That point was driven home for me — and for my friends Chuck Blake and Paul Taylor when we were teens — by the trashy documentary Mondo Magic, which had come out in 1975, about a decade and a half before we saw it. Under the pretense of surveying local, traditional cultures the world over, Mondo Magic’s numerous vignettes work as a sort of reverse-tourism-ad, reminding you that (at least as of 1975), it’s still a world full of poverty, superstition, and barbarism.
You get to see a girl from the Middle East have her tonsils ritually removed — and ritually stapled to her forehead. You get to see a witch doctor “cure” a headache (or at least seriously distract the sufferer from the pain) — by cutting off a finger. You see Bushmen (reasonably enough) using a simple means of warding off potentially deadly mosquitoes — letting cows urinate all over them in order to disguise the odors of their bodies.
On it goes, until you’re truly grateful in your very bones — maybe for the first time in your life — that you live in a modern, industrial, capitalist society. That must be how young Barack Obama felt upon coming to the U.S. for the first time after being born in Kenya — just kidding! According to the unopposed vote of nearly all the listeners at Lolita Bar this past Wednesday, Obama is really a natural-born U.S. citizen (there were one or two abstentions), though both debaters did a fine job. The consensus, then, is that he is a Hawaiian constitutionally eligible to be president — though, like the rest of the world, we did not anticipate this automatically making him eligible for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Speaking of politics, it’s worth remembering that Mondo Magic was a valuable antidote to the then-growing fashion in its day, spurred by anthropologists, of taking a completely relativist approach to cross-cultural comparisons, as though starvation and ignorance are only “failed” outcomes from a Western perspective. That brand of relativism lives on in watered-down form in the mushy minds of professors across North America, the sorts who survey the heated political conflicts of our day — over things like the size of government — and have nothing more useful to offer than praise of “multiculturalism” and cries that “pluralism!” is what we need — as though anyone cares enough about such vague principles even to bother arguing with them.
One admitted downside of our high-tech culture, though: annoying hackers. I apologize to anyone (especially Google Reader users) inconvenienced by some problems along those lines with this blog’s recent output — a problem I think my able webmaster has remedied. (My thanks again to Eric Hanneken for noticing the problem — and by all means let me know, readers, if you notice other such glitches, even if we don’t immediately get a chance to fix them.)
Even a high-tech society dreams of escaping to a low-tech paradise sometimes, and in our case that often means Hawaii. As it happens, I see that Orci and Kurtzman, the writer pair who have recently helped give cinematic new life to Star Trek, Watchmen, Mission Impossible, and Transformers (not to mention TV life to Alias and Fringe), are taking on the logical next assignment: a TV series relaunch of Hawaii Five-O. They will reportedly keep the phrase “Book ’em, Danno,” even though the lead character will be the son of the Jack Lord character, not the same man, backed by a new generation of detectives.
The real question is whether they will screw up the wave/Ventures opening in some unexpected way, though, one of TV’s best ever. Sadly, Ventures lead guitarist Bob Bogle died four months ago and can’t help out.
And on another less-than-paradisiacal note: starting tomorrow, let’s spend all week looking at dystopias, in the form of six films and one pivotal collection of rock videos.