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Whenever Any Form of Government Becomes Destructive To These Ends,
It Is The Right of the People to Alter Or To Abolish It,
And To Institute New Government

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Friday, July 22, 2016

Man, just look at this hypocrite talking about Tarzan's allegedly dated style

This week, I think I'll comment now on a recent would-be op-ed by Andrew Smith, who writes the Captain Comics column for Tribune News (and has written some apologia for Islam in the past), and what he's saying about the history of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan, which just recently had another motion picture adaptation (not especially successful, but that's beside the point). He starts off with the following:
1 Corinthians 13:11 tells us: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child, now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things."
But Mr. Smith did not, and his dishonest approach to journalism is picture proof of that.
Is Tarzan one of those childish things? Is it time to put away the most famous creation of Edgar Rice Burroughs?

This question is pertinent because the durable Ape-Man returns July in "The Legend of Tarzan," a new big-budget movie, starring Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz. The previews promise a gorgeous and heart-stopping film, where the special effects have finally caught up to the spectacle we could only imagine when reading the books of ERB.

And read him I did. Burroughs was part of the Nerd Canon, the books and authors that were virtually required reading for everyone in my generation who liked science fiction more than sports. I read every single Tarzan book (and every Pellucidar and John Carter of Mars book) one endless summer in junior high, back to back to back. It was glorious.

But even then, there were elements of the Ape-Man's stories that made me a little uncomfortable. As I grew older, the causes of that discomfort swam into focus.

But even then, there were elements of the Ape-Man's stories that made me a little uncomfortable. As I grew older, the causes of that discomfort swam into focus.

For one thing, the subtext of Tarzan is more than a little racist.

Even as a 12 year old, the Li'l Capn wondered why the white guy was better at everything in Africa than the black people who already lived there. Sure, he was raised by apes, so he was swinging around in trees from a young age, developing different muscles and skills than ground-dwelling Africans. But if this is a world where a mother ape might adopt a baby human, is it logical that it only happened the once? And that it happened to the only white baby, one who got there by accident? Seems to me that there are ought to be a few black Ape-Men swinging around the Congo, equal in talent and ability to the transplanted English lord, if not superior.
Oh yeah, look who thinks he's qualified to comment on racial issues. If any of the black protagonists were depicted being raised by apes and calling odd noises while jumping around, people like him would say that was racist. Why, they'd even say it if the black cast members were depicted swinging from trees just like Tarzan! So what's his point? I'd say it's best that Burroughs refrained from trying anything like that, since it would look rather ludicrous if any black Africans were depicted the way he suggests. He goes on to argue:
Also, the Tarzan books were more than a little sexist.

To be fair, Jane Porter showed more agency than most female characters written at the same time. She was shrewd, tough-minded, and not above grabbing a knife and defending herself. But even so, she seemed to spend most of her time in the Tarzan books as a hostage.

And women who weren't Jane ... well, they spent all their time threatened, screaming and/or being captured by bad guys, apes, ant-men, ancient Romans, and a variety of other lost civilizations. They were utterly helpless.

Finally, there was one level of discomfort that was uniquely modern. And that was the awareness dawning on the Li'l Capn -- and much of the world -- that the many animals being killed in various ways in the ERB books were no longer so plentiful. Not only were many of them disappearing, but so were their habitats. So not only was the large-animal population of the African veldt vanishing, so was the possibility that all of those lost civilizations of ant-men and ancient Romans and such could possibly remain lost. As the world kept shrinking, the Tarzan books were becoming both environmentally reckless and laughably implausible.

I don't say all this to savage the Tarzan books. They were written in good faith, with no intent to harm anyone. They were just entertainment, and often joyous, vivid entertainment.

And Burroughs wasn't a bad man. He never wrote anything sexist or racist directly. Women in Tarzan stories didn't suffer sexual violence (although they did get tied up quite a bit), and many black characters were written with nobility, pathos and honor.
Oh, what's this? I'd better take a moment to note that Mr. Smith is one of the same media apologists for DC Comics' Identity Crisis, which featured an obnoxious anal rape (!), illustrated from an almost 1st-person perspective, making it look like the reader was meant to enjoy and/or participate, which makes the miniseries even more revolting and creepy in hindsight. Practically all the women - superheroines or civilian - were ineffective and/or helpless. And the worst part of all was that the story made light of a serious issue. If Mr. Smith's got no issue with that, I don't see why he suggested he'd have one if Tarzan's tales had featured anything similar.

He doesn't even make clear that Jane Porter did evolve over time into a more capable adventuress, suggesting he's trying to omit quite a few times where we could give more credit to Burroughs than he's willing to.

