world. But OK, go with the flow, it’s a cartoonish movie that probably doesn’t warrant that kind of cultural concern…and since Dreher started this with the silly witch doctor story, he’s probably talking about the inefficacy of old ideas against new technology and science.

But no…

Nevertheless, I can’t honestly say I don’t believe this stuff can work. If you want to disbelieve in it with ease, don’t hang out with exorcists, or talk with people intimately familiar with the occult. I’ll be praying for the president’s safety, though I would have done so the minute he got there, given how jihadi-infested Indonesia is. I wish he weren’t going, frankly.

What? I read that as Dreher siding with the occultists, supernaturalists, and religious with the Indonesian witch doctor in believing that magic might work. These two procedures are identical in their effectiveness:

Ki Gendeng Pamungkas slit the throat of a goat, a small snake and stabbed a black crow in the chest, stirred their blood with spice and broccoli before drank the “potion” and smeared some on his face.

I’ll be praying for the president’s safety

The one on the left does have a lot more “whoop-de-do”, but both are indistinguishable otherwise—they’re invocations of invisible supernatural spirits. I therefore think it’s appropriate that we take a “crunchy con” like Dreher about as seriously as we do Ki Gendeng Pamungkas—as a kook, a joke, a rather laughable and backwards clown, a silly political punchline. Maybe we can start calling him “Mr Bone-Through-the-Nose”, too. Ooga-booga.


  1. says

    PZ wrote:

    Personally, I have mixed feelings about that scene—it’s not just a commentary about the superiority of Western technology, but also personifies the casual destruction of non-Western peoples by the European side of the world.

    . . . and at the end of the movie, all the Nazis get melted, electrocuted or exploded by the Angel of Death who rides around inside the Ark of the Covenant. Doesn’t that count as Western peoples getting trumped by Judaica?

  2. says

    That’s typical of course of a lot of Christians of a certain bent. They don’t take the “sensible” position that things like the occult aren’t real, and that only their take on God is real. They believe in things like that every bit as much as their opposites do. If they didn’t you wouldn’t have the wingnuts who go after things like Harry Potter screaming its leading kids to witchcraft. This of course brings up the question, as it does with all sorts of other things, of why their supposedly activist God doesn’t crack down on that stuff, stomp the demons behind it and so forth.

  3. deanbcurtis says

    But Rod Dreher should know that it was voodoo that commanded the corpse of Bernie in Weekend at Bernie’s 2.

  4. says

    I don’t think you need worry too much about that scene PZ. The original script called for a long drawn out sword fight following the flashy prelude, but Harrison Ford was feeling a bit under the weather that day and said to the director “Can’t I just shoot him?”

    It’s not the only time Ford changed the script and made movie history. In Empire Strikes Back, just before he’s dipped into carbonite, Leia says “I love you.” Harrison’s reply was scripted as “I love you too.” but he ad libbed changing it to the memorable “I know.”

  5. says

    @Jon Voisey

    Yeah, the story I heard had Indy’s sweat-covered body in that scene being not all make up and show, cos Harrison Ford was running quite a high fever and was desperate to get back to bed.

  6. says

    Fairly smart business move by the witch doctor. If, by some improbable and unrelated coincidence, something does happen to Bush there, this guy will be instantly famous and all kinds of kooks will be willing to throw millions of dollars at him.

  7. Retired Catholic says

    Dead birds or Rosary beads. What’s the difference? Well, I suppose, once difference is that the little white host is more palatable than a bloody piece of broccoli.

  8. Llamaturtle says

    I’ve heard (though it could just be rumor) that Harrison Ford was suffering from dysentery during the shooting of that scene. I wonder what that says about the superiority of the west? Colonialists all have the runs?

  9. quork says

    Indy, unperturbed, laconically pulls out his revolver and blows the dude away.

    I alway say: if you’re going to pull out your revolver and blow some dude away, do it laconically.

    If you want to disbelieve in it with ease, don’t hang out with exorcists, or talk with people intimately familiar with the occult.

    I make a point of not hanging out with such people.

  10. Kagehi says

    Bah.. I think you are overblowing things as usual with that scene PZ. Sure, it has some degree of “look at my tech.”, but its primary message is, “Why put up with the flashy idiots showing off, instead of just stopping them?” I always read it mainly as, “Yeah, yeah. Big deal, you can wave your sword around in a real fancy way, but you are boring me, but I really don’t have time for this!” I am sure you can find such scenes in other movies that have “jack” to do with the West at all. Then again, it “can” be also a, “Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight!”, type thing, but that is just a case of common sense. It could just as easilly be, “Now this is a knife!”, from Crocodile Dunde. The first time I ever heard that phrase was from my brother, when describing one day he had just got off work as a cop, and some clown with a knife tried to rob him.. In that particular case, the dupshit actually tried to incist that my brother “still” give him the money, “after” my brother had his gun out and pointed at him. Guy wasn’t too bright, but eventually a few synampses fired and he suddenly realized a need to give up, without my brother actually having the shoot the moron.

