Thursday, May 10, 2007

Of Mickey Mouse and Hamas

For a communications idea that didn't go as well as planned, you should read:

When an extremist organization (or an organization with an extremist wing) censors itself and drops an item from its agenda, you know the original idea was just too warped and strange to be considered "legit" by anyone. Needless to say, I would really like to have been a fly on the wall at the propaganda planning meetings of various armed struggle folks around the world..the FARC, the IRA, the Hamas, the Tamil Tigers, and, of course, our own past example, the FLQ. The conversations that had gone on in those circles would be as entertaining as they would have been chilling. And, very probably, close to the Monthy Python's famous skit from "The Life of Brian" (the Liberation Front of Judea).

Symbols of comfort and familiarity in service of aggression are not new. Enlisting Mickey Mouse or other symbols in a cause or warfare has a rich history. American WW II bombers would have either pin-up girls (the Rita Hayworth, Jane Mansfield types) or cartoon characters painted on the nose of their aircraft. Cowboys have fought nazis on the Moon, at least on pages of comic books. The Russians had their own weird spin on traditional fairytales where, I remember from my childhood readings, thinly veiled communist and Marxist symbols had been smuggled into the stories (in these stories,all the Russian cavalry fighting the Mongol hordes appeared to ride under the familiar red banners and all the villages seemed to be run as some kind of a socialist co-op...Tommy Douglas would have almost fit in). Canada brings the Stanley Cup to Kandahar, along with retired NHL guys to play ball hockey. Warm (hot, actually) and almost fuzzy...

Let's step away from the blatantly political use of symbols and look at what's happening culturally. There is the subtle and not-so subtle grafting of contemporary realities and imagery onto the very old stories. It actually bothers me more than the blatant satire. It starts with the many attempts to do Shakespearian plays in 'modern' settings like high schools, malls, and ganglands of Miami (yes, I know, di Caprio was pretty awesome in the 97' Baz Luhrman's adaptation of "Romeo and Juliet" but that's the only instance I can think of where the artist actually pulled it off...)

This deliberate nonsense continues in pop culture where other currents of thinking, say multiculturalism, are somehow smuggled into traditional stories. In the 80s British TV series about Robin Hood (which has had many re-runs worldwide), a black character fights alongside the merry band of Robin's men. I liked that character(he fought with two swords at once), actually, but the historical likelihood of a black man riding around in the England of the early 1200s would have been...well, about the same as that of cowboys fighting nazis on the moon. In fact, the character was supposed to have been Moorish - more feasible, but sorry, the "Moors" were relatively fair-skinned, Moroccan-type people, heavily mixed with the Spanish and Jewish population they'd conquered on the Iberian peninsula in early Middle Ages. But that's too historically accurate and thus somehow not good enough for showbiz.

What I find happening in Canada - and elsewhere - is that people actually aren't, by-and large, interested in "exploring" other cultures and appreciating them for what they exactly are. Thus you get the British pub food and music in Ibiza, Irish pubs in Russia, China and Germany (why import Guinness into a country with hundreds of its own fantastic beers?) or the heavily Caucasian crowd flooding the yoga studios to treat the ancient art (read 'art') as a trendy form of a work-out, or Tibetan spirituality being the belief of choice among America's actors, or, sloe to home, Indian restaurants in Ottawa that attempt "fusion cuisine" to create a margin of safety for the "white man". It has very little to do with exploration or with wanting a taste of different culture or cuisine - and a lot with trying to get us to buy and consume more of everything. In the end, everything stands in a line-up to be popular...for a year or two. In such an environment, the only cultural continuum is a Hollywood-ized, ever-changing mishmash that stays the same in its gluttony to absorb yet more stuff.

Cultural good taste points therefore go to Hamas for recognizing that their uniquely weird culture does not need Mickey Mouse.

1 comment:

joncormier said...

Hamas may not need Mickey Mouse, but the Australian Army certainly needed Donald Duck during WWII.

Yeah, "pro" as in "prophelactic." And with that I've officially declared I'm wasting entirely too much time online.