On Missing the Point
I was sent a link to an article this morning by my roommate Jon, who cautioned me to not read it if I was already in a bad mood. The obvious implication aroused my curiosity, and with a guarded mindset I clicked on the link.
The article, written by Andrea Lewis who is a San Francisco writer, is titled A ‘Return’ of the White Patriarchy?, and is a critique of the supposedly antiquated and intolerant ideologies of yesteryear in recent film trilogy of The Lord of the Rings written by J.R.R. Tolkien and translated to film by Peter Jackson.
I was disappointed with the article on several fronts. The most obvious point was the basic failure by Lewis to understand the Lord of the Rings within the cultural setting it was placed in by Tolkien. Her basic thesis is that the Lord of the Rings is a racist movie that seeks to destroy the hard won rights of minorities by virtue of the fact that it lacks minorities in major roles.
Lewis contrasts the Lord of the Rings movies with the Matrix trilogy, pointing out how the Wachowski brothers films lift up minority characters, placing them in lead roles, and using European stereotypes to portray the enemy. To Lewis, who said she "was much more satisfied with the conclusion of The Matrix series", this is apparently preferable.
I want to address my assertion that Lewis failed to understand the cultural setting of the Lord of the Rings first. Lewis said,
"The Rings films are like promotional ads for those tired old race and gender paradigms that were all the rage back in author J.R.R. Tolkien’s day."
She backs up this assertion by pointing out that,
Almost all of the heroes of the series are manly men who are whiter than white. They are frequently framed in halos of blinding bright light and exude a heavenly aura of all that is Eurocentric and good.
And herein lies the problem. Of course all the heroes of LOTR are white. It stands to reason that a mythology written for England would feature people that look English. If we were watching a movie based on African mythology, I would expect to little or no white people in the picture. It isn’t intolerant, its simply accurate. Lewis misses the message of LOTR because she can’t see past the color of Gandalf and Aragorn’s skin.
The next point that bothered me has to do with what seem to be a very real racial bias on her part. It seemed ironic to me, that her article would be reprinted on a site that advocates tolerance, when she so obviously advocates, not tolerance, but a kind of European racism.
In the paragraph where she lauds the accomplishments and makeup of the Matrix story, she points out that,
Most of the really bad guys in "The Matrix" are Euro, including the very snobby Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) with his French accent; the dread-locked, very British albino twins (Neil and Adrian Rayment); and the Oracle’s evil counterpart, the Architect (Helmut Bakaitis), a rather stuffy and pompous white guy with white beard and white suit who reeks of imperialism.
Previously, in that same section, she notes how the Matrix films are "infused with a strong Asian style", and how the main protagonists are either mixed race or minorities. She is especially pleased with the numerous African-American lead characters.
At the end of the article, she finds this situation much preferable. But I ask you, how is this any different from LOTR? Both movies use stereotypes and symbolism to convey meaning about good and evil. The Matrix films were set in the year 1999, in an American city. It makes sense that the racial spread would reflect that. The Matrix films use the stereotypical independent American spirit and pit it against the Empirical European mindset. Neither stereotype accurately describes most people.
But no one notices such things. It has long been politically popular to discriminate against the white European male, not because he has done anything wrong, but because he has been successful. I’m not here to argue that there haven’t been many despicable things done by European and white American men. But I see no reason to spread hateful and unreasonable ideas based solely on the color of a persons skin.
The other complaint, which I have yet to address, regards the role of women. Lewis finds the situation in LOTR unacceptable, and has this to say,
By comparison in "The Lord of the Rings," three women play minor roles: the powerful elf Galadriel (Cate Blanchett); the selfless Arwen (Liv Tyler), who is willing to give up immortality for the man she loves; and Eowyn (Miranda Otto), the niece of the king who must disguise herself as a man to go into battle.
I’m not sure why she considered Galadriel, and Eowyn to have minor roles. Galadriel is the queen, and rather more influential ruler of the largest kingdom of elves in Middle earth. You will note that she, not her husband, carries the ring of adamant. Eowyn, with the help of Merry, kills the second greatest and most powerful enemy in middle earth. Her bravery was unparalleled by any save for a very small few.
I’m unclear here what she doesn’t like particularly. In her conclusion she says of the Matrix films, "For once, the major female characters in an action film aren’t whimpering and waiting to be rescued by some steroid-laden Schwarzenegger-type". Her implication is that this isn’t true for LOTR. But she’s wrong. Eowyn’s fight with the Witch King proves this.
Perhaps she simply doesn’t like the fact that Tolkien didn’t include as many female characters in LOTR. But I find this assumption lacking the same kind of understanding of her objection concerning the racial issue.
All in all, it feels like Miss Lewis’s objections are based more on envy than any real issue. My impression, and she is welcome to correct me, is that there is no room for things that don’t cater to her situation and her genealogical background. She doesn’t want tolerance she wants the situations reversed.