    Do you watch anything without over analyzing it, and **always** in some negative way?

  11. lo says

    Hurts to see such stupidity running amongst our species, even more so that this whole excorsism crap still is believed by some people even though we should all know by now that most of those people were Tourette sufferers (which are totally mentally normal and stable people by the way) and a few of them with actual metal disorders.

    Either way it is shocking to see how numerous those religious nuts are, coz really otherwise would try to help them therapeutically in the 21st century.

  12. BC says

    Your comments about “casual destruction of non-Western peoples by the European side of the world” doesn’t really ring true for me. Since the swordsman was clearly going to attack Indiana Jones, you can hardly complain that Indiana Jones would respond with lethal force. You complaint would only be valid if Indiana Jones was casually killing some innocent non-Western bystander without a second thought.

    Additionally, the idea of Christians (and fundamentalists in particular) thinking that the occult has some power is not uncommon. Not only are demons and magic mentioned in the Bible (Jesus casts out several demons, in the Old Testament witches are to be put to death, and Egyptian witches do magic in the presence of Moses), but it plays a role in their theology. For fundamentalists, the idea of a vast war between demons and angels actively working in the world, supported by the occult and their prayers gives them a central drama to be a part of, and also helps keep fundamentalists scared of going out into the world without Jesus’ constant protection. It creates a dependency.

  13. khan says

    In the second movie “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”, there’s a scene where an assassin does the fancy sword waving, Indiana reaches for his gun (either it isn’t there or it doesn’t work, don’t remember) and he has to fight the assassin with his whip (which I assume was the original choreography for the first movie).

  14. says

    In the script, Indie’s fight with the swordsman originally called for a great deal of acrobatics, but, when they were shooting, Harrison Ford was feeling very ill due to a stomach bug, so they ad libbed the shooting of his opponent, instead.

    And I would think that the broccoli would have worked better on George Bush Sr.

  15. DominEditrix says

    Actually, Vaughn Bode did it first in Cheech Wizard, with the tag line “Welcome to the 20th century, bucko”.

  16. Molly, NYC says

    While I certainly wish Mr. Pamungkas luck in his endeavor, it should be pointed out that everyone on the planet who goes in for that sort of thing has probably already taken a shot at Bush. If it worked, he’d be in a coma.

  17. bernarda says

    With the title of this thread I first thought it was going to be about Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld, and come to think of it, almost all Rethuglicans.

  18. fusilier says

    the original Cheech Wizard line was, with a smoking double-barrel shotgun for emphasis,

    “Welcome to the West, gook.”

    Much less PC.

    James 2:24

  19. says

    “everyone on the planet who goes in for that sort of thing has probably already taken a shot at Bush”

    Ah, but have they used broccoli??!? Clearly that’s the most important ingredient.

  20. says

    Also, from what I heard, the swordsman in Raiders of the Lost Ark was upset about that scene because he was all psyched about having a great swordfight scene with Indiana Jones, and he just gets shot instead.

    To me, it’s one of the great classic scenes in the movie and I always get a chuckle out of it. It also goes to show that the best moments never turn out the way they were scripted.

  21. says

    As others have noted, Ford was sick that day and couldn’t do an athletic fight scene. But seeing the movie before I knew that, I laughed out loud with the rest of the audience. Not ‘casual destruction of non-Western peoples’ but ‘Oh crap, I am exhausted already and this guy is going to make kitty food out of me! Better use one of my few remaining bullets!”

  22. Ian H Spedding FCD says

    When I saw the moviee that scene got a tremendous cheer and laugh from the audience but just because it was a clever visual gag, I think. That’s how I took it.

    Similar idea to the rock-smashing scene in Pale Rider where Clint Eastwood forestall’s a fight by ‘hitting’ Richard Kiel between the legs with a hammer.

    And that was similar to a scene from Robin and Marian

  23. oldhippie says

    You may be wrong PZ. According to that big Templeton study on Prayer, if someeone is told that they are being prayed for they do worse. So maybe Dreher has more power to HURT the president, as long as he lets him know.