And what if Tarzan's tales were set in a fictionalized African country rather than a real one? You can't really complain then, since that would help alleviate the potential implausibilities posed by the real life modern world that built up some rural parts of Africa over the past century. Don't take anything Mr. Smith say about not wanting to tear down Tarzan off the branch at face value.
But Burroughs was a man of his time. And his time was a century ago. The first Tarzan story was published in "All-Story" magazine in 1912, before either world war -- a time almost unimaginable from the perspective of today.
And Mr. Smith is a propagandist of today, more concerned about alleged biases by flawed but otherwise decent authors than about the most pressing current issues like terrorism and even anti-white racism.
To be clear: This was a time when phrases like "white man's burden," "Manifest Destiny" and "a credit to your race" were used without irony. The entirely imaginary "Yellow Peril" was frightening enough to white men that the U.S. instituted immigration quotas from Asia, and "Buck Rogers" began in a dystopia future with whites conquered by Asians. Jim and Jane Crow were quite healthy across the country, especially in the states of the old Confederacy. As to women, they didn't yet have the right to vote, and were expected to have lots of children, be homemakers and do what their husbands told them to do.

Given all that, Tarzan was practically progressive!
Something Mr. Smith happens to be, in a negative sense. Today you've got "liberation theology" in the form of Jeremiah Wright, Obama's former neighborhood pastor, and the hypocritical, vicious rhetoric of the Black Lives Matter movement, which isn't really concerned for Black Americans at all, and is more hell-bent on harming whites. There's also racism committed by Islamofascists to consider, but does he ever complain about that? Far from it, I'm afraid, so I'm not sure why he's supposedly concerned here.
Now, however, it's 2016. The flaws that alarmed the Li'l Capn decades ago have only gotten more glaring over time.
Trouble is, he doesn't want to notice any of them if they're performed by a modern leftist. He's a man who won't see the forest for the trees.
The movie is taking an easy way out by setting the movie in the early part of the 20th century, when many of the problems listed above were not yet considered problems. (We know this, because "Legend of Tarzan" takes place mostly in the "Free State of Congo," which was essentially a Belgian colony until it ceased to exist in 1908.) And I have no doubt that 21st century environmentalism and racial/sexual sensibilities will be evident in the writing, because that's almost unavoidable.

I further have no doubt that when I settle into my seat at the theater to watch "Legend of Tarzan" -- and I will -- that I will thoroughly enjoy myself. My inner 12 year old has been waiting for "Avengers"-level special effects to be applied to my other childhood favorites for a long time. (Here's hoping modern versions of "King Kong" and the classic Universal monsters aren't far behind.)

But as we all plod into an unknown future, we need to update our myths and legends so that they keep step with us. I don't want to put Tarzan away with other childish things, so future filmmakers, TV producers, comic book writers and prose editors must be mindful of which parts of Tarzan still work, and which don't.

And the latter -- the racism, the sexism, the slaughter of animals -- are the childish things that need to be put away. The rest we can keep. Because as we step into that unknown future, it will be comforting to have Tarzan walking beside us.
And Mr. Smith's long taken the easy ways out himself, after he praised Identity Crisis in 2004, its crude, offensive approach to women notwithstanding. He's never truly put away the sexism, and now that I think of it, he's pretty soft on racial issues too. As for the animals part, it's not often I read something so incredibly laughable: if the animals are violent carnivores like lions and tigers it's inevitable one would have to blast them in self-defense. To act like this is not a worry is just pushing a whole lot of touchy-feely-lefty propaganda upon the audience. Killing animals may be bad, but what about all the slaughter of innocent humans by Islamofacists? Complaining about the termination of animal life is cheap compared to that. And he has the gall to complain about childish things even as he looks the other way when it comes up in modern times.

Anyway, the movie may not have done as badly as Spielberg's movie based on Roald Dahl's overrated book, The BFG, but it wasn't the huge blockbuster it could've been either. Not that I'm complaining, because I think it's better to read the original books than watch a movie that could be stuffed to the brim with too many special effects. One sure thing, nobody should take the word of a propagandist like Mr. Smith at face value on any of this stuff, old or new.
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posted by Avi Green at permanent link#

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Along with everything else, the left must exterminate my youthful memories as well. Whatever one cherishes about his white American upbringing must be shown up and condemned.

As a grade school boy in the early sixties there was no better way to pass an indoor afternoon than one of those great old adventure movies. Tarzan was the best but there was also Sindbad and a few others. Before long the left will be attacking the Apollo Moon landing.

Friday, July 22, 2016 10:43:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BTW: The 1997 movie "George of the Jungle" with Brendan Fraser and the voice of John Cleese was a terrific send-up of the "jungle movie" genre.

Friday, July 22, 2016 10:47:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blacks ARE the white man's burden.
Do you have any proof to the contrary?
Without White/Western civilization,
blacks in Africa AND in Europe and America would be manifestly MUCH worse
off.

Friday, July 22, 2016 2:38:00 pm  

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