December 22, 2006

“Apocalypto” Enrages Leftist Elites

Mel Gibson’s epic about those fun-loving ancient Mayans and their fondness for human sacrifices has provoked cries of “racism” and “cultural insensitivity.”

By David Paulin

Filmmaker Mel Gibson has touched off a controversy with his violent epic, “Apocalypto,” but it has nothing to do with long-standing charges that he’s anti-Semitic. Members of the high-minded left are accusing Gibson of “racism” and “cultural insensitivity” for his allegedly unfair portrayal of ancient Mayan civilization. Much of “Apocalypto” revolves around the Mayan's charming predilection for internecine violence and human sacrifices.

Interestingly, some of “Apocalypto’s” harshest critics have offered few substantive complaints about the accuracy of the film’s gruesome scenes. What’s made them positively livid is that Gibson has violated a taboo that’s central to multiculturalism – the prohibition against criticizing other cultures, especially Third World and primitive cultures. This prohibition is especially applicable to Westerners – and to middle-aged white guys (like Gibson) in particular. Of course, there’s one exception to this no-criticism rule: You can vilify Western culture to no end.

"Culturally Insensitive’

Violating this no-criticism taboo is serious stuff in the minds of dedicated multiculturalists. Consider the toxic effect that “Apocalypto” had on Maya groupie Julia Guernsey, an assistant professor in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Texas in Austin.

Guernsey saw “Apocalypto” earlier this month and was so outraged that she complained of an elevated heart rate right after the show. She went to “Apocalypto” with a movie reviewer from the Austin-American Statesman, Chris Garcia, who also hated the film and said as much in his review.

Garcia definitely had a good idea in inviting the professor to the local premiere. Right beside his review, he published a Q & A piece with Guernsey, "Apocalypto Is An Insult to Maya Culture, One Expert Says," which made for entertaining reading. The interview was done after the show.

“As we stagger out of a sneak peek of Mel Gibson's Maya historical thriller 'Apocalypto,' Julia Guernsey is visibly shaken,” Garcia wrote. He added, “I’m a little worried.” Talking herself into a frenzy as she unloaded on “Apocalypto,” Guernsey declared: “I can feel my heart beating faster talking about this!”

She went on, “I hate it. I despise it. I think it's despicable. It’s offensive to Maya people. It's offensive to those of us who try to teach cultural sensitivity and alternative world views that might not match our own 21st-century Western ones but are nonetheless valid.” (Emphasis added).

Defending her beloved ancient Maya as a “very sophisticated culture,” Guernsey accused Gibson of one of the worst sins possible in the politically correct world – committing “really offensive racial stereotyping.” Gibson, she sniffed, also gave short shrift to the Mayans considerable accomplishments. They included sophisticated advances in astronomy, language, mathematics, and urban planning.

Gibson directed the film and co-wrote it with Farhad Safina. It has generally gotten positive reviews and generated strong ticket sales. The multicultural left, however, has gone frothing mad over “Apocalypto,” which focuses on Mayan civilization in the period before the Spanish conquest. Its criticisms are revealing.

Curiously, Guernsey admitted that “Apocalypto’s” scenes of bloody sacrifices got more things right than wrong. “We have evidence to suggest that there were group sacrifices. But it would probably have been done as a pious act with solemnity,” she said. (Emphasis added.)

Got that? The butchery was done with much piety and solemnity. I wonder what the sacrificial victims had to say. Would Guernsey also evoke the mantra of “cultural sensitivity” to excuse cultural practices unique to the Muslim world – “honor killings” and “female circumcisions”?

If morally neutral professors can excuse bloody human sacrifices, where might such thinking take future academics? A few hundred years from now, will professors like Guernsey look back on Germany’s Third Reich and be so awed by its engineering marvels, martial expertise, and social unity that they’ll overlook the evil zeal with which its leaders sent six million Jews to the gas chambers?

This is not to say, to be sure, that the Mayans were Nazis, but consider some parallels. The Mayans carried out human sacrifices to appease their Gods – a perfectly logical reason for their bloodlust, when viewed from a morally neutral perspective. As for the Nazis, they undertook the Final Solution for logical reasons of their own – namely, to protect the Fatherland and its heroic values from the pernicious influence of Jewish intellectual and genetic degradation. Who are we to judge them? Obviously, cultural and moral relativism can lead to some pretty absurd extremes.

Garcia, for his part, also favors looking at the Mayans from a morally neutral perspective. The important thing for him is to understand the Mayan's point of view. To make this point, his review criticized one scene in which Gibson contemptuously “sums up all of Maya evil.” This was where “terrified sacrificial victims are lined up to have their hearts cut from their chests by a distinctly satanic priest garbed in feathers and paint and human bones, with claw-like fingernails and wild eyes,” he wrote.

Incredibly, Garcia then attempted to legitimize such conduct with a paragraph that provides an astounding example of moral confusion: “It would be nice to get some context for the violence, but Gibson refuses to illuminate the cultural and religious forces behind the ritualized murder, the better to paint these people as barbaric monsters.” (Emphasis added.)

Incidentally, the title of Garcia’s review in one of the Statesman’s editions was revealing: “BARBAROUS/Rather than Maya achievements, 'Apocalypto' lingers on sacrificial slaughter.”

What kind of headline might Garcia come up with for a movie that was blatantly anti-American? Here’s one that I bet you’ll never see: “Rather than Focus on America’s Decency and Achievements, Its Critics Focus Upon Its Mistakes and Past Sins.”

Wounded Ethnic Pride

Another dimension of leftist outage over “Apocalypto” concerns Hispanic-Americans who feel the film has assaulted their “ethnic” pride. Roberto Lovato wrote in New America Media that “Apocalypto” left him “pondering the history of racism, pillage and apocalyptic war through my own blood and family history.

“Like many Central Americans born and categorized as mestizos (mixed Indian and Spanish blood), I watched Apocalypto as someone who consciously revered the Maya and other indigenous groups while subconsciously prohibiting himself any real identification with them,” he explained.

How interesting that “Apocalypto” has engendered such feelings among some Americans of Hispanic descent. Why should they feel that way? It’s no doubt because they see themselves as Hispanic-Americans, and in this hyphenated identity they see themselves as more Hispanic than American.

A generation ago, such identify problems were rare. My family members who came through Ellis Island reinvented themselves as Americans. Our family name was Anglicized: Good riddance, Europe! Unfortunately, nobody these days says “Good riddance, Mexico!”

Precisely what put Mayan civilization into decline in southern Mexico and Central America is open to debate. But one theory argues that it contained the seeds of its own destruction. In the film’s opening scene, Gibson suggests this by citing a quote from historian and philosopher William James Durant: "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.”

Obviously, different people will see different messages in “Apocalypto.” Speaking at a film festival the ever controversial Gibson even drew some kooky parallels between the decline of Mayan civilization and America.

“Apocalypto,” on the other hand, also may reinforce the notion that not all cultures are equal, that America and the West are indeed the good guys – regardless of what the Maya-loving left may say. They demand “cultural sensitivity” of everyone except those who criticize America and Western culture.

After Gibson’s drunken anti-Semitic rant, I had little interest in seeing another of his pictures, especially after seeing “The Passion of Christ,” whose non-stop focus on Christ's torture had the feel of pornography. But given the kinds of people who hate “Apocalypto,” this is a picture I’m definitely going to see. It may just be a good antidote for these morally confused times.