  24. 386sx says

    Nevertheless, I can’t honestly say I don’t believe this stuff can work.

    Well of course not. If you can’t prove that something does not exist, then there is a chance that there might just be something to it. We just cannot have true knowledge about its existence!

  25. says

    From the article:

    “I am doing voodoo, because other ritual would not work,” Pamungkas told reporters

    I bet none of the reporters asked the obvious follow-up question, “Yes, but will this work?”

  26. says

    I recall a controvery in the early 1990’s when a bunch of black schoolkids caused a storm by laughing at that scene in “Schindler’s List” where the Nazi shoots the jewish engineer in the head and she goes down spurting blood from the wound. The kids had all witnessed actual shootings and said it just didn’t happen that way. It was unrealistic.

    The kids were condemned, anti-semitism was claimed, Spielberg came to the school to instruct the kids in correct emotional responses to his movies..etc, etc.

    And all I could think of when all this was going on was Spielberg using the casual shooting of an Arab in Raiders of the Lost Ark to get a laugh a decade earlier…

  27. miko says

    The debate is kind of beyond the point… the films are purposefully orientalist and are conscious copies of old-timey adventure comics. I guess we could argue whether that’s a good thing or not, but who cares? If you’re making a campy genre film, there’s no need to cut out key elements of the genre to avoid giving offense…it’s an offensive genre if you choose to take it that way. Jones is a mercenary antiquities thief. While we’re at it, what was up with his relationship with Short Round? He was probably a sex tourist.

    As for the sorcerer and the Christian: I love that this guy accuses Indonesia of being rife with occult witch doctors AND jihadis. There is no one a fundie muslim jihadi should rather kill than some apostate indonesian “muslim” who practices sorcery, prays at the tombs of sultans, and in general violates on a daily basis all the tenets of conservative middle-eastern islam.

    Indonesia is the largest “muslim” country (though there are christians, hindus, atheists, animists, sorcerers) in the world, burqas are illegal, a hugely higher percentage of the populace voted in the last election than votes in the US. I’m not saying Indonesia doesn’t have deep social and political problems, but I’d be willing to bet that there are more jihadis in the US.

  28. BC says

    I’m not saying Indonesia doesn’t have deep social and political problems, but I’d be willing to bet that there are more jihadis in the US.

    Wow. I’d take that bet any day.

    On that note, Indonesia has 245 million people compared to 300 million for the US. Indonesia is 88% Muslim. A book I read a while back that was written by a jihadi (and I say “jihadi” because he fought against soldiers deemed to be enemies of Islam), and he said that Muslims in the US were pretty docile and tended to recoil at talks encouraging them towards jihadi activities or financially supporting them. In contrast, Indonesia has muslims like Abu Bakar Bashir and groups like Jemaah Islamiyah. And muslims like Alih bin Hadi are killed by mobs because of their teachings.

  29. miko says

    Yeah, you are probably right. I guess I should clarify I don’t mean self-stylized “jihadi,” which is pretty trendy for obvious reasons, and makes a great sticker for your motorbike helmet. I mean actual ideological militants, who I would guess would feel kind of bored and outside the loop in Indonesia. Bashir and the JI type are such a fringe minority…CNN sure loves them, though. It’s like characterizing the USA by extrapolating from the Mormons…USA rife with polygamists. Most Indonesians are not in a position to have a lot of information about these groups or the US. They are not sympathetic to or supportive of any type of violence, but are often ignorant and susceptible to weird rumors that the CIA stages things like the Bali bombing to make Muslims look bad.

    My point is that to lump Indonesia in with kooky middle eastern Muslim states (who would consider Indonesians’ relatively mellow and freewheeling pan-mysticism religious practices grounds for beheading) is pretty ridiculous. They do have a tough problem in that younger generations are attracted to the global islamic fundamentalist movement (it’s their gangsta rap), but Javanese culture is not really fertile ground for those kinds of beliefs.

  30. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Letting the frame of the movie affect the interpretation of scenes doesn’t work here IMO. The sudden use of the conveniently forgotten gun was genius, as was the followup. I can easily believe it was Ford’s own creativity since he has done similar quirky and charming things elsewhere.

    I remember the discussions about interpreting the film. Mirroring miko’s analysis, I think the conclusion was while it portrayed errors of imperialism (nazis and Jones’ commercial graverobbing competitors) it retained forced and unforced offensive delusions, being a genre film by westerners. (For example, why put all blame on nazis in prewar preparations as imperialists?) But it did more than most within that frame.

    In short, that scene unambiguously rocks!