Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pocahontas's Two Bodies

They say that the Roman Empire was overrun by barbarians.

 Sorry 'bout your civilisation. Wanna make out
I don't buy it. When people take over, they build castles everywhere. Not because they want to rule at Renfaire, but because cheap, half-ass castles are what you use to control the countryside. The Romans didn't build castles. They built march fortresses (lame enough to suggest that they didn't exactly conquer their empire against the varsity), and later city walls that say, "We have no concern about getting food from farm to mouth whatsoever." Not exactly an anti-barbarians-are-overrunning-the-countryside measure.

What happened? Something more complicated. Let me introduce you to... Genghis Khan!

Enjoy. The Conquerors has been voted the worst movie ever made, but Genghis Khan gets him some action.

The Romans? Different strokes for different folks, apparently.
Can you believe this isn't on Youtube? It's like someone's embarrassed.
This probably isn't the place or time to talk past the hetero/homo divide, but it sometimes seems like the gay guys get all the action while us straight guys sit around repressing.

 That's why we'd like to be Genghis. He's not one of us student loan debt slaves, cycling between work and computer day after day, restraining themselves from Google stalking work acquaintances*  as we work and write, work and write, work and write. (And also procrastinate by reading Christina H. and Gladstone at Cracked.Com. Those guys are awesome.)

We debt slaves might be hard working and smart and good at our jobs but we're sure not getting anywhere by ol' Genghis's standards. Or anyone else's. We spend our Sunday afternoons blogging and counting how much more money we'd have if Human Resources would just stop saying "Hee! Backsies!" every time we make some progress. Genghis would be out seizing Tatar women and carrying them back to the  yurts of his people. Wouldn't it be nice to be a barbarian guy, all up in the hetero-invading?

No! No! I didn't mean that. And, in fact, apparently no-one else does. When two barbarians love each other very much.... popular culture suggests that nothing much actually happens. When John Smith and Pocahontas meet,  Pocahontas sings a very, very sad song. Even Jake Sully, a space marine (you'd think would be a hit with the girls, I mean, uniform? Space?) has to get a new body before he can fit into space-nature. It turns out that it's not so easy to be Genghis Khan. In fact, it's apparently impossible.

So back to the computer and never leave it again, right? No. Something's wrong with our paradigm. Genghis Khan doesn't put up with this stuff.

Did you know that that's actually John Wayne there? I guess the thinking was that one desert full of tough guys on horses was pretty much like another. Who could possibly be offended by casting a Caucasian in the  role of the Oceanic Ruler, ancestor of Emperors of China and the Dalai Lama (with reincarnation!) alike?

Except, worst movie ever made or not, I'm already on record agreeing with the producers. Pigeonholing people under labels is one thing. I bear white male privilege in my society, and I shouldn't be allowed to forget that. The problem arises when you use those labels to demand that someone "be true to themselves." That's when John Wayne escapes.

Imagine that Wayne isn't a cowboy, that he's a German soldier and is reluctant to exterminate a village of Russian Jews, and his buddies are say, "c''mon, John, a real German wouldn't mind exterminating 6 million Jews! You're a real German, aren't you?" What if John picks up his SMG and says, "no, I was born a Jew," and mows those Einsatzgruppen bastards down, instead? Does it become any less awesome if he wasn't born a Jew? Are we going to say that he's not allowed, because he didn't get a body transplant first?

Conversely, Pocahontas didn't go off into the wilderness and get with some Indian hunk. She married another Englishman named John Rolfe (no word on what happened to Potsie, but he was probably heart-broken) and had a kid before dying young. For this she's a controversial figure in American history, as though her loyalties should have been with her Indian friends, and she should have shrunk back into the forest and died with the rest of them, instead of becoming the mother of the nation and the uncrowned Queen of America. Pocahontas bet the future of her family on "the English." Was she right to do so? Well, it so happens, she died young of who the Hell knows what entirely avoidable disease, and that's not something that her descendants do very much any more, and do you think that that would have happened if they lived in a primitive utopia "in balance with nature," Mr. Cameron?

Hey, if the Dalai Lama can be reincarnated, why not Pocahontas?
'Cuz she's from Alaska!
Exactly! Well, not Palin. I think she's pretty much had her chance. But here's the thing: I think that you can read something serious into Palin-mania, and for that matter the fall of the Roman Empire. There comes a time when the status quo is too much for people. That's when they assign themselves their own identities. Telling them that they can't is not going to work, no matter how many movies you make to preach the point. That just makes you sound desperate. The Romans said you couldn't be a "barbarian," then they said that you couldn't be Christian, and then they said you couldn't be illiterate, and in response people just kept on divesting themselves of the things they couldn't not be without. You keep telling them they can't be rednecks, and I bet it will work just exactly as well.

You know what might work? Figuring out what's pissing people off. The last of the Romans may not have left us much, but they buried one hell of a lot of coinage and never came back to dig it up. For reasons that don't really belong here, I diagnose that as evidence of monetary deflation.

Have you ever seen a monetary deflation? Things get cheaper; that wipes out the profit margins of the widget company; so it has to cut costs by reducing wages; so the employees have less money to spend, so they go down the street from the upmarket widget shop to buy the cheaper widgets at the value competitor; so the upmarket widget store has to cut prices, so the value competitor cuts prices in response. That further reduces profit margins at the widget company, which cuts prices, so the employee wages go down, so the value competitor can afford to sell widgets even cheaper, and the employees go back there and buy cheaper widgets again.... This isn't foreigner's or anyone else's fault. Its an imbalanced monetary cycle that will go to completion in the end of all economic activity if it's just allowed to do so.

That happened to Rome. It might have happened somewhere else. Somewhere more familiar, closer to home.

I know! Right here, right now! Goddamn it, stop it!

Otherwise, while I don't particularly like Sarah Palin, but I'm not going to guarantee that I'll be on the "authentic" side if the barbarians come back soon.


*And by "us," I mean "me." And by "refraining," I mean "almost refraining." I probably shouldn't admit to knowing this here, but I thought that I hallucinated a Tatar woman in a pink belt at work, and it turns out that the belt, at least, exists.

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