Friday, July 13, 2007

What Was "Apocalypto" Really About?

I talked to a guy on the phone I have not seen in three years today. It was about some new work I might have starting next month.

The last time I saw this guy was over lunch some three years ago, I was in fine form. Somebody managed to wind me up talking about immigration into the U.S. and I went into one of my semi-fugue states where I just did this super rapid super verbose little monologue schtick thing I do once in a while when I've had a good night's sleep and a decent meal. I was firing on all cylinders and honestly half the crap I was saying I barely understood myself it came out so rapid fire. Some people at the lunch table were staring at me while I was talking as if I had suddenly sprouted tentacles and a second head like one's of John Carpenter's monsters in THE THING.

Anyway, the general thrust of my little speech over a club sandwich was that Australians do not understand the general character of people from other countries. Wherever they look they simply project images of themselves onto others ... others who are in fact so utterly alien and different from them that they would probably crap in their pants if they really understood their perspective. I focused mainly on the innate qualities of the people of Latin America, using my salad fork to illustrate how Mayan priests slashed the hearts from up to 40,000 captives a day on their pyramids to placate the Sun God, then threw the decapitated bodies down the steps where they were caught by the supplicants at the bottom and cannibalized on the spot, often without cooking the "meat." Several people were shaking their heads. Nobody had ever talked about anything like this in college. Weren't the Mayans those people who played Rollerball or something and wore colorful head ornaments?

When I finished breathlessly and looked up, I was getting that look I have seen before from twenty or so of my coworkers. They basically thought I was mad. Maybe I would have agreed with them. I tried to laugh it off and just finished with, "Anyway, you can imagine people capable of living like this probably would not be all that biologically similar to you and I. Just the fact they could live these lives, institutionalize this kind of horror to the extent it was no more unusual to them than you and I getting an extra large Coke at 7-11. They just would not be the same kinds of humans we are." Then I quieted down and finished my club sandwich, staring at my plate and yes, a bit embarrassed. I had let a bit of my Vault-Co enthusiasm leak out of my overheated brain in front of people I work with which I tried to always avoid.

The poor Aussies hadn't the slightest clue of what in the hell I was talking about. Nothing, zip, nada. They didn't get it at all. Of course, they wouldn't!

So three years later, a guy who was at that table calls me over an unrelated matter. He asks how I am doing, tells me he misses my great rants sometimes.

He says he saw Apocalypto, Mel Gibson's flick. I had only seen it myself a couple weeks ago.

"I hope you won't take this the wrong way," he said, "but it wasn't until I saw that movie it clicked for me what in the hell you were talking about that day. That movie was one of the scariest, most horrific things I think I have ever seen. The freakin' Mayans, if they were anything like portrayed in that movie, must've been positively demonic creatures. I never gave this kind of thing much thought until I saw that film." He then paused for a moment, swallowed, then continued. "Just being blunt, frankly 1200 years ain't enough distance between me and the descendants of the people in that film. That guy Jaguar Paw wasn't a bad sort, I liked him. But the goddamn Mayans, if they really went around capturing other tribes for the express purpose of religious sacrifice .... sheese, man, that's just barbaric. That's savage and weird stuff, there. If multiculturalism is a good thing, then what about Mayan culture? Or African voodoo?"

He paused a little again. I could hear a bit of ambient noise over the phone, it almost sounded like voices whispering. "Really, man, that film scared the hell out of me. Maybe some cultures shouldn't be celebrated at all, compared with what we got here."

Hmm. See. People will think. Eventually. The question is, will it really matter anymore when they get around to doing it? I don't think it will matter by that time. It won't matter at all.


Chris said...

Meh, I'm not fully convinced. So people sit staring vapidly trusting what they see flashing on screen and sometimes get lucky when something even remotely true makes its way past the filters. That's nothing more than a crafty imitation of actual thought.

I'm sure, too, that people walked away from 300 with a hardy respect for the noble Spartan freedom fighters and a deep-seated contempt for the Persian "circus freaks and sodomites". It really made them think about how barbaric and degenerative the Persian civilization was.

Who cares if it's historically accurate? It's good conversation, and at best that's what information is to most people. They'll put in a little thought for a little bit of time and then abandon that trend when the stories get stale around the water cooler.

Anonymous said...

I've been howled down when I got angry at being told that I should be tollerant of other cultures. I'm tolerant, tolerant when I'm in their country :-P

Anyway my statement was "and shouldn't they be tolerant of my culture?"

Apparently not. Apparently I was being ethnocentric.

These PC fools will be the death of